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.
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.
“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.”
“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.'”
More summer entertaining ideas: