UNE MAISON FRANÇAISE
Russell Pinch on the French retreat lovingly rebuilt by family and friends stone by stone
A ‘hole-and-corner’ is an old English term meaning a secret place: somewhere you go to escape the world, to be inspired and to contemplate and create. Where is your ‘hole-and-corner’?
Charmeneuil, Charante Maritime in France.
Can you explain why it is so special to you?
I was about 5 years old when my parents, aunt and uncle bought an abandoned farm close to the west coast of France. Throughout the 1970s and 80s I would spend every holiday with my sister and cousins, catching fish in streams, making dens in the woods and swimming in the lake. It was superbly idyllic. Later Oona and I married there and we had the party of a lifetime with all our friends camping in the field. About 10 years ago we prematurely inherited one of the derelict stone barns in the field and set about renovating it ourselves. We (that’s me, Oona, my dad and many friends) have made every window, door and shutter; re-roofed, rebuilt walls, dug septic tanks and even laid, sanded and oiled 20,000 pieces of reclaimed parquet floor.
Is it important to you to have somewhere to escape from the hustle and bustle of life?
Charmeneuil is our ultimate place of escape; we can remove ourselves from the London studio, and while we seem to never have an actual holiday from work, we have the time to think and reflect and see things in a fresh light. The most important factor is being able to hang out with our kids without needing to rush anywhere – they visibly grow and evolve with so much freedom and so little pressure.
What do you like to listen to when you’re working (and why)?
My most contemplative and inspiring moment is building stone walls. It’s almost a monastic pursuit. From the mixing of the mortar to the selection of each stone, weighing it up in your hands, working with a stone hammer, carefully shaping each to meet the need of its new position. It’s slow work but so rewarding, taking hundreds of these natural, odd-shaped pieces to create something perfect - textured and layered in colour.
The only thing I listen to is the sound of nature and birdsong, from the hoop-hoop of the hoopoes, the woodpeckers tapping the trees, to the rare call of the golden Oriole.
What elements do you think make a perfect ‘hole-and-corner’?
For me it is about being in a place I love with the people I love.
Is it private to you or do you let other people visit?
Whilst it’s our sanctuary it is also a place of great conviviality and there’s usually a long list of friends and family visiting and the excuse for another barbecue. We feed them and then they help us with the next project. It’s a great co-operation.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
You’re a long time dead.