It is easy to understand that Provence had magical attraction to artists since time immemorial, after all Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne or Pablo Picasso all worked here. A more sensuous region is hard to imagine. The scent of lavender, rosemary and sun-drenched soil fills the air. The colours of the landscape, buildings and sky are truly unique. We meet a free spirit here in Lacoste, who loves this corner of the planet – and is a designer with a great love of detail: Nicky Barthorp. You can find her best insider tips in an informative Provence guide.
PHOTOS: OLAF LUMMER. TEXT: KERSTIN DUKEN. EDITOR: KATJA VOGT.
Nicky’s haven for inspiration: An old farmhouse from the 14th century. When she moved to Lacoste with her husband, the house was in ruins. The three-hectare garden had also been slumbering for decades.
Nicky Barthorp is a painter. She records moments in the natural world and finds inspiration in her garden in Provence: notched trunks of birch trees, the deformations and growths of the wood, the wonderful forms created by the tree resin. She does not paint trees because they are "pretty". She paints them for their symbolism. Trees are feminine and have immense power, says Nicky Barthorp when explaining the significance of trees. The 46-year-old English woman was born in Kenya. "I grew up with a butler and governess. When I came to England later in life, I did not wear shoes and only spoke Swahili." Nicky Barthorp had the boarding school childhood and youth of an upper-class girl, the young woman was often in the news because of her close relationship with Lady Diana and also for her affair with the notorious star chef Marco Pierre White. She then married the renowned English landscape architect Alexander Dingwall-Main. Doing so helped her realize two dreams.
The first was her son Theo. The second is the object of our visit: the house in Provence with nearly three hectares of gardens. The house is about 60 kilometres north of Marseille near the charming village Lacoste with a population of 400. Visiting Provence is a bit like stepping back in time. Archaic and charming, harsh and aromatic, olive and bright blue, open and reserved, longing and fulfilment. Her spouse is a renowned landscape architect and was responsible for cultivating and later designing the landscape, which would later serve as an open air showroom. Nicky took care of the restoration, renovation and almost completely new design of the house. A tough job full of sweat, tears and the occasional abrasion. All this happened in the mid-nineties. After arriving, Nicky tried her hand at teaching and worked at the local grammar school in the village. Now she is dedicated completely to her art. The style of her house reflects this dedication. Bienvenue!
Colours bring out the ancient walls. The colourfully painted wall of book shelves looks like a modern painting. The doors on the yellow commode are decorated with newspaper excerpts in the decoupage technique. Nicky keeps her brushes and materials in colourful glasses of the "Boston Coloured" series. Always at hand for the short tea break: the "Aureus" tea set.
Style show: a colourful mix of personal mementos interspersed with a plate from Nicky's favourite collection "Samarkand" as an eye catcher and serving as a work of art.
Art is the focus: the antique commode from Africa provides space for a creative collection of her favourite things and a beautiful counterweight to her impressive painting, Nicky's artistic interpretation of tree resin.
The farmhouse: a location full of exciting contrasts! The exterior is completely regional while the interior is completely unique. The house is both airy and earthy forming a beautiful melange, perfectly reflecting the essence of the lady of the house. "I was never conventional or traditional, even though my mother would have wanted nothing more. Everything is very emotional to me. Colours make me happy." The rooms are filled with objects regional and African, family heirlooms and souvenirs, English style and reworked (Ikea) pragmatism,
18th and 21st centuries, open rooms, bright colours, tailored furniture finished in the decoupage technique, in short everything Nicky likes. Interior design for a free spirit. And the most amazing thing: It works. It has style and taste and could so easily go wrong, but it doesn't. The house is filled with vintage treasures like the old furnishings in the dining room and the mementos from Nicky's African homeland. Candles, lamps, glasses, place settings in strong colours create exciting and optimistic accents.
THREE FAVOURITE CORNERS
The wooden bedside table is decorated with an old picture of her mother. She also inherited her beautiful jewellery from her. A cup of aromatic herbal tea is part of her bedtime ritual.
Art Deco meets Baroque. Flea market finds are mixed with the floral and gold decorations on the "Aureus" cup and the "Alt Luxemburg" egg cup, which Nicky uses to casually store her jewellery.
Candles, lamps and glasses in strong colours create exciting and optimistic accents and are a beautiful contrast to the antique commode with its carved wooden mirror.
"Eating is true joy". Nicky Barthorp loves to eat under the open sky. There is no better way to start the day than under the titillating sunshine. The floral boisterousness of the "Althea Nova" service is perfect for brunch – very French with croissants, cheese and Café au Lait.
Nicky keeps the "Althea Nova" floral service for the breakfast outside at the garden table in a weathered wooden cabinet she found years ago at a flea market near Lacoste.
Nicky Barthorp drinks her Lady Grey tea every morning from her favourite cup in the "Flora" tableware series. The tea service is a perfect match for the artist's tastes: fine porcelain with various floral decorations and with lovely names like "Coquelicot", "Eglantine" and "Tournesol". Très français! Fresh fruit are always on the table and are presented enchantingly in the "Retro Accessories" bowl.
The picturesque garden panorama is a priceless treasure, adding a natural richness of colour to the beholder from dawn to dusk. Nicky Barthorp has the view all to herself. If you ignore the two roaming cats, the bunnies, four ducks, the dog, the frogs (their croaks are one of Nicky's favourite sounds), the countless cicadas and birds and the fifteen koi.
FLORAL TABLE SETTING IDEAS
DIY NAPKIN MAGIC
Lovely table decoration: The fabric napkins are wrapped in lavender twigs. They look good and smell great.
Delicate summer flowers are stacked randomly over the crockery if combined with the unique painted parts of the "Althea Nova" collection. Surrounded by a bright blue table cloth, an expressionistic still life results.
Nonchalant table art: typical for Nicky's playful decorative style. Simply stack cups of various sizes and use as a miniature cake stand for baked goods and fruit.
A pleasant meal with good friends is the best way to end a hot, French summer day. Nicky Barthorp serves her guests in her own style: "I have stopped cooking massive three-course meals, now I serve light, easy food. I always have great dips for bread and vegetables and French salami in the house. Friends come at about six and then stay until eleven or twelve. In winter, I have huge pots I put on the oven and fill with soups and stews. Otherwise I hold a lot of tea parties. They are great and I can invite lots of people. At tea parties I serve cucumber sandwiches made from sliced white bread, butter, cucumber cut in thin slices and salt. I serve them with Lapsang Souchong tea. "You know, I am a fairly vivacious person.
So I really do not enjoy spending massive amounts of time in the kitchen, while my friends sit around enjoying their conviviality. So I always have food that I can prepare ahead of time." She will host another such evening tonight. Nicky Barthorp has prepared Provençal chicken and chocolate cake. Nicky Barthorp makes sure everything is served properly on "Modern Grace Grey" crockery, with Art Deco designs setting an exciting accent at the cheerfully set summer table. She then combines them with glasses from the "Cascara" and "Modern Grace Stemwear" series, which she skilfully mixes. There is simply no better way to enjoy this warm summer evening.
The minimalist forms of the dishes match the simplicity of Nicky Barthorp's food. The modern, square plates from "Modern Grace Grey" form a stylish contrast to the colourful table settings.
TIP: Artichokes can act as candle holders, stick fresh lavender sprigs in the water glass. Every guest will have a unique place setting. A satin ribbon is wrapped around the plate with the name of the guest.
Nicky loves having guests. To best enjoy the conviviality, she prefers serving uncomplicated meals that she can prepare ahead of time. "I can spend time with my friends and do not have to worry about food the entire evening." Rustic delicacies are served, lots of fresh vegetables along with spicy pastes and dips. French salami and Nicky's favourite cheese, the Provençal "Tentation de Saint Félicien" are a must.