Curb Appeal

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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,

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or a self seeded hollyhock that softens these walls.P1000056

In fact anything is welcome, the more the better!img_7286

Imagine stopping to pick a grape as you enter your house, or even a bunch or two!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Town or country, there is always something that will catch your eye despite the lack of an impressive front yard.img_7482IMG_3027img_7446img_7309img_7292

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…

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83 thoughts on “Curb Appeal

  • Well, I think everything in France is beautiful. The French do it well. I probably don’t like the bright colors as well either. I live in a community that dictates the color of our houses and the front yard landscaping. My kids were shocked when they went to a different part of the country and saw houses painted colors that weren’t neutral. It is good and bad at the same time.

    • I can see the plus side of communities dictating the colour of houses. There are certainly older villages here that have guidelines. I love rows of pastel coloured cottages especially in a seaside setting. It’s really all about what fits in and where isn’t it. And regarding the bright shutters, not for me, but, well, they are a talking point! xx

  • I have always loved shutters but it is an absolute no for me and those bright colors. Of course each to their own and I don’t want to upset anyone but I think they look hideous and so out of place with the old stonework on which they sit. Give me tasteful pastel colors any day over those!

    • I would not go for bright colours like these either, but the owners obviously enjoy them and that’s what counts really, it makes their houses individual and their own. Personally I love greys and blues, they are my absolute favourite but then I live in a house with green shutters!! Next year we will paint them all and have them redone, that’s the plan, then we will have to decide on a colour! No doubt I can count on everyone’s advice here for lots of ideas. xx

      • Susan, I personally find that green on your shutters is the right colour. They blend beautifully with the milleandone greens of your gardens & shrubbery, go well with the authenticy of your home, and are far less boring than a soft grey (sorry to say that when I know how much you love it! – Am I forgiven? 😉 ) Your whole home is already so welcoming and inviting, I would go for green again!

  • I am having to curb my previous wish list criteria that included “kerb appeal” as it’s something that the French approach very differently. I am gradually learning to appreciate the inside more than the outside.
    Love all your photos btw.

  • Shutters are part of the charm of France. They are so practical as you say – keeping the heat and cold out. I like the pale shades of grey, blue and green. For me it’s part of the understated elegance of France, the less is more philosophy.
    Thanks Susan for another great post.
    Ali xx

  • I would take any one of those homes and make it mine….I would love to stroll down any one of those quaint roads, I wish I had anyone of those beautiful flowering plants near my front door, I wish I had shutters that closed over anyone of my window….sigh… Your photos are stupendous!

  • i love this post…i love hollyhocks and all the houses! and the kitties! …hope you have a wonderful day!

  • I was just speaking about The ITALIANS and how one does not “SHOW OFF”like we tend to do in the STATES!WE drive expensive cars that one cannot really afford so to get around that they LEASE the CARS…….in Italy One would NEVER drive what they can afford.That would be considered BAD TASTE!
    Same theory here with the houses and of course its done too so the ROBBERS do not take a second look!!!!!
    LOVE EUROPE………………XX

  • Hi Susan, the French certainly are ‘bien dans sa peau’ when it comes to their homes. I particularly love the fact they actively downplay their wealth, which probably goes back to the French revolution. As ever, a great post, Suzi x

    • Now there is a thought! You may be right – it may also be a much older defence that goes back through the centuries of passing armies – perhaps not invaders even, but a mass of people on the lookout for loot, for food, for comfort and so on.

  • Thanks so much – love the houses & have always loved shutters. I like the pale blue but everyone to their own. My Mother grew hollyhocks on one side of our back fence & the kittens would play in them. Would always enjoy them on my way to the barn! One of my memories of growing up on a farm in Missouri. Enjoy your blog!

  • I seem to be the odd one out here; I love all those cheerful bright and joyful colours, although I’d probably choose myself a lavendery blue for my shutters. We have in our 1920 stonehouse those incredible metal folding shutters, the large windows have up to seven folding parts! When we had friends from Canada visiting us in our home in the seventies, they couldn’t get over the wooden shutters and the fact that Swiss housewives would hang their bedding from the windows to air …. And that those who couldn’t do that had windowsills bursting with red and pink geraniums! For us it was just ‘the way we are’ – different countries, different customs!
    Also, I personally would be totally put off an entry going directly out onto the road, whether busy or calm. I have been driving far too many times far too close to the actual dwellings to not live in fear of being hit one night.

    What I love however deeply are those ‘hidden’ gems, gardens, wild yards, surprises of greenery growing everywhere, places of calm and maybe an old tree or three…. have never thought of the non-attraction of burglars in seemingly less cared-for properties, I would just naturally wish to show my house in its best light.
    Another ‘hidden’ gem part are the original brass door handles and knobs, finger screens so delicate that you think of a highly desirable pastry, glorious corniches and bow windows, all not visible from the outside. You have to be invited into the home to take them in….
    In Switzerland, where we lived for less than 3yrs in a most beautiful, dreamy vintners’ village, our little house had wooden shutters, terribly worn down, so we had them refreshed and repainted in a very dark green (they were green before but nearly black by age) – to our great surprise nobody objected (we didn’t ask anybody, something we would do now!). We also added our names on a engraved brass nameplate, just so that it went with the style and age of the house (1430!). The nameplate is now in our basement, displayed on a huge fireplace, reminding us of my best 2 1/2 yrs of living in paradise.
    In fact, my whole life seems like a storybook. Every post awakens things of significance or love stories, sad events or just snippets of minor interest to myself 🙂

    • I love that the brass nameplate is in your basement, no doubt a wonderful reminder of great memories. I am just not sure about those bright shutters, sure they make me smile, they even start a conversation, but would I have them myself, no the answer is no, I guess I am a classic type of girl! Now the big question will soon arise, we plan to repaint all of our shutters next spring, a mammoth task, so what colour should we choose? Perhaps you should publish a book about your life. xx

      • Funny, you should say that…. I hear it all the time but I prefer actually to share my undoubtedly slightly unusual life with those really interested…
        Yesterday during breakfast I had another one of those incredibly stupid, funny and ‘making-me-look-really-dumb’ moments and I already know that my family will roll with mirth when I’m gonna tell them later in the year!

      • Also, I am with you that in YOUR case, I wouldn’t go for a too bright colour, but I’d really love to see some sort of a rich, darkish, (sapin/fir tree of the mountains?) ‘full bodied’ green. It might be my Swiss upbringing; I grew up with green wooden shutters with slates you could open up to halfways – they were genius and I remember being a child and the sun painting designs on the walls 🙂
        You just call me for F2F colour advice 😉 😉 You know I’d come….

        • You see we have full bodied green as you know, but I want to go for something more subtle, perhaps boring, but I just love the greys and blues. Please do come and stay with some colour advice, a bit manic right now, but September we will be calm once more xx

  • Glorious photos as ever, you really do need to publish a book of them all! I love that behind all the huge gates there are beautiful houses and gardens tucked away.
    As for the shutters, not keen on the brighter colours, I think Ali summed it up perfectly in an earlier reply, when she said she admired the understated elegant colours. I found in Paris that even the clothing worn was understated, except for ladies of a certain age, who dressed more formally! xxx

  • Oozing curb appeal, my dear! All of it – the shutters, the walls, the flowers, the doors. For me – lime green not so much but that too is SO French – particularly if mixed with cerise or scarlet. I remember getting my lovely balcony furniture for the appartement in Cantal and no sooner had I installed it and sat on it once than the couple next door responded with a set in lime green and cerise. It was bright is all I can say 😉 I’m currently all about curb appeal here in New England – literally obsessing about the details that will make our house pop in all the right ways whilst blending just enough to not scare the audience 😀 xx

  • Another clever and informative post….Thank you!! Your insight with words and photos is an amazing asset to your readers. The French are very unpretentious and unassuming…..lovely!!
    I am amazed by the “mindset of others” who try to inflict their concepts onto the lifestyle of their adoptive country.
    The old saying ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do”…..just does not apply to some people. Unfortunate!

  • Am laughing at myself! Have seen town- and village street views such as this all my life, loved them and never ever thought about ‘kerb appeal’ 🙂 ! Having been around the Tour de France route of some 3500 kms every August for over 15 years, many such beautiful sights sadly flit past ones eyes far, far too quickly . . . . love the colour of the unexpected flower or the bush or the coloured shutter. And do love shutters and was used to them in my childhood in Europe: well, perchance a more ‘refined’ colour than one reminding us what ‘primary’ means, but . . . . lovely post . . .

  • Oh Susan …another lovely post…thank you! I so enjoy the small and beautiful little sojourns I take with you when your post arrives in my in box. For me, the traditional blues and greys can’t be beaten….

  • One of my favourite things about french houses are their shutters, so delightful always. I had never thought of them to keep the sun out though!

  • I once stayed in a house in Provence with those louvred shutters, the way they let in thin slithers of light during the afternoon was magical in itself, great post as always.

  • Another thing I love in France is the little door overhangs that are like opaque petals of half a flower – do they use them in your area? I remember seeing them in Chinon – a larger one in particular on a building as we drove through.

  • Another beautiful post. We are very fortunate to live in a neighborhood of lovely, well-maintained homes. Most of the lots are quite large so most of the houses sit quite far from the street. Our area is treed with ‘old growth’ poplar, hickory, magnolia, maple, etc – with an occasional wild cherry, or pine. Many of these trees are 80’+ tall. But, there is nothing about it really that can be called charming or quaint, as is so wonderfully illustrated in your photos. The texture of the walls alone is so enticing – then overlaying with vines makes it even better. I like the softness of the traditional blue and grey hues but can also appreciate the occasional fun of lime or cherry or an intense ultramarine. Makes me recall an admonition from a third grade teacher reacting to something a classmate had done “maybe it’s OK if it is just you, but what if everybody did?”! I think she had caught that child littering in the hallway.

    We refreshed the exterior of our home about this time last year. The main body of the house is clapboard sitting on a brick basement. We chose a soft white for all of the painted elements – clapboards, trim, shutters. The ceiling of the porch is “haint blue’ – a traditional color in the south, with brown ceiling fans to stir a breeze. We experimented with a soft coral front door. That lasted about half a day. “Looks like a farmhouse trying to be a beach house”, my wife rightly said. The door quickly transitioned into a dun color – not as exciting but visually more comfortable.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • What an interesting reply, Steven, and a point well made, too – that colour is sometime an intrusion and that in the end a paint that satisfies all is a better option perhaps than one that stirs the private soul. As you say, it may be fun for a day, but one has to live with it for lifetime; not just your own – but that of others too. Thank you XX

  • I noticed how close the French houses often are to the road as soon as I started visiting there. I think I’d find it a bit hard to get used to. My s-i-l and b-i-l have always been somewhere out of the town and away from the road, or at with their house back from it. I’ve always loved the shutters and in Provence where they used to live, there were more bright colors that where they are now in the Vosges. I’d love to have shutters on our house someday, although they’re rare in the States.

    Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend.

    janet, who has to work all weekend
    But soon there will be vacation!!!

  • Ah. This now brings back happy memories! Personally, I prefer the shutter colours to complement the lovely old stone of the walls. The blues, greys, teals, but in a mid or light tone hue, if that makes sense. It’s the really bright zingy ones that seem to jar and take over whereas the more muted shades let the whole building be enjoyed as one, with the stone complementing the paintwork and vice versa. The Hollyhocks weren’t quite out when we were there, but the Valerian was everywhere and its soft pink and green colours also showed off the stonework to perfection but with a floaty informality that was just right. Over in the UK, I’m just loving all the pinks and purples that are everywhere now, roses, salvia, petunias and pelargoniums in pots, magic! And waiting in the wings are the Hydrangeas, Agapanthus, Lavender, Scabious and all shades of Cosmos – I can’t wait for it all to burst forth! I hadn’t thought about the security aspect of leaving the front of the houses a little faded. A good idea and how lovely when you walk inside and find a beautiful garden space with lots of plants, love and laughter!

    • And I can imagine they are now all bursting out in flower and looking incredible with this wonderful weather that I know you are having. It is so hot here, watering daily, but loving it all the same. It is another reason why I love shutters with muted colours, they seem to go so well with hot summers, I find the bright colours just a little out of place, but maybe that is just me being way too classical! xxx

    • They make a great statement I agree, but I think I am a traditional sort of girl and I prefer the muted more classical shades! Now a grape whilst entering the house sounds like a perfect idea to me! xx

  • This makes me immediately order some hollyhocks partially grown (too late for seeds I think). Those hollyhocks. Sigh. (Also this makes me get off the fence and just order the Ballerina roses already!) lovely stuff. White shutters is my vote.

    • I simply adore Hollyhocks, but remember even if you buy some young plants this year, they most likely won’t flower until next year. Seedlings never flower in the first year, so it might be easier just to plant the seeds and wait! xx

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