Most of us - or those reading a magazine such as this - are itching to get our hands on a renovation project, and none more so, usually, than Anne-Marie Midy. She and her husband, Jorge Almada, are the talented duo behind , which produces distinctive furniture hand-crafted by Mexican artisans. They are certainly not shy of a project, having created numerous beautiful homes for themselves filled with bespoke pieces, in Paris (where Anne-Marie grew up), Brussels (click here to see inside) and Mexico (where Jorge was born).
But for Anne-Marie, taking on this house in Saint-Paul-de-Vence was slightly different. Lou Miedjou was built by her great-grandfather in the Twenties, on land bought from the Roux family, owners of La Colombe d'Or hotel and restaurant, and she and her brother, Emmanuel, inherited it from their father in 2008. It is bound up with memories of happy holidays throughout her childhood and teens, and of her beloved grandmother, who herself had a keen eye for beautiful things. 'I was scared to change it,' says Anne-Marie. 'I was nervous I would pull away its soul.' She talks nostalgically of the smell of orange blossom, lunches on the terrace and stone floor tiles damp from the August rain.
It is not a large house. As it was one of the earliest on the hillside, Anne-Marie's great-grandfather did not want it to attract too much attention. But it has a grace, with its wonderful loggia, perched high above the cobbled street below and with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. It also has its charming quirks, such as the ingenious winch installed by Anne-Marie's great-grandfather and still used today to haul up luggage and groceries, so that you do not have to carry them up the many uneven stone steps that ascend to the house. Outdoor meals are eaten in the shade of bougainvillea at a table her father created by placing a sheet of glass on top of an old stone well.
In the end, some change was a necessity. Built with almost no foundations, the house was literally starting to slide down the hill, woodwork was rotting and the plumbing had been undermined by a tree. The house needed to be saved. Old family albums were helpful, providing not only visual references but also reassurance. Anne-Marie could see the touches her grandmother had brought to the house when she inherited it - including adding bathrooms and changing wall colours. 'I realised it is OK to love the house in your own way,' she muses. While Anne-Marie and Emmanuel's aim was to tread lightly, restoring the structure to its original appearance, they were also able to bring the house up to date, to suit the way that they live now.
To make the most of the wonderful views and provide space for a barbecue, they created a larger paved terrace and seating area in front of the house. Iron benches were made by the Casamidy craftsmen specifically to take off-the-peg cushions Anne-Marie could buy locally and therefore replace regularly. 'This is a house where we have fun and relax; it needs to be practical and stress-free. The kids need to be able to sit down with wet trunks without us worrying.' At the bottom of the terraced garden is the pool, which Anne-Marie's grandmother added - here Anne-Marie turned a dining area into a covered seating area.
Internally, they were able to incorporate what had been the caretaker's apartment into the house, creating an extra bedroom and a television room. They also moved the dining table out of the sitting room and into the hall. And upstairs the twin beds found in every room were replaced with doubles - other than those in the bedroom of Olivier, 11, and Antoine, 10 - to make the house more comfortable.
Decoratively, Anne-Marie's touch was perhaps even lighter. As much as possible, she tried to match the wall colours to those that her grandmother had used, keeping the bedrooms the same subtle colours, but in some adding 'ribbons' of colour to outline the architecture and 'dress the room'. She bought little furniture for the house, instead working with the existing furniture. She re-covered the sofas in the sitting room and choose a blue Sunbrella fabric for the chairs in the loggia, recalling a specific blue that her grandmother had used. In the sitting room, she had elegant loose covers made to lift two Provençal chairs that had rather gloomy needlepoint seats. Her two sons sleep in the same 'squishy' beds of Anne-Marie's childhood, albeit re-covered.
Every cupboard is filled with collections of local artisanal ceramics, glass and linen collected by Anne-Marie's grandmother, which she continues to add to. 'I'm always buying things - it's a bad habit,' she admits. 'I often don't know how I'm going to use something and it can sit in the cupboard for ages, eventually gaining a new life.' Now, vividly coloured Mexican textiles mix comfortably with Provençal table linen and throws, adding a sense of fun to outdoor seating.
With renovations complete, Anne-Marie says she's now waiting for it all to grow old again. But for those of us who did not know it before, the Lou Miedjou of today feels perfectly timeless and at ease with itself, reminiscent of a different era without being staid or tired, with little touches that lift it and ensure it moves forward as every house should.