Real Homes

Inside paint doyenne Annie Sloan’s charming Normandy home

Decorative paint guru Annie Sloan takes us through her Normandy home which, as you’d expect, is a rainbow of colours

 

You may recognise Annie Sloan’s name from the side of a paint tin of her eponymously named paint. As a fine artist-turned-decorative artist she wanted to create deliberately undetectable restorations and head-turning murals in houses but was frustrated she couldn’t find paints that met her exacting standards. She came up with her own paints, then partnered with a Belgian factory to produce the paint she’d been making at home. The result is her famous Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Decorative painting hasn’t been the same since. Although Annie lives in Oxford, England, she happily packs her paint brushes for some decorative painting at her Normandy holiday home.

Can you talk us through your home in Normandy?

The house in Normandy is a patchwork of old buildings. Originally a long-house (which is a traditional type of French farm wherein the farmer and his family would live in the same home as all their animals – very cost-effective in terms of heating and so on), it’s comprised of one big long room at the front, which is our living room, kitchen and dining area. Behind that we have my studio and workshop, while upstairs are the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Who stays there with you?

I visit with my husband David. We usually go four or five times a year, but because of the pandemic, it’s been over a year since we last visited. I miss the place terribly. We take a motley crew with us. I’ve had journalists come to stay to write pieces on the property, old university friends and, of course, my sons Felix, Hugo, Henry and their families.

How much work have you done on your home?

Not as much work as it needs, is the short answer. Getting anything done in the French countryside, particularly when you’re not there for long stretches of time to oversee the process, can be a very lengthy process. Culturally, the French have a laissez-faire attitude to meetings and arrangements and in my experience that only becomes more pronounced the further from Paris you are. You might have organised for an electrician to visit, but if the apples are in season and his friends need an extra hand with the harvest, not to mention the cider-making process, you don’t stand much chance of seeing your electrician ever again. We had our builder, Dino, come from Oxford once to do some rudimentary wall-knocking down and so on, and my aforementioned husband discovered a passion, if not a talent, for plumbing. We have some very esoteric piping as a result of his effort but it very much adds to the charm of the property, in my view. I’d love to spend a few weeks there and get some proper bathrooms installed, but of course that’s all up in the air at the moment. One prefers not to start making plans since one will only be disappointed when one has to abandon them.

Did you have an challenges you didn’t foresee?

Any monumental interiors fails? We’ve been very lucky – I’m a hands-on type of person with a lot of experience in renovation. Truly, nothing shocks me and with the dilapidated state of the long-house fully evident when we made the purchase, most of the surprises have been pleasant ones – uncovered murals, treasure troves under the floorboards, dated engravings and so on.

What’s your favourite part of the house?

The upstairs bedroom. The wall was made in the traditional style – hay and guano with mud packed between beams, and I painted it in Chalk Paint in Old White. The texture is so stunningly sublime that we put a bath in the bedroom so I could bathe in it and admire the beauty of the wall. It’s an extremely relaxing space and a brilliant example of working with what you have being the key to the best renovation projects.

Did you paint the house yourself or get the painters in?

I painted the house myself. I adore painting and would never let anybody else have all that fun. Walls, in particular, are so therapeutic.

Can you take us through the colours in the pink living, the room with the painted mural over the fireplace, the colourful staircase and the green bed please?

I’ve always had pink living rooms, I just think it’s a lovely flattering, calm, warm colour and it makes perfect sense in a room where we spend so much time socialising. The mural over the fireplace existed already but was very faded so I had a joyful afternoon picking that out with my own paints. The staircase was painted over a rainy weekend when I was writing one of my books – I think it was Creating The French Look. I needed a break from recommending techniques and writing step-by-steps so I had some therapeutic, self-indulgent, bright colour playtime. The green bed is painted in Chalk Paint in Antibes Green, one of my favourite colours, then I overlaid Dark Chalk Paint Wax to get that gorgeous, rich aged look. Gold Gilding Leaf was a no-brainer; the second I saw the details on the headboard I knew I needed to turn to metallics to give it the glamour it deserved.

What do you love about paint, and specifically Chalk Paint?

Paint is the quickest and cheapest way to utterly transform a space. You can save a piece of furniture from the scrap heap using paint and rediscover your own creativity. Chalk Paint is the best because you don’t have to waste time prepping; you simply pop open a can and get painting. Then it dries very quickly, too. Both those things were important to me because I was a working mother of three boys and I needed a paint that would fit my lifestyle and make things easier rather than harder.

How would you introduce someone with white-on-white interiors to the colour you’re so known for?

I’d be very worried about someone with all-white interiors – it’s not good for the soul. They’ll have a painted picture frame; a bunch of daffodils on a table, a set of placemats they adore. We’ll start there. Once you’ve found a colour you love it’s easy to integrate it into your home; paint a lamp base, then a stool, and next thing you know you’re diluting the paint to make a wash and you’ve got a gorgeous rustic farmhouse blue wooden floor. It’s addictive and the paint really does speak for itself.

What’s your biggest consideration when approaching a do-up?

Consider the furniture. Think about it before you start painting; you may well change your mind halfway through, but the design process itself is necessary. Sit down and look at the furniture; notice the shapes and structure of the piece and use colours which enhance and reflect the bits you like or mask the bits you don’t.

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