Refurbished in 2018 by renowned Icelandic artist Kristjana S Williams, this four-bedroom former shop in a sleepy French village is an Instagrammer’s dream. Recently shot for Marie Claire Maison, each airy room is beautifully designed with the artist’s own wallpaper and art works as well as quirky found objects and curiosities.
On the hour, every hour in the sleepy village of Tourouzelle in the South of France, the church bells chime the hour. But it being France where the ‘maire’ or mayor likes to make the state’s presence felt too, the bells then ring for a second time in his or her honor. ‘So at midnight every night, 24 bongs reverberate through the house!’ laughs Icelandic artist Kristjana Williams who bought a three storey holiday home in the village in 2017. ‘It was just one of the many quirks I’ve learned to love about this house and its location.'
‘A few years ago we moved into a new townhouse in London which I’d styled in a very urban, dark style, celebrating the building’s concrete ceilings and exposed wiring,’ says the 44-year-old. ‘In some ways, it was quite restrained for me. So I wanted a holiday home where my imagination could run wild – where I could let loose with my prints in a light, rural and vibrant environment.’
The search began when Kristjana was working on a bespoke artwork for a client in Barcelona. ‘I’d take trips across the border into France to scope out the lovely villages in the Languedoc-Roussillon area,’ she says. ‘It was so beautiful. You have the Pyrenees as a backdrop and all these stunning vineyards, lakes and medieval cities, such as Toulouse and Carcassonne. Lots of artists have relocated there and if you look inland, the prices are really reasonable,’ she explains.
‘I was really drawn to the village because I’d found a website which analyzed which regions are growing and thriving and Tourouzelle was really prospering,’ she says. ‘I knew the locals would be happy to have an outsider coming in to restore one of their buildings. An estate agent showed me round Place D’Occitanieone sunny afternoon and I lost my heart to it. It was such a strange and interesting building. I’d been dreaming about this project in my imagination for so long and here it was!’
A former shop at street level, the 17th century stone building had lain empty for six years, unloved and unwanted by the three siblings who’d inherited from their parents. ‘It’s like a tardis with all these little quirky rooms,’ says Kristjana. ‘I loved the maze-like feel of the floorplan and it was full of character with original terracotta tiles, huge, heavy pieces of antique French furniture and a beautiful walled garden, which is a rare luxury in this region.’
As soon as the paperwork was complete that Summer, Kristjana returned home to articulate her vibrant aesthetic. ‘I designed a range of wall murals on a huge scale with a 4m repeating pattern which I knew would work really beautifully with the high ceilings,’ she says.
Meanwhile, her London-based builder, Ivan, travelled back and forth to complete the rennovations. ‘We chose not to move any walls to respect the integrity of the space,’ she says. ‘But I realise now I was very naïve about the other big things that needed addressing, like the plumbing and electrical wiring!’
Throughout the summer Kristjana drove back and forth from London to oversee the project. ‘It was exhausting, but I learned an important life lesson from that project,’ she says. ‘I’d regularly drive past this gas station near the house and the forecourt was always packed with cars at lunchtime. I was so intrigued. It turns out, it served lunch to all the local workers, so I started having lunch there too. Everyday I’d join the workmen and the plumbers and the farmers for a 90 minute three-course lunch. It was such an eye-opener – and so delicious! I’ve tried to keep that healthy habit up!’
During her travels, Kristjana began to furnish the house importing beloved pieces from her personal collection as well as indulging her magpie eye with intriguing objet from French markets. ‘We upcycled lots of the furniture we’d inherited too,’ she says of the imposing armoire now painted lime green and the solid oak dining table that’s had a duck egg blue makeover.
The result is a cabinet of curiosities, with something new and interesting everywhere you look. ‘It’s like an immersive experience inside my brain,’ she laughs.
Kristjana’s tips for upcycling
Get creative with your framing. Don’t think of a picture or print in isolation, think of it as an object and carefully select a frame to compliment it. I found two gorgeous long tapestries in a French market and had them framed in colbalt blue. They now run side by side form floor to ceiling in the sitting room.
Visit markets to look for objects in pairs. Symmetry always works and two of anything will have more impact – from vases, to light fittings, candlesticks and even armchairs!
Use a paint matching services to pick out the exact shade of something you love then paint the frame, shelf, recess or wall to tie everything together.
Break the rules! Feel free to clash modern treasures with antiques. While many things the house are vintage, I also included more modern objects that please me – like a collection of red Gameboys which I had mounted in a red shadow box frame for the children’s room.
Shop online in stores like Anthropologie, H&M Home and Ikea to find products to upgrade your market finds! I used brass hand-shaped curtain tie-backs from Anthropologie to mount two antique carriage lamps I found in Carcassone.
The house is on Air BnB:
Photographs: Benedicte Drummond
Words: Jess Spiring