A few years ago, the owners of the Marston House, which I visited this summer on our annual summer trip to Maine, bought part of a grand, old house–in complete disrepair–in the historic center of Apt, France. After a year of “dreaming and designing,” they began slowly renovating as three separate holiday rentals. So far, there’s a one and two-bedroom apartment, with a third apartment on the way. Below, a Q&A with Sharon Mrozinski about the process.
When did you buy your first place in France?
We bought our home in Bonnieux in 1999. We had discovered this area, the Luberon, in the early ’80s and had felt an awakening in these sleeping ancient ruins. We felt as though they were all yawning waking from a deep sleep.
Paul was fascinated by the structure and materials used, all earth-born and local ( right under your feet). He had never seen anything like these. There seemed to be no beginning or end, somehow continuous and completely organic and unlike any structures he had studied while getting a degree in Architecture at Arizona State University. We dreamed of returning one day.
What attracted you to the apartments in Apt?
We fell in love with this rawness and lack of modernization and the grandness of it. The entry and staircase are huge showing obvious great wealth at one time, and we bought what we thought we could afford. In 2007, we began some serious remodeling after a year of dreaming and designing. We knew we could stretch it into three lovely apartments. We have one apartment left to finish on the ground floor, and it is the most amazing space. The stable will become the bedroom.
Where do you find all the beautiful furnishings?
We source the furnishings locally from dealers in Apt and Isle sur la Sorgue. We spend most of our time and buying in a 30-mile radius of our apartments in The Luberon. The entire region about 20 miles long is surrounded and covered in agriculture: farms, fields, orchards, vineyards as far as the eye can see. In fact, Apt has been the marketplace for the region for centuries. The Saturday market is the biggest and oldest to be found. It stretches from one end of town to the other and weaves through all the old cobbled streets and ancient alleys.
We don’t think we have a particular style. Utility is our goal. Everything must work in our spaces. The pieces need to “earn their keep.” Nothing sits on a shelf because it is pretty. We have a strong American eye for simplicity and always buy only what we love and want to live with forever. We do not have an easy time buying French furnishings generally–too many curves, too elaborate, too French is our biggest challenge. With the exception of their ancient homespun peasant cloth; We can never get enough of this.
What are your favorite design elements about the home?
We can only afford small spaces that are a real challenge to make livable. This is where Paul thrives.. He loves making the impossible into a cozy nest.. With these spaces he counts on extending the natural light. fooling the eye to feel bigger.. The ceilings are 12″ high, so the volume is amazing. They are hard to photograph well but to live in them is remarkable. Fireplaces are an absolute in our design demands. They are the center or the soul of a home to us. We could not build or live in a space without a fireplace… or seven.
Tell us about Apt. What do you love about the town?
Apt is famous for production and supplies of candied fruits for the world as well as the pottery that has been produced from the earth here for centuries. Apt doesn’t have “curb appeal,” but it’s at the beginning (or end) of the Luberon and still affordable so lots of young families and business booms. It is a place you need to dig deeply and discover. Not everyone likes this. We love the challenge of finding beauty in a town that hides its history, culture and beauty. It is all there. One must look harder, dig deeper and look upward–the steeples abound.