A Centuries-Old Stone Farmhouse Preserves the Greatest Luxury of All: Tranquility

“It’s what I call a true house,” says the homeowner.

a view from the garden of an 18th century farmhouse showing a lawn with a maple and an olive tree and other trees, various shrubs and bushes around the two story house
Joanna Maclennan

Welcome to the Luberon—la France profonde, the mythic France of the imagination. This is the heart of the particular section of Provence that unfolds over rolling hills and into fields of lavender, dotted with ancient stone villages that time has forgotten. Think red poppies, olive trees, and purple skies at dusk. The Luberon is not a fancy place in the way of the Côte d’Azur to the south, but it is a luxurious one: tranquility being the most elusive luxury of all.

For precisely that reason, the interior designer Patrick Frey and his wife, Lorraine, have made the Luberon their country home. Patrick runs the firm founded by his father, Pierre Frey, which designs traditional fabrics, carpets, and furniture. In a centuries-old stone house that previously belonged to Lorraine’s parents, the couple has created both a retreat and a refuge, one that celebrates the colors and textures of Provence with some signature touches of the family brand.

a stairway has concrete stairs with a thin metal railing, an iron accent table with a straw lamp, an emerald green bowl and vase with flowers, and a sofa in a green fabric with pillows in fabrics of different colors
A tinted concrete staircase leads from the living room to the second floor. A Philippe Hurel sofa is in a Pierre Frey fabric, and the iron table and straw lamp are vintage.
Joanna Maclennan

“You have to keep in mind that this house is a maison paysanne at its core—it was a farm in the beginning,” Lorraine says. “I believe that houses should preserve their true history and should remain in their simplicity.” Patrick agrees. “We’ve done it in a style that’s somewhat minimalist, but it’s not a precious or fragile house,” he says. “It’s what I call a true house. Of course it’s contemporary and full of color, as we love color, but really it’s timeless.”

The house is built of ancient stone, and you can see the weight and strength of its construction throughout. Built to withstand the so-called mistral, the frigid blast of arctic wind that comes down from the north, the structure affords a sense of protection and warmth—or cooling, depending on the season. “The house has very strong walls; that’s really its charm,” says Lorraine. Patrick was adamant that air-conditioning be banned here, even in the languorous heat of summer.

a sunroom has two round straw rugs, a sage green sofa with linen pillows and an accent table, two framed photos on a brick wall, gold linen curtains and a large glass door leading to the outdoor dining area
The curtains, pillows, and custom daybed in the sunroom are all in Pierre Frey fabrics. The side table is vintage. The photographs are by Johanna de Clisson.
Joanna Maclennan

In every aspect, the couple has maintained the rustic nature of the house: They have left the rough stone walls as they have always been—either exposed or whitewashed—and they’ve kept the original floor plan of small, intimate rooms. The way they enliven that style is through textiles and fabrics, Patrick’s passion. In the living and dining room, for instance, the white walls are complemented by wooden furniture and fabrics in various shades of green—sofas upholstered in mint for the living room, curtains in sage for the dining room. There is a wooden dining table in the same color, surrounded by wicker chairs. The effect is impromptu elegance.

Textiles, as one might expect, bring the house to life. “I only used linen, cotton, piqué—things that are very natural,” Patrick explains. “We played very much with the color, using old hues, to preserve as much of the charm as we could. The same goes for the ceramics, which are painted and rustic. Taken together, it’s all meant to feel a little outside of time.”

an outdoor dining area with a stone floor has a rustic rectangular table set for dining and six garden style chairs, above is a wrought iron chandelier and a ceiling make of cylindrical tiles
A dining table and chairs with placemats and cushions in Pierre Frey fabrics. The chandelier is made of wrought iron.
Joanna Maclennan

Upstairs, the bedrooms maintain a sense of calm: white walls again, but with beds decorated in some of Pierre Frey’s more playful designs—patterns in mustard yellow and magenta pink, and even a red toile. The furniture is meant to honor the region, to remind you of where you are. “We started a collection of Provençal fauteuils—always elegant,” Lorraine says. “If we are in Provence, we should use Provençal furniture.”

Outside, the house has a stunning garden, in keeping with the landscape of the Luberon, which is insistently wild. The gardens are well groomed but not manicured, left alone in their unkempt beauty. Patrick tends to the olive trees: “We cultivate our own olive oil here—just for the family, of course. Every November, we have them all come down and get the oil we make.”

a sitting room has a stone vaulted ceiling, a sofa with printed pillows, two modern style upholstered chairs, a floor lamp, a cocktail table with skeins of twine and books, a console with objects of african origin
A sitting room features the original stone vaulted ceiling. The custom sofa is in a Pierre Frey fabric, the chairs are by Guillaume Delvigne for Pierre Frey, and the console is by Julie Prisca. The photograph is by Hans Silvester.
Joanna Maclennan

One of his favorite corners of the property is an open-air room next to the pool, built in the original stone, where they installed an enormous banquette covered by a translucent canopy that cascades down from the high ceiling. “It’s a place where you can take a nap after lunch or read a book,” Patrick says. “It’s like our very own radassier.

The word is fitting—a radassier is a type of long sofa whose name comes from an old Provençal word meaning “to chat.” The point here is being together: For the Freys, conversation is part of the art of life. “We have many children and grandchildren,” Patrick says. “This is a family house, a very happy house.” 

may 2022 cover  elle decor

This story originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of ELLE DECOR. SUBSCRIBE

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