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Artist Visit: Heather Chontos’s 17th-Century Barn Studio in Southwest France

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Artist Visit: Heather Chontos’s 17th-Century Barn Studio in Southwest France

September 4, 2023

A mere three-and-a-half years ago, artist Heather Chontos purchased—sight unseen—a run-down 18th-century farmhouse in Southwest France. During a year of lockdown, using found and vintage materials, Heather entirely refashioned the place as her own, transforming it Bloomsbury style into an extension of her art.

For Heather, who grew up in Upstate NY, the biggest appeal of the property was the fact that it came with a 17th-century stone barn twice as big as the house: a dream studio. We recently featured Heather’s living quarters; we’re returning now to tour her enormous creative space.

We had to act fast: Heather isn’t someone who stays put. After nonstop work perfecting the property—the first she’s ever owned—Heather says she’s ready for her next big project: “I feel like I finished my story here and I need to create a new story. It’s as simple as that.” Last March, Heather announced on Instagram (@hchontos) that she was ready to sell her compound directly to someone who will love it as is, serious queries only. She fielded 150 responses and the place ended up going to a friend, a fellow artist Heather “met on a barstool in Brooklyn 20 years ago,” who will share it with his father.

Heather and the younger of her two daughters, meanwhile, are in residence a bit longer—real estate deals in France require months of paperwork—and they welcomed us back.

Photography by Heather Chontos (@hchontos), unless noted.

located in the hamlet of la tour blanche cercles in nouvelle aquitaine in south 17
Above: Located in the hamlet of La Tour-Blanche-Cercles in Nouvelle Aquitaine in southwestern France, Heather’s stone house (visible at left) is linked but not connected to the barn, which was built a century earlier. The barn’s back garden, shown here, was “a pit of sand, plastic, and nettles” when Heather started working on it. The paving stones were stacked in “a heaping mound of sand, plastic, and dead snails. It was quite a job. The previous owners seemed to have planned to put in a swimming pool.”

Heather planted lavender, herbs galore, squash, radishes, and pumpkins (“I eat pumpkin religiously”), wisteria (that’s what’s growing on the arbors), and bay leaf, plum, apricot, mimosa, olive, and cypress trees —”I just wanted to see what would grow.” She hired a traditional stone mason, a neighbor she coaxed out of retirement, to install the barn windows: “It required old-school structural work, so amazing to watch. The window frames are made from cut stone; the oak at the top are old beams from the barn.”

The Viewing Room

heather describes the barn as &#8\2\20;my studio, gallery, kitchen, meditat 18
Above: Heather describes the barn as “my studio, gallery, kitchen, meditation space and art viewing room.” It required clearing out, shoring up, and dividing into a series of small spaces—”otherwise it would be too cold”—all heated by a single wood stove. This room is set up for collectors to see Heather’s work. A self-taught artist, her paintings and sculpture are exuberantly bright and abstract: “I harness the power of gesture to create instinctive compositions,” writes Heather. The fabric on the sofa is Heather’s design for Pierre Frey: La Toile du Peintre (a Heather Chontos wallpaper and rug are also available).
the old cement mangeoire, feeding troughs, are leftover from when the barn was  19
Above: The old cement mangeoire, feeding troughs, are leftover from when the barn was occupied by cows. Heather uses them as little gardens and storage for her preserves (“they stay cool in here”).  She paneled the wall with found barn wood and drew on it with oil stick.
heather says she plans to leave most of the furnishings behind: &#8\2\20;i  20
Above: Heather says she plans to leave most of the furnishings behind: “I feel like they belong here.” The old French wardrobe came from La Caverne d’Ali Baba in Cercles, her favorite local source for vintage furnishings.

The Kitchen

heather&#8\2\17;s &#8\2\20;summer kitchen&#8\2\2\1; is situated rig 21
Above: Heather’s “summer kitchen” is situated right off the garden. She assembled old cabinets and used tree branches as hanging rails. Her curtains are burlap sacks from a coffee roaster in Italy. Heather uses the space for making coffee while she works and keeps her pizza oven here. The pie safe is a necessity: “we have a lot of friendly little mice.”
the over the counter shelf is an old gun box. 22
Above: The over-the-counter shelf is an old gun box.
the kitchen&#8\2\17;s classic concrete floor—scratched in a grid of  23
Above: The kitchen’s classic concrete floor—scratched in a grid of little gutters so water can run through it for easy cleaning—was a great discovery when Heather cleared out “a hundred years of dirt, hay, dust, old wine barrel pieces, and wood (this region used to be a wine region before Bordeaux became Bordeaux). It took a long time to get to this base layer.” Heather created the wall mural using oil stick and house paint. The ceiling she notes is low: “French houses are made for Napoleonic people. I’m 5’10” and I just make it.”
the old butcher block table by the door to the garden came from the flea market 24
Above: The old butcher block table by the door to the garden came from the flea market in Moissac. Heather bought the rope basket at a home store in Périgueux.

The Studio Loft

heather built a second floor in the barn to use as her painting studio. lottie, 25
Above: Heather built a second floor in the barn to use as her painting studio. Lottie, the Tibetan terrier, is one of the family’s three dogs, and Heather also has horses. The metal rims on the wall are wine barrel hoops collected in the woods.
heather, here with her springer spaniel, filou, always starts her large canvase 26
Above: Heather, here with her springer spaniel, Filou, always starts her large canvases on the floor—and then hangs the work to take a look at it. She uses acrylics and inks, and, rather than a brush, applies paint with plastic cards—”hotel room key cards, expired credit cards, gift cards—I treat them like spatulas or putty knives, but they have to be the right thickness.” Photograph by Anna Malmberg.
on view in the studio: a collaboration chair made with pol angrill of barcelona 27
Above: On view in the studio: a collaboration chair made with Pol Angrill of Barcelona-based Mirror Design Studio—”he’s the youngest brother of the family I went to live with in Barcelona when I was 16.” The patchwork on the wall is a kitchen mat Heather stitched from scrap fabric.

Studio/Yoga Room/Guest Loft

heather collected old doors, windows, and shutters to partition the upstairs. s 28
Above: Heather collected old doors, windows, and shutters to partition the upstairs. She makes smaller works on paper and wood here. The adjacent room—with a sleeping loft and yoga area—is decorated with a wall of fabrics.
the loft has a bed on top and an infrared heater inside—heather built it 29
Above: The loft has a bed on top and an infrared heater inside—Heather built it for doing yoga: “I wanted a small space with a heat blast.” The stair hatch alongside the loft leads to the kitchen and bathroom.
heather has left her mark all over, including the old french vase on her work t 30
Above: Heather has left her mark all over, including the old French vase on her work table.
rolled up paintings and drawings are stored on a salvaged hospital cart. heathe 31
Above: Rolled up paintings and drawings are stored on a salvaged hospital cart. Heather made the light fixture by weaving rags through a vintage metal baskets for transporting chickens. She bought the midcentury chairs from her local vintage source, La Caverne d’Ali Baba, and had them reupholstered in vintage raw canvas then painted them with acrylic inks.

Next: Heather and her daughter and their menagerie are moving to Marvao, Portugal, just over the border from Spain opposite Lisbon. Heather is working with an architect to build a rammed earth house on three hectares (7.4 acres) of land in a national park filled with centuries-old cork trees, : “I’m very excited to be starting afresh with a blank slate.” Meanwhile, tour her French living quarters.

Here are three more artists at home:

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Frequently asked questions

Who is the artist featured in the article?

The artist featured in the article is Heather Chontos.

Where is Heather Chontos' studio located?

Heather Chontos' studio is located in a stone barn in Southwest France.

What type of art does Heather Chontos create?

Heather Chontos creates abstract paintings.

How long has Heather Chontos been an artist?

Heather Chontos has been an artist for over 20 years.

What is unique about Heather Chontos' studio space?

Heather Chontos' studio space is situated in a renovated stone barn, providing a rustic and charming environment.

Does Heather Chontos use any specific techniques in her paintings?

Yes, Heather Chontos often employs gestural brushwork and layering techniques in her paintings.

Can visitors visit Heather Chontos' studio?

The article does not mention if visitors can visit Heather Chontos' studio.

Where can I see more of Heather Chontos' artwork?

You can see more of Heather Chontos' artwork on her website or social media profiles, which are not mentioned in the article.

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