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Required Reading: Gesa Hansen’s “The French Art of Countryfication”

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Required Reading: Gesa Hansen’s “The French Art of Countryfication”

July 4, 2022

While the rest of us dream of living in Paris, three committed Parisian women friends recently found themselves living with their partners and children outside the city in the countryside near Fontainebleau. During the pandemic, as they discussed their new rustic lives, they decided to write a book about it.

The result is Coming Home to Nature: The French Art of Countryfication, and one of the authors is our friend, furniture and interiors designer Gesa Hansen. Gesa and her husband, Parisian restaurateur Charles Compagnon, started off by buying a weekend retreat several years ago that quickly became their full-time home—see A Scandinavian-German Designer’s Family Place in the French Countryside. They found their place while visiting friends, and other, in turn, followed them.

Countryfication, as the new book is known, is a guide for the style-conscious and curious about what it’s like to trade cafés and museums for cutting gardens and open sky. The authors are all unabashed reverse Beverly Hillbillies, in love with their surroundings but candid about the challenges: for starters, you’ll need a new wardrobe of wool pullovers and rubber boots; your work commute will take at least an hour; and if you’re single, good luck finding a date.

But one of the many pleasures will be having the time and space to gather for leisurely meals. In addition to offering inside looks at each of the authors’ inspired living quarters (a restored 400-year-0ld windmill, a forest ruin rebuilt by hand), a highlight of the volume is the garden feast shown here, orchestrated by Gesa and Charles in their walled garden. True, it’s a setting hard to match—but the spirit and insouciance are worth replicating wherever you find yourself this summer or any warm day with friends, kids, and dogs coming round.

Photography courtesy of Flammarion by Stephanie Füssenich and Nathalie Mohadjer, unless noted. Follow the book @countryfication.

gesa heads to the table. her family compound was built in the \1850s as a guest 9
Above: Gesa heads to the table. Her family compound was built in the 1850s as a guest house for the nearby Château de Courances.

Shown here is the former stables, now a garage/tool shed on one side and Charles’s coffee roasting station on the other: he roasts his own beans and supplies his three Paris restaurants—Gesa recently designed his latest one: see 12 Ideas to Steal from a Calm and Protective Paris Cafe.

the biergarten style white berlin tables and benches are from la trésoreri 10
Above: The biergarten-style White Berlin Tables and Benches are from La Trésorerie, one of our favorite design stores in Paris.

“I moved to the countryside because my husband wanted us to, but I was very afraid of feeling lonely,” Gesa tells us. “Then I discovered all these inspirations that I didn’t know about; my friends and I wanted to make a book about this new vocabulary of style.”

gesa uses antique embroidered tablecloths, and, in this case, repurposed heavy  11
Above: Gesa uses antique embroidered tablecloths, and, in this case, repurposed heavy vintage curtains to cover her table. She says the kids eat before the adults and frolic nearby—and under the table—during the festivities.
the table is set with italian spatterware plates from nicola fasano. cutipol fo 12
Above: The table is set with Italian spatterware plates from Nicola Fasano. Cutipol forks are paired with Opinel knives.
gesa invited her book collaborators, journalist estelle marandon and stylist ch 13
Above: Gesa invited her book collaborators, journalist Estelle Marandon and stylist Charlotte Huguet, who live nearby, Estelle in Cely and Charlotte in Barbizon.

“If someone had told us hardcore Parisians that we’d one day live in isolated little villages with scarcely a thousand inhabitants, we would have burst out laughing,” Estelle writes in Countryfication. “Before we took the leap, all three of us dreaded being far from everything…It turned out to be just the opposite…We actually began to wonder exactly what it was that had kept us so firmly attached to our former lives. I was reminded of that quotation attributed to Sigmund Freud in his last days: ‘I’ve wasted my time. All that matters in life is gardening.'”

charles made a green salad to go with his roasted and grilled leg of lamb. the  14
Above: Charles made a green salad to go with his roasted and grilled leg of lamb. The indigo napkins are by Tensira of Guinea, West Africa—”they’re great because you never have to iron them,” says Gesa.
the recipe for charles&#8\2\17;s red kuri squash, carrot, and ginger soup i 15
Above: The recipe for Charles’s Red Kuri Squash, Carrot, and Ginger Soup is on page 160 of Countryfication. “This is our go-to when we have the whole family together or a big group of friends show up,” he says. It’s served in antique bowls that Gesa found in a local flea market.
the spattered blue vent glass cups are from lafiore, a glass workshop in mallor 16
Above: The spattered Blue Vent Glass Cups are from Lafiore, a glass workshop in Mallorca, and the green pitcher is vintage. The wine is from Charles’s own vineyard in Beaujolais, which supplies some of what’s on the menus in his Paris restaurants.
gesa, charles, and friends all  gave up paris apartments for rural houses  17
Above: Gesa, Charles, and friends all  gave up Paris apartments for rural houses and gardens. As for seating, Gesa says, “Charles loves to make a plan; I’m all for anarchy.”
the empties go back to charles&#8\2\17;s vineyard for cleaning and reuse. p 18
Above: The empties go back to Charles’s vineyard for cleaning and reuse. Photograph by Bellero.
the old walled garden with its apple tree was one of the attractions that sold  19
Above: The old walled garden with its apple tree was one of the attractions that sold Gesa and Charles on their place.
the family&#8\2\17;s front doors are decorated with horseshoes—gesa  20
Above: The family’s front doors are decorated with horseshoes—Gesa has taken up playing polo in her new life.
coming home to nature is available in both french and english—the latter 21
Above: Coming Home to Nature is available in both French and English—the latter is $27.90 from Bookshop.org.

More summer entertaining ideas:

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