Sophisticated French Style House Decorating. This house was the original farmhouse in Abbotsford, Johannesburg, and had beautiful features – five fireplaces, thick walls and a large, warm kitchen. Its previous owners, a French couple, had imparted on it a French sense of style which appealed to the Francophile in Karen. ‘I looked around the house and saw my future,’ she says. ‘I pictured large dinner parties and alfresco lunches with friends and family, and children in the kitchen doing their homework as I cooked.’
The family spent many holidays in France during the redesign, either renting an apartment in Paris or a house in Provence, looking for inspiration in bistros, grand chateaus or simply on the streets. ‘I scoured the quaint antique shops of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue and competed with the locals on winter mornings at Vanves flea market on the south side of Paris. I became friends with all the antique dealers at Clignancourt on Paris’ northern outskirts and wherever I went I seemed to be followed by containers of authentic and original pieces, each with its unique story.’
Karen read French architectural books and spoke to local interior designers, but also quizzed French friends and women she encountered laying out a table for lunch in a remote village. ‘Did shutters go inside or out – and why?’ (Sometimes they go inside, sometimes out; it all depends on the area, the Mistral winds and ‘even the seagulls!’) ‘I soaked up every detail,’ she says.
She found her 18th-century Christofle cutlery set housed in a monogrammed leather box in Vanves and the serving room’s antique Baccarat chandelier in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, which she practically carried home over her shoulder. An antique chandelier also presides over a dining room inspired by Château de Haroué in Lorraine.