‘Curb appeal’ is a term I first became aware of in the States many years ago. Recently a very dear friend from the USA came to stay with us here, and I will never forget her shock at how so many of our village houses are right on the edge of the road. Many have no front gardens, despite the fact they are not in a town but in the country. I had never really given it much thought, as it is something that is quite normal in both France and the UK. Cottages and houses that were built alongside tiny tracks centuries ago might have once had some grass in the foreground, but as roads were widened to take modern-day traffic, so the tarmac has crept ever closer to their front doors.
However, never let the lack of a cute gate, a lawn or an immaculate garden fool you; for these houses still have more than their fair share of curb appeal. Just look at the shutters, so French, and available in all shades and sizes. They’re not just there for looks, despite the fact they certainly do add an enormous amount of charm. First and foremost they are immensely practical; serving several different purposes! They keep the burning sun out, keeping old houses cool during the height of summer, and then in the winter they keep out the wind and rain, protecting windows and keeping us warmer. They also provide security and a great deal of privacy. A window pane can be broken by a burglar, but opening a shutter that has been bolted from the inside is a great deal harder.
What’s more, they don’t have to be firmly locked. Many are flung wide open, others are just pulled ajar; enough to let in some light while behind them the windows are wide open allowing the air to circulate.
Bold and bright colours seem to be gaining popularity and I am seeing more and more homeowners livening things up a little and moving away from the traditional. It’s not for me, but I can see the fun in it. What do you think?
Some things don’t need any embellishment at all – they are perfect just as they are. We see less and less of the traditional louvred shutters here nowadays and they are a rare treat when we find some.
Traditional wooden styles are the most economical and by far the most popular, but one can see why people move away from them and install electric roller versions that close with the click of a switch.
In this beautifully preserved 17th century townhouse they have been added sympathetically, and incredibly the house has not lost any of its original character. In fact, unless you look very closely when walking by you wouldn’t even notice they were there. I happen to have seen them closed which is why I know they exist!
One of the things I love most about these old villages is that plants are allowed to grow wherever they may self-seed; an unlikely place for a vine beside a relatively busy road,
or a self seeded hollyhock that softens these walls.
In fact anything is welcome, the more the better!
Imagine stopping to pick a grape as you enter your house, or even a bunch or two!
Don’t be fooled by what you see on the outside, a lack of front space and no grand entrance is rarely an indicator of what lies beyond, more often than not there is an oasis to be found behind those firmly closed gates! An unexpected, carefully guarded secret perhaps, that if you are fortunate enough to discover will create a lasting impression you will never forget.
But just for a moment, let’s go back to the colour of the shutters. Blues and greys in every shade imaginable are undoubtedly the most popular.
The French are usually reluctant to advertise prosperity and wealth, preferring in many cases to present a facade of flowers and simple paint, clean or sometimes fading, but always indicating a sense of calm and serenity. I have lost count of the number of times I have approached a house for the first time, perhaps the home of one of our children’s friends and then been amazed by the transformation inside behind a tattered doorway. I suspect it’s another long tradition of their culture, another means of security which keeps away prying eyes and envious neighbours. I also feel it displays a certain confidence, there is simply no need to show off.
Here in the Charente Maritime, one of the flowers you will see most frequently by the side of the road are hollyhocks – sometimes carefully placed in position by helping hands, but more often than not carelessly seeded by the wind, whose breath slides the small pods into cracks, corners and other small niches where a hardy plant may take root.
During these warm summer months there are always cats to be found sunning themselves lazily on brick walls. I fear for the poor lizards that provide a plaything and I have seen many sadly without tails, victim of another feline friend. But this chap was so perfectly colour coordinated with his wall that I felt he deserved a photo all to himself!
Town or country, there is always something that will catch your eye despite the lack of an impressive front yard.
These houses may all be old, they may lack garden space and be packed tightly together, but they certainly don’t lack ingenuity. The balcony below is a typical case – why not make use of the space, so conveniently inclined towards the last rays of a summer day. A fine spot for a pastis, obviously. A perfect spot to say hello to a neighbour and invite them in for an apéro…