Today we head overseas and catch up with Mary from Across the Pond, a delightful blog on home decor with a European twist. While Mary lives in beautiful North Carolina, she’s from Southwest England and still has family in France. This experience and background gives her a unique perspective on decor, and it’s a very refreshing one that will open your eyes to lots of new ideas.
Mary recently returned from a month-long trip to France, where she visited friends and family and took lots… and lots… of pictures! She has been posting them almost daily on Across the Pond, and they are exquisite.
Mary was kind enough to take the time to answer some questions for us, and we think you’ll enjoy our conversation very much. Without any further ado, let’s get to it!
1. Hi Mary, welcome back to American soil! Please use this first question to tell us about your blog and any other websites or services you have to offer.
I’ve been blogging since early 2007 ~ almost 500 posts.
I named my blog Across the Pond as this a phrase well known to most Europeans who have family and friends living in,or traveling to, the USA across the Atlantic Ocean.
I emigrated to the USA from England in 1962 and have crossed the pond so many times I’ve lost count!
I wanted my blog to be a journal of my daily life in my cottage in North Carolina, and of my quite frequent travels. Blogging and using a digital camera has made me look at life differently.
I’ve grown to love photography and enjoy the creativity of shooting images wherever I go.
My decorating style is definitely eclectic. I’m an avid gardener and enjoy bringing the outdoors in by using antique urns, pieces of iron fencing, bird cages, floral art and huge containers of dried hydrangeas which I love.
I’ve made many wonderful worldwide friends through blogging. Several are local and we get together to treasure hunt at local antiques and vintage shops.
While in France last month I also met up with three blog friends, one from Florida who was staying in the village where my family lives, and two American ladies who are married to Frenchmen and who live in Provence.
2. Ok, time to spill the beans. You just got back from France; you’re one lucky lady!
Very briefly, how was the trip and, more importantly, how was the decor?
The opportunity of spending almost a month in Southern France was exciting. With family now living in the Minervois region I was able to really surround myself with the true feeling of living in a small (pop. 1400)medieval village.
The French do not invite people into their homes to view their rooms and decor, no ‘grand tours’ as we seem to do here. My family is English and has spent several years restoring a large village house and garden. They have kept many original features such as the tiled and wood floors, the beautiful stone staircase with iron banisters, the famous red Caunes marble sink, heavy wood entry door with what I always call the castle key – it’s a huge iron one. They have decorated with a mix of furnishings brought from their former London home, along with wood pieces, such as a large china cabinet, dining table and chairs,which were handcrafted by a local carpenter.
A return visitto Provence for five days enabled me to see truly beautiful decor in an exquisite house where I stayed.
On entering the apartment I was overcome by the simple yet elegant beauty of the furnishings, the paint colors and finishes.
It was true French Country encompassing subdued natural things, 18th century pieces, soft tones, no clutter to bother the eye, each decorative piece stood alone and made one really see its grace and beauty.
I wanted to bring everything home with me of course – but only managed to purchase two heavy linen pillow covers and some very old monogrammed linen kitchen towels from the gracious hostess, Nathalie. Should have taken that extra suitcase after all!
3. My dream is to one day go to France, visit a café (one among many things), snack on some fine cheese and baguettes, and converse with the locals.
Am I stereotyping, or do these types of cafes really exist in France on every street corner? And if so, did you visit any, and how was the food?
Cafélifeis all around one when in France. Starting early morning when coffee and bread or a croissant is the usual breakfast, through the day with the two hour relaxed lunch,and into late night dining,the French enjoy their food and beverages.
Yes, you would often find yourself sitting at a little table on a sidewalk, watching the world go by. I enjoyed the French coffee served small, strong and always piping hot. The food? Well what can I say ~ it’s usually wonderful as the ingredients are fresh from the local morning market,preparation is perfect and, when the dish is served, you ooh and aah over its presentation. Being vegetarian is sometimes a problem in restaurants as the French are big meat eaters, however I’ve never gone hungry yet.
My sister-in-law, an accomplished cook, made wonderful meals using vegetables from her garden. Like most French villagers her potager was crammed with lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, pumpkin, aubergines and courgettes. Her pantry was stocked for the Winter with bottled sauces, soups, jams, heavenly flavored aperitifs etc., all made from the garden harvest or berries picked in the countryside.
4. You took over 2,000 photos while in France. Your head must be spinning with ideas for your own home back in North Carolina, and you must be quite overwhelmed right now.
What is your plan to organize your thoughts, and what types of things has your visit to France inspired you to do back home?
I have organized all those photos and am gradually working on posts for my blog ~ there’s so much to share. I try not to make a trip read like a travelog, grinding along with a day by day itinerary. Instead, I strive to keep it interesting by leading my readers into quiet cobbled village streets, around corners where ancient stone walls sometimes lean, and heavy painted shutters hang like weathered art. I’ll share visits to the vineyards where the Autumn colors glowed beneath a rainbow, and the last missed bunches of almost black grapes still clung on the vines.
At the morning markets the produce was displayed with pride by the farmers who grew it, the chestnuts were harvested and roasted in large metal pans while you waited, and the ruddy-faced goat cheese man proffered the most beautiful cheeses wrapped in leaves, or coated with ash, tied with raffia and labelled in French handwriting, little packages almost too lovely to open and eat!
Now home I cannot replicate most of the above, however I will still have a few Saturdays left to buy local produce and eggs before the local outdoor market closes for the season. I can’t buy my wine from the village co-op where you fill a 5 litre ‘bidon’ for just a few euros ~ but I will search the shelves at the wine shop for French ones.
The bread…………….oh that fabulous French bread. Alas, no boulangerie baking twice a day nearby ~ I loved that in the village, a fresh baguette for breakfast, then back at 5:30 PM when they were fresh from the oven again in time for dinner.
Decor thoughts. In my dreams………..I want my home to look like the Provence apartment. In reality…………only a version of it will be possible. I can’t have the 18th century painted doors and the terracotta tiled floors, but I will try to make heavy linen drapery panels. and paint the white furniture that lovely soft French grey.
Most of all, I am inspired to simplify, to keep only what I love and make those special pieces stand out. I plan to edit drastically, removing a lot of smaller items and thereby displaying fewer, larger, truly loved pieces. I have a large pine armoire to paint and will repaper the interior with pages from antique illustrated French journals. I may try replicating a door I loved at the Provence apartment – it was padded and covered with heavy natural linen attached with brass nails – this would be perfect for my linen closet door. I will make a shower curtain from an old monogrammed linen tablecloth found at a brocante in Carcassonne.
5. Sometimes when we see gorgeous homes, we come back to our own homes and feel like we have nothing (in comparison).
The truth, of course, is that everyone has a lot to be proud of in their homes. What’s the best part about living in a quaint cottage home in North Carolina?
Yes, it’s only human nature to sometimes feel a little envious of others’ homes. Today there are so many huge, beautiful houses and even in my older neighborhood the tear downs are starting, small ranches being replaced by ‘McMansions’. I’ve never wanted a large home perhaps because growing up in England life was on such a smaller scale.I moved to North Carolina from New England 31 years ago when my husband’s company transferred him.
Our cottage style house has served us well and now, as senior citizens, we are grateful to have a small property to care for. We’ve done some remodeling in the past 10 years to make life easier, including a large walk-in tiled shower with jets for our aging, sometimes aching, backs!! We especially enjoy the addition of a larger deck and screened gazebo to enable mosquito-free outdoor dining. Our front porch is a favorite spot and one I, and my blog readers, enjoy seeing decorated for each changing season.
As I write, Autumn color is vivid, trees have reached their peak, foliage is breathtaking, and it’s still warm enough to enjoy outdoor dining. Four distinct seasons make North Carolina a wonderful place to live with access to both the mountains and the ocean.
6. My favorite time of the year is Halloween. You probably didn’t have much time to decorate for Halloween, but in years past, have you gotten excited about Halloween, and what are your favorite types of Halloween decorations?
Must admit Halloween decorating did not happen this year as I returned from France on Oct. 26 and just couldn’t find time to crawl through the attic and drag out the ravens, witches, giant spider webs and my collection of white pumpkins!
I bought one large orange one for my front steps and then lit lots of lanterns and candles for the trick or treaters on Halloween night. I usually do have a great porch display and also decorate the gazebo with scary things~ next year perhaps I’ll have time to do better before the little goblins show up!
7. The holidays are coming near, which means lots of cooking and decorating lie ahead.
Will you be hosting either Thanksgiving and Christmas, and if so, will you have new decorating tricks up your sleeve for guests this year based on your recent trip overseas?
I will not be hosting Thanksgiving this year but will decorate because I like the house to look festive. I plan to fill my large iron urns with seasonal florals and fruit – ivy, dried roses, berries, hydrangeas from the garden,perhaps adding apples and pomegranates.
Christmas has always had me spending up to a week decorating every corner of the cottage, the porch, gazebo, arbors, gate, mailbox etc. I used to enjoy this but find it’s becoming a bit too much. I’m definitely scaling down this year and have decided I will not be purchasing any new decorations………unless I find a little treasure I just can’t resist. I have more than enough and, like the Europeans, will be selective and only decorate with things I truly love and which depict the true meaning of Christmas.
We usually have a live tree in the dining room and a faux tree in the gazebo, and I have collected hundreds of decorations for them over the years. I have some beautiful cherubim figures for the mantel, and a collection of mercury glass candle holders. I will hang the usual white lights on the porch and buy live greens to mix with sprays of berries from the garden
8. Mary, we know you’re very busy and backlogged with things to do, so we won’t keep you any longer. Thank you so much for sharing your time with us.
For our last question, please tell us what it was in your life that made you so interested in decor? And how do you keep yourself interested in decor after all these years?
Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts on decorating. I believe my creative spirit came from my mother who was an amazing dressmaker. She instilled a deep love of fabric, texture, fashion and design in me from a very early age. She made all my clothes and encouraged me to decorate my bedroom, often. We were always painting and wallpapering, sewing curtains and pillows, rearranging furniture, and loving every minute of it!
My interest never waned but was sometimes derailed, especially when the children were small and the money was tight! Now I have a free reign and can do just about anything I may dream up within my budget.I have one of those wonderful husbands who lets me be the interior designer, painter, seamstress, landscaper………….and he loves looking at it all when completed.
Did that interview make you want to buy a ticket to Paris or what?
Thank you so much to Mary for sharing her wisdom with us and letting us in on her trip to Europe. This was one of my favorite interviews, and Mary put a lot of effort into her answers.
Don’t forget to visit Across the Pond and check out her vast collection of photos and blog entries. It sounds like Mary is enjoying her retirement, and thanks to technology, we can share in her joy through her words and pictures.
Thanks Mary. Au revoir!