It’s a dream renovation in Normandy… Although busy as a blogger, author, antiques hunter and mother, Sharon Santoni still finds time to give her family’s home a welcoming, informal feel that reflects the best of French interiors and hospitality.
FE: When and where did you buy your house?
We bought the house in 1997, a whole two years after our first visit to the property. The estate agent was strangely unwilling to show the house to potential viewers and then refused to communicate our offer to the owner, but by chance we and the owners had mutual friends, so in the end, we negotiated directly.
We’re in Normandy, about half way between Paris and Deauville. It’s great to be in the country, but also within an hour of the centre of Paris.
Was it your first French property/business and what was your background?
Before this house, we were already in Normandy, at a stunning orangery in the middle of a forest. It was a divine house but we were renting and wanting to have a place of our own. Our fourth child was born a few months after we moved here and it’s been a wonderful place for them all to grow up. A lot of space, easy access to the surrounding countryside and a forest nearby, where we all walk, cycle and ride. A pretty-near-perfect situation.
My husband is French and before coming to Normandy we lived in the south of France and in Paris.
What condition was the property in?
The house had been a weekend home for 30 years when we bought it. It’d been well maintained, but all the electrics and plumbing needed updating. We weren’t in a position to revamp the whole thing before moving in so work got done gradually, room by room.
Priority was given to the children’s bedrooms and the bathrooms – downstairs just got a coat of paint, at first. Improvements have been made over the years and still continue. But as everyone knows, a house is never ‘finished’.
What were your main challenges?
‘Challenges’ make it sound difficult. It was never very difficult to make this house feel comfortable. The proportions are just right for us, and there was no need to change any room layouts. The house has a very friendly feel to it that I love…
Replacing the wiring proved challenging to the electricians, and the same for the plumbers when we put in new pipes because the walls are so very thick. Also, the French carefully monitor any work done for waste water and we had to completely rethink that. I don’t think anyone had touched the system for 60 years and it was grossly inadequate for our large family.
What workmen did you use, if any?
All local workmen, all recommended by friends here. No bad surprises, they work well and efficiently.
What was your inspiration for the look and feel of the interior?
This is first and foremost a family home. It has to be comfortable and relaxed, but look good enough for us to be at ease when we invite friends. My husband left the interior design to me, and I stuck to a muted colour palette and comfortable classic furniture. I love the local brocante fairs, and I’m never scared to bring home a bed or chairs to re-upholster, or a table to paint.
We have two dogs, and now the children are older, but when they were younger there were a lot of muddy feet in and out of the house. Nothing could be too precious.
What experience did you have undertaking renovations and remodelling interiors?
Simply the personal experience of having lived in many different places and countries, and knowing what I want. Rooms are refreshed regularly and furniture moved around. I hate to get bored of my home!
Where did you source the furniture, paints and other objects?
Like everyone, our home is made up of furniture bought over years. I’ve the added bonus of some great addresses for brocante and antiques. The paints I most often mix myself or get them mixed at the local DIY store and rework them a bit once home.
What advice would you give to anyone in your shoes, who’s thinking of buying French property and relocating?
Be sure of where you want to live and what you’re looking for in your neighbourhood. A charming old barn may have great potential, but if it’s too isolated, you could easily spend a lot of time alone.
Especially for a family with children, be aware that, as they grow older, they’ll want to have a small town close by, for schools and entertainment.
Can you tell us a little about the businesses that you run?
I write a blog called My French Country Home. From this blog and the accompanying Facebook page, I reach hundreds of thousands of people each week, and several activities have grown organically. My first book will be published in August this year, called My Stylish French Girlfriends, and there are two more planned.
I regularly host antique buyers from abroad. I take them to my favourite dealers here in Normandy and assist them with getting their purchases back home. They either stay in our guest cottage or in local B&Bs.
I started the blog because I felt the need to reinvent myself as my children grew older – today I can say that it’s totally changed my everyday routine.
Sharon’s blog, My French Country Home, chronicles her life in Normandy, and her website also features details of the home decor range she’s curated for Soft Surroundings, her guided brocante tours and shop, details of new brand new book My Stylish French Girlfriends, plus details of her guest cottage.