It is with great excitement that I welcome a new blog series – “Country Homes Around The World” – where each month I’ll be spotlighting an inspirational country home and homemaker from around the world.
For March, I’m excited to invite you into the beautiful residence and life of Charlotte Reiss, owner and founder of the French homewares brand Vivi et Margot.
After falling in love with the French lifestyle, Charlotte launched Vivi et Margot in 2015 while transforming a 150 year-old rural property into a gorgeous and welcoming second home in France. An online marketplace that hosts frequent pop-up shops across the US, Vivi et Margot offers an exclusive collection of French homewares, textiles, antiques and a variety of – their most popular item – market baskets.
I had the chance to ask Charlotte a few questions about her impossibly chic country lifestyle and what home in the country means to her.
What part of the world are you in, and how would you describe this part of the country?
Our home is in the Deux Sevres region of Western France. When we originally started the house hunt, we had no specific region in mind, although we knew realistically the South would be out of our personal budget. Not wanting to forsake the warmer summer months, we ruled out the Northern regions such as Brittany and Normandy, and looked a little more closely towards the Bordeaux area. We found the house after narrowing it down to about 10 properties online, with my husband flying over to do a road trip to view each. As I had a newborn at home, I relied on FaceTime and instinct (and husband trust!) for each viewing. The home we selected was about the fourth one he viewed. It had the “bones” we wanted in an old house (attic space and outhouses), with the right amount of land and proximity to town for our budget (which was 80,000 euros).
Tell me a little bit about the character of your home. How did it come to you?
The house was actually very dark, drab and plain when we purchased it, but the appeal, as I previously mentioned, was the huge attic space (my husband was able to tell had vaulted ceilings hidden under the drywall). The land was a manageable size to maintain from our home in America, and we just loved the fact that it was so rural. Although many would say it had no character at all (formica and linoleum everywhere), to me the original beams, fireplaces and old barn (which became our laundry room) had great character. This was important, as I wanted to restore and renovate a very traditional French home.
How old is your home, and how long have you lived there?
The house is approximately 200 years old, and from what I understand from research with the Maire (mayor) is that it was a barn where baskets were fabricated for the village. I don’t know if it was used for living quarters or not at that time. The top floor (which is now our bathroom) has the original barn doors visible where hay/ straw would be stored, and the outhouse/barn has the original oven in the wall. We bought the house 9 years ago now from a gentleman who had lived there alone with his dog for about 10 years.
How did you ‘meet’ your house?
We completed the entire transaction from the USA and first went together to visit as a family, including my daughters, about four months later. The house was uninhabitable at that time, so we had to stay in a hotel. My husband flew over a few times, and slowly we gutted the property and began the rewarding, but time-consuming, project of the remodel. Each visit we would stay there and work on new areas of the house, as some were inhabitable. Our first Christmas, I remember we had plywood on all the floors, a garden table in the living room, a mattress on the floor and the most makeshift kitchen you have ever seen, – and yes, we hosted Christmas with our families! It was interesting to say the least!
Who do you share your home with?
We don’t rent out house out, it is solely for us.
What is your favourite room or space in the home and why?
Without a doubt, the kitchen is my favorite room, and my favorite space is the pool terrace that we added about three years ago. The landscaping and pool was a huge expense that we saved for, but the best thing we ever did .
How do you create spaces for family life?
We don’t have a separate dining room, so all gatherings are in the kitchen. We often host multiple family members, and therefore have large expandable tables that can seat 12 both in the kitchen and outdoors. The garden is split into three levels, and in the summer we spend all of our time outside. We eat on a travelled patio space under the wisteria outside the kitchen back door, we play and dine on the middle terrace where we have the kids’ swings, outdoor table and chairs, BBQ and more. And on the top tier, where the pool is, I created a large entertaining area with more tables, chairs and double loungers. We have evening drinks up there and love to host family and friends.
How would you describe your style of decorating?
I am not sure if I have a style per se, but I do believe I have kept the house very country traditional. Classic clawfoot tubs, the use of wallpaper, fabrics and textures, and my favorite – the reclaimed tile (that was a huge expense, but so worth it) that we put in the mudroom, guest bathroom, kitchen master and kids’ bathrooms. I think my English Country roots come to play quite often, as I really love the home to feel lived in, loved, used. This is a home you curl up on the couch with, cook barefoot and just completely relax. I have an abundance of vintage pottery and books in the living room.
What is your favourite season at home, and how do you celebrate?
SUMMER! My parents live five minutes away in the next village, and my sister and her family always come and visit from Dubai. It’s my absolute favorite time of the year. Every window open, every shutter, no one is wearing shoes or worrying about makeup. It’s kaftan time, cooking, talking, going to the markets, sunbathing, the sound of kids everywhere. In summer the kids stay up until about 10pm, as it doesn’t get dark until then, and we love to spend this time completely unwinding and creating new memories.
Do you have any special tips for creating the feeling of “home?”
After about two years of trips over, once the rooms were taking form, I started bringing personal items over for the girls and myself. I keep a complete set of clothes, toiletries, toys – everything you can think of – there, so we can literally walk through the door and step into daily life. We have talked about moving there full-time, but the reality is that my girls are currently in schools in America, so for a few more years our stays can only be seasonal. I also obviously do a lot of sourcing and shopping for our online store, and the house is filled with treasures that I just love to look at.
What does “country home” mean to you?
Lush green views, surrounded by nature, the sound of gravel underfoot in the driveway, the windows and doors all open (no screens, so yes a few frogs and bugs get in!), bread delivered to the house, each meal at least two hours long, no traffic, no TV (we have two but rarely watch), being able to go on long, slow, ambling walks with my children, the smell of fresh air and the ink black skies at night from no street lights around. It’s magic, it really is.
Thank you so much for sharing your gorgeous home with me, Charlotte!
All photography by Charlotte Reiss.
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Interested in being featured in my new “Country Homes Around The World” series? Let me know in the comments below!