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Making a House a Home

From somewhere in the distant past, I remember an adage about how it takes a heap of living to make a house a home.

I did some sleuthing on the internet and found a 60-year-old song by Walter Brennan with that title.

I don’t remember the song, but the theme repeated itself ad nauseum in my head during the weeks I’ve spent turning my modest townhouse in Castelnau-le-Lez into a home.

When I moved from California, I left my furniture behind. Except for a few items—wedding gifts, some special dishes, clothes, and souvenirs, I started over.

In retrospect, that was the right decision. Little if anything of my California-style furnishings would have fit into my modest French home. But more importantly, I knew that if I was to create a new life for myself, I needed to create a nest that more accurately reflected the emerging me.

I’ve had an incredible amount of fun picking out mirrors, bedding, sewing machines, kitchen appliances, chairs, lamps, overhead lighting, and more to decorate my new home. The French sense of style is so far ahead of what I had access to in my rural community in northern California that I truly live in a shoppers’ paradise.

My son, Expresso, and I frequented a massive hardware store to pick out dramatic overhead lighting. We’ve also installed four ceiling fans. In every case, I’ve gone for the dramatic. The light/fan in my office and a second in my sewing room remind me of fixtures from the starship Enterprise.

Expresso as handyman installing overhead fan

And lest you think I am spending a fortune, I’m not. I’m spending no more—and in many cases less—than I would in the United States for the same items. The difference is that I’m getting more style and flair for the same dollar.

But a home isn’t simply about the furnishings. It’s also about the people who enter and leave—not once but routinely. My helper in keeping my place clean and spotlessly organized is Amber. I have to admire her organization skills. My closets have never looked so good.

Amber keeps me organized

And then there’s my son, who has surprised me with his handyman skills. I’m not sure who’s had more fun fixing up my home—Expresso or me.

I also have to mention the professeure, my French teacher. Besides tutoring me, she is also a master seamstress and has introduced me to fabulous fabric (tissu) stores.

Sometimes I wander in the stores simply taking pictures of the fabrics—the choices are unbelievable. And often I purchase fabric for projects at my home. For example, I recovered the bench at my entrance and made three matching pillows.

My French mirror and recovered bench

I also must mention other neighbors here in Les Petits Cailloux, who are impossible not to get to know. About 50 homes are built within a former quarry. We enter and leave through a single gate, where the mailboxes are also located. Between getting one’s mail, entering, leaving, and getting delivery packages, it is impossible not to become acquainted with one’s neighbors.

Most of the families in this modest development have young children. I think that may be the best feature for me. The sound of children laughing and playing outside always makes me happy.

Plus, the layout of the complex forces me to socialize. On my own, I’d probably be too shy to speak French or engage with others. But no one passes me without saying “Bonjour.” When I reply with my version of “Bonjour,” I sometimes get a kindly smile, as if they hear and recognize my American accent and my clumsy efforts to fit in.

At night, the greeting changes to “Bon soir,” as in good evening or good night. But always the smile accompanies the greeting whatever the time of day. And sometimes a chat where I get to practice my awkward French.

We mustn’t forget, of course, the weekly apéro (apéritif) parties. With rare exception, every Friday night the neighbors gather for an apéro party in a walkway not even twenty feet from Expresso’s front door. I don’t always join the party, but I know I’m welcome anytime.

For sure, turning a house into a home involves introducing the comforts and conveniences that reflect the tastes and preferences of the owner. But making a house a home also involves what happens outside the physical structure.

I will always cherish the life I knew with my husband, Dick, in our beautiful home in the forest. But going forward, my goal must be to cherish the life I have with the people who, through chance or design, now populate my life.