Sunday, September 27, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Welcome to Our World

Welcome to the home of Marcel and Lisbette Filibert. They have looked forward to meeting you and showing you their farmhouse, where Marcel has lived for his entire life, and where he brought Lisbette to live after their marriage. Three daughters and one son were born to Lisbette and Marcel in this house, but their daughters have married and have established their own households. Only Etienne, Marcel and Lisbette's fourteen year old son, remains to help with the farm labor. There is always much work to be done, but there is time today for the family to greet visitors. Although theirs is a humble home, the Filiberts possess much pride of ownership and feel honored to share some bits of information about their home and its history.

Please come inside! Lisbette is waiting for you at the front door of the farmhouse, just underneath the wisteria vine. The door opens directly into the one main room of their house, which is sufficient for most of their needs. 

The heart of the Filibert's home is the fireplace. It is fitted with a crane and pot hooks. Cooking pots,  kettles, a trivet, and other cooking utensils are arranged along the hearth and in front of it.

Lisbette finds the shelves that are built near the fireplace useful for storing her crocks, pottery, and a few pieces of pewter.

Lisbette keeps the bread that she bakes weekly in the wall-hung bread box. Her wooden dough bowl and other baking supplies are close at hand on the top of the dough trough; she also has storage space inside the dough trough for other kitchen necessities.

After a hard day's labor, Marcel enjoys resting on the wooden settle, which has a  hinged seat that opens for storage. Marcel's pipe and tobacco are nearby, beside the one book that he owns. Marcel is very thankful that he was taught to read when he was young; he taught Lisbette to read as well early in their marriage. Together they tutored their daughters, and now Marcel or Lisbette spends some time daily teaching Etienne. Lisbette often listens to Marcel read as she sews or churns.

A trestle table, flanked by benches, is placed in the center of the main room, convenient for meals and for use as a work space. This is where Lisbette will invite you to sit presently when she serves you some refreshment. Customarily, you would be served a bowl of hot soup with crusty bread in the bottom of the bowl; but since you are a special guest, Lisbette has made a pot of strong, delicious coffee, which I'm sure you can smell already. I'm not at liberty to disclose Lisbette's source for the coffee that she serves on rare occasions; but you will not soon forget that rich, earthy flavor.

A shallow stone sink is built into the wall on one side of the fireplace. The sink must be filled by buckets of well water. The used water is drained into a bucket beneath the sink; it can then be used to water plants or for cleaning chores. Lisbette will soon use the sink to wash a pail full of newly dug potatoes. 

This is Lisbette's favorite chair, which she uses for many tasks, one of which awaits her now. Etienne has brought in a basket of apples from their tree, and although preparing the apples is woman's work, Etienne sometimes slyly takes a turn at the apple peeling so that he can enjoy a few tasty bites.

The curtained doorway near the clock leads to Marcel and Lisbette's bedroom. 

Lisbette takes great pride in the new bed, which they have owned for only a short time. Lisbette cannot get used to the spaciousness of the bedroom after sleeping for many years in the crowded space of the main room. Now that the three daughters of the house have married and moved to their own homes, the bedroom once again belongs to Marcel and Lisbette, who probably appreciate it more than their daughters ever did!

Marcel uses this chest for his shaving items, and Lisbette stores linens and clothing inside the chest; at the bottom is a drawer where Lisbette stores some of her most often used things.

Before you go downstairs to the "work" areas of the farm, Lisbette will be pleased to serve you coffee, along with new bread and sweet butter that she made earlier this morning, after she finished the milking. I'm sure that you will savor it all.

The stairs are steep and well worn, so please step carefully as you make your way down to the farmyard.

The farmhouse was built as a high house; the barn and storage areas are located underneath the upper-level living space. This end of the structure also houses the dovecote, which is reached by a tall ladder that hangs on the wall beside the dovecote door.

Marcel opened the dovecote door for you, because it can be a tricky maneuver if you aren't used to doing it. The ladder should be placed firmly on the ground and reach up to just below the door. Then you must climb up the ladder high enough to unlatch and open the door, leaning far to one side so that the door doesn't hit your head as it swings open. Continue to the highest rung on the ladder and sort of crawl into the dovecote. Easy, if you've practiced it for nearly forty years, as Marcel has done! 

Marcel keeps eight pigeons; by law, he is allowed one pigeon for each acre of tilled ground. I'm glad that it's September now, because in July and August all the pigeons in all the provincial dovecotes must be shut in to protect the harvest; one pigeon can consume fifty pounds of grain in a year! To avoid extensive damage during harvest times, each farmer must feed his own pigeons from his own grain supply. Now Marcel can allow his pigeons to fly freely again and forage for themselves, and you can go freely into the dovecote and look around.

I count three pigeons on the terra cotta nesting pots; the others must be away at the moment.

 Marcel and Etienne clean the dovecote floor daily to collect the pigeon droppings, which they use to fertilize their crops. Apparently, they do not clean the walls.

Now you will need to carefully back out of the dovecote door and find your footing on the ladder rungs. Then you can climb safely down. Ah. Terra firma! Did you breathe a sigh of relief? (Even simple things in life can be fraught with anxiety!)

 Marcel has brought in a load of grapes from their small vineyard. He will find time in a while to squeeze the juice from the grapes. It's an interesting, although messy, task. If you'd like to watch the process, remember to stand well away from the spattering juice.  

 You've reached the entrance to the wine store, which is located beneath the dovecote at the west end of the farmhouse.  

Because the ground floor temperature is fairly constant, this is a superior place for Marcel to store the wine for his family's personal use.

Lisbette's baking day has diminished the woodpile; Etienne will have an extra chore tomorrow.

 Lisbette has provided Marcel and Etienne with a convenient wash bench near the stairs that lead up to the family living quarters. Marcel has wisely removed his muddy boots before venturing into the kitchen; he has experienced Lisbette's wrath on the rare occasions when he wasn't so wise! 

One of the farm cats enjoys the afternoon sunshine on the sun-warmed garden chair. 

 An assortment of farm tools and implements are stored neatly out of the way on the walls at either side of the wide barn entrance.

 Someone unwittingly left a barrow of onions at the barn's entrance! Etienne should hurry to move them out of reach of the cows. No one in this family likes onion-flavored milk!

The two Guernsey milk cows seem unaware of the tasty onions within reach; they're content to munch on their dinner of hay.

This manger holds the daily hay; Lisbette's milking stool stands nearby. 

The farmhouse draws its water supply from a shallow "balancing well," which is operated by a lever  attached to a water bucket and a chain.

Two washtubs hang on an outside wall, convenient for Lisbette's washdays, which are less frequent than she would like; but water is at a premium at all times. The larger tub also serves as the family bathtub, which is seldom used; but Lisbette sees that her family makes liberal use of a washcloth and soap!

 Etienne can keep an eye on the rabbits from his room just a few steps away.

Only a low wall with a wooden gate separates Etienne's small room from the main part of the barn.

 Fortunately, he's too busy - and often too tired - to notice the lack of either space or privacy in his sleeping area at the end of the barn, which he shares with the workbench and tools for the farm.   

The upper and lower bedroom windows are visible from this end of the house.

Six hens and a rooster currently reside in the chicken coop that is located at the east end of the house.

The rooster presumptuously prefers a window roost to the one provided for him in the coop.

The modern-day construction of the French Farmhouse has drawn to a close, and this has been a farewell visit to Marcel and Lisbette's home. They are hereto transported back to the quiet contentment of a less hectic age and will resume their lives in the year 1853. Although their more primitive environment will hold great hardships and hard labor, their happiness and satisfaction with their lot will also be great. Life will be good.


This is the Real-World habitat of the French Farmhouse and the New Mexico Adobe House. The table that Robert built holds both the houses with just enough space to spare and resides in the basement family room of our Lincoln, Nebraska home. Above the adobe house hangs a large watercolor depicting the Taos Pueblo in Northern New Mexico. There is also a pencil sketch drawn by Robert of the same pueblo, and a smaller photograph of a portion of the adobe house that I owned when I lived in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Above the French Farmhouse hangs an old print entitled "The Haymaking," by Leon Augustin L'Hermitte.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Climbing the Wall

Although wisteria vines were a common feature of French farmhouses, the vines were traditionally grown just outside the main door of the house. The beautiful, fragrant vines provided a pleasant shady area that was often used as a "summer room." From my first conception of the farmhouse, my heart was set on having a wisteria vine, but since my farmhouse is a "high house," there didn't seem to be a suitable space for the wisteria. I couldn't quite visualize Marcel and Lisbette spending their rare intervals  of relaxation sitting comfortably outside the barn door. Nor would Etienne appreciate their presence practically on his door sill!

So I flaunted tradition and planted a wisteria vine in a large pot on the balcony just outside the main living area on the second level. The vine continues to thrive, although unfortunately there isn't enough space on the balcony to provide a "summer room" for the Filibert family. But the heavenly scent of the wisteria blossoms fills the air and the house all through the summer months. That will suffice.

I began with a trellis design  that I kept very simple. The flat board will be attached to the house, and the four metal rods will extend from the flat board to reach over the balcony. Thin wires lend support to the heavy wisteria vines between the metal rods.

The flat board and the metal rods for the trellis are ready to be measured and cut.

The board and rods have been cut and are ready to be painted.

I used a compilation of various artificial plants to make the "wisteria" vine. The lavender-colored blossoms seemed to be a good choice, but I had to separate the blossoms from the green, green leaves and stems, which were not a good choice.

I found a pot that was a very good size for the wisteria vine, but I thought it was very ugly; I repainted the pot with several different layers of color to cover the black.

The new and improved "terra cotta" pot was much better!

The rods and the board for the trellis have been stained a dark color, and the separated "wisteria" blossoms are ready to be glued onto the trunk and branches of the vine.

I anchored the wisteria trunk in a ball of soft clay inside the terra cotta pot.

The trellis board has been glued to the front of the farmhouse wall, and the rods have been secured to the board by covering the ends with glue and pushing them into the soft wood. The horizontal wires were added after the glue on the rods had dried thoroughly. I bent the front ends of the rods into a hook shape to help secure the vines on the trellis.

Another use for espresso grind! The coffee makes perfect simulated potting soil. I heaped it up in the pot and it looks real - but sends out a definite caffeine-like aroma. 

At last - and it is truly the last thing - the wisteria vine grows from the pot and climbs the farmhouse wall and looks just the way I envisioned it from the early days of planning the French farmhouse.

As you may notice from the above photo, I completed the interior of the farmhouse before adding the wisteria vine to the balcony, because I thought that the blossoming vine would be in the way when I added the furnishings and accessories to the rooms. 

Now that you've actually arrived at their front door, Marcel and Lisbette would feel very inhospitable if  they did not invite you into their home. Lisbette needs just a little time to tidy the rooms to her satisfaction before she's ready for visitors, so I hope that you won't mind a short wait under the wisteria vine. I promise that it won't take Lisbette too long to be ready to open the door to all her new acquaintances!     

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The French Farmhouse: Memories Are Made of This

Marcel and Lisbette Filibert, with their son, Etienne, live in a 140-year-old farmhouse in the Provence region of France. The house was built in 1713 and has remained in the same family since then. Now, in the year 1853, three of their children have married and are living elsewhere. Etienne, at 14 years of age, is well grown and able to assume a fair portion of the farm's work load, so that Marcel and Lisbette have a certain amount of time - a small amount - away from their labors.

On this particular day, they have time to walk together through the different areas of their home and  reminisce about their years together. They enjoy discussing some of the features of their  farmhouse as well as the furnishings that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Farmers on smallholdings such as theirs cannot often afford to follow new innovations. Much repair and refurbishing is necessary as possessions become more and more worn through years of use. Marcel and Lisbette are thankful for what they have and don't begrudge the hours of labor necessary to maintain their home.

This plain single bed belongs to Etienne, who sleeps in a small room at one end of the barn so that he can keep an eye on the animals during the night. 

Etienne's bed has a simple coverlet made by his mother from durable, rough cloth.

He also has a warm blanket for his bed that the farm cat appreciates as much as Etienne does.

This is the only new piece of furniture that the family owns. It was purchased by Marcel as a gift for Lisbette. It was a gift of love but also of necessity. Marcel and Lisbette's 19-year old daughter, Tesse,  had claim to the only bedroom in the house, as is customary for the daughters of a farm household. Tesse recently married Henri, a young man from a neighboring farm. Tesse and Henri moved into a tiny cottage in a corner of Henri's family farmstead. Her parents allowed her to take their best bed to her new home, leaving them with an older, smaller, less sturdy bed. Marcel decided that it was high time he presented Lisbette with a comfortable new bed on which he could enjoy restful nights.

While Tesse's wedding was a joyful occasion, Lisbette was rather more overjoyed that for the first time in many years, she and Marcel would have their own bedroom instead of having their bed crowded into the main room. Lisbette took much pleasure in sewing the linens for her new bed. She dressed the bed with a feather quilt and pillows, but best of all are the lace trimmings - an unheard of luxury for a farmer's wife!

The trestle table and benches, although showing evidence of years of use, are scrubbed, oiled, and polished frequently by Lisbette and serve as a gathering place for the family at mealtimes, in addition to being used as a general work table. 

These pieces take pride of place in Lisbette's kitchen; the beautiful bread box hangs on the kitchen wall as it is intended to do, even though it has short legs. It hangs above the dough trough, which Lisbette uses more for storage than for kneading dough.

 The wood chairs were so scuffed, scratched, and worn when Lisbette moved into the farmhouse as a bride that she wasted no time in asking Marcel to "please do something to make these chairs pretty!"  Marcel refinished the chairs to Lisbette's satisfaction, and she replaced the old, worn chair covering with a new one of her favorite color. Lisbette hasn't had much experience in mending rush seats; she felt fortunate that the seat of the blue chair had undergone skilled repairs while Marcel's parents lived in the house and farmed the land.

Nearly every household has a long case clock, and Lisbette is pleased that her house is no exception. The prized clock is somewhat more reliable than the sun at marking the many working hours of the day.

Marcel and Lisbette's farmhouse does not hold many frivolous items, but they are proud to display two religious prints. A crucifix hangs in the bedroom.

This chest was given to Etienne by his grandfather, the previous owner of the farm. It holds Etienne's few items of clothing as well as the bits and pieces that Etienne considers his treasures.

                    Etienne  doesn't mind that he must share his sleeping space with a work bench 
                                        and many tools that are used for various farm tasks.

The wire-fronted hutch is presently home to two rabbits, who will prove to be temporary occupants. One is destined to be sold at market; the other's destiny involves the dinner table.

Even the feed and water containers for the chickens have been in use for so many years that they've become battered and bent; but Marcel hammers out the deepest dents and goes on using them.

Lisbette adds color and beauty to her home whenever she can. Although her resources are few, her energy and ingenuity are boundless.

Marcel grows a limited number of grape vines on his smallholding but does not make his own wine. The old grape press squeezes the juice from the grapes; Marcel takes the juice to a nearby wine-grower, where the juice is made into wine for Marcel and his family.

This ladder is used daily for access to the dovecote, where Marcel or Etienne cleans the floor and retrieves the pigeon droppings, which make an excellent, rich fertilizer. The ladder is much worn and much repaired but is maintained diligently so that it is as safe and sturdy now as when it first arrived at the farmhouse decades ago. 

Marcel and Etienne both wear sturdy work boots while performing all their farm chores. One of Etienne's tasks is to clean the boots daily so that they'll last a long time.
 Etienne declares that he would rather muck out the barn than clean the boots! 

We will leave Marcel and Lisbette smiling at their son's foolishness. They must return to their numerous chores, but they have been much refreshed by their brief interlude of shared memories and 
shared blessings. They are at all times mindful of their good fortune, which to many would seem no fortune at all. But Marcel and Lisbette know the true worth of their home and their happiness and count themselves among the rich.

There seems to always be ONE LAST THING to do before the farmhouse is well and truly FINISHED. Next week's post will reveal the ONE THING that remains to be done before Marcel and Lisbette invite their new acquaintances into the farmhouse for a good look around. Come see what that ONE LAST THING turns out to be!