Chinese memories in a French home
Caroline Stavonhagen brought her sense of style from Shanghai to Avignon in south France, which she now calls home.
After 23 years in China, she decided to move back to her home country two years ago with her two sons as the older son, Louis, was enrolled in the university in Aix-en-Provence.
“We chose to settle in Avignon as it’s a very charming medieval-walled heritage town and you find hidden gems around every street corner,” Stavonhagen said.
She fell in love with her current apartment the moment she stepped inside.
“It is in an old building full of history, with an unusual layout and was beautifully decorated by the previous owner,” she said
“It’s also on a picturesque and lively cobbled street bordered by a little stream and plane trees — those trees always remind me of Shanghai.”
The building is on the edge of the original ramparts of Avignon which were built in the 13th century. It was actually a post stop, so an important place to connect with the outside world.
Unlike her previous modern apartment in Shanghai lacking a desirable outside view and with a not-so-high ceiling, this Southern French-style flat features high ceilings with exposed wooden rafters and the many shutter windows bring lots of natural light to the living and dining areas while offering views of the lovely street.
Stavonhagen loves the aesthetics of Southern French interiors.
“The apartment had a strong old character with many details, like the wooden doors with quite sophisticated metal locks, the colorful tiles and the ornamental work on the walls, so I decided to add contemporary details to the original setting and a touch of modern vibe,” she said.
She made a cement kitchen counter top, opened up the shower with a stone floor and created a second bedroom with a metal-framed glass wall and door to separate the spaces whilst keeping the original perspective and length of the room.
A personal intimacy was given to each room without being cluttered and overwhelming.
“I opt for cozy places with a relaxed atmosphere. I wanted to create a place where I can gather friends and family for lively evenings of homemade food and wine, a place where you feel like relaxing on the couch simply daydreaming,” she said.
“This apartment reflects me: Provence is the frame and China fills it up. I love Provence and I’m enjoying every day here but it is still relatively new to me — I have spent two years in Avignon but I have lived more than 20 years in China where I still go back every two or three months where my husband is still working.”
The backdrop is in a neutral palette, with white and light blue as the main hues to give off a distinct southern living vibe. The color theme was also chosen for the calming practical aspect and to better show off her art collection.
“The places I have lived in have always been full of things that bring back nice memories. I like my home to be happy and casual, not like a museum. So I use many colorful natural fabrics and accessories. The visual aspect is important but also the hand-crafted feeling. Linen is used a lot here as it is one of my favorite materials.”
There’s a lot of color in the artwork, in the fabrics, in the little things here and there. The flat, filled with a mixture of modern and ethnic pieces, displays a personal taste for textures and happy colors.
“I like to mix and match furniture and accessories collected from around the world especially minimalist and industrial pieces, for example lamps,” she said. “Every piece of decoration has a personal story behind it.”
Since the family has lived in China for more than two decades, a lot of pieces here came from Asia.
“It was natural and very important for me that China remains in my everyday life, even if I am now mostly located on the other side of the world, Stavonhagen said.
“China was, and still is, my home. I can remember where and when I picked each of the pieces, like the Chinese lamps collected in flee markets in Beijing back in the 1990s when I used to live there.”
She loved to spend time browsing Beijing’s Panjiayuan market and other warehouses. The simple, minimalist, rural Chinese furniture mixes well with modern furniture, she said.
“I have a strong tendency to have hand-made products, like the beautiful cushions sewn by my friend Armelle who has the Tsaiyun Studio in Shanghai and the photo montage print designed by another friend, Juliette.”
Stavonhagen also likes to keep in touch with new designs and particularly enjoy browsing the beautiful home decor shops in Paris and the south of France, which are a great source of inspiration.
“Provence is a paradise that I would dearly love to share with people from China and that is why I’m launching our tailor-made yoga and cultural experience tours in the region with my dear friend Ingrid who also used to live in Shanghai,” she said.
Each small-group trip will be specially crafted and the focus will be on immersion into the local culture and lifestyle.
“People will discover breathtaking scenery, wonderful cultural treasures and also meet people passionate about their traditions and local specialties,” Stavonhagen said.
“There will also be yoga classes and workshops in amazing settings. We want to share our secret places and let people explore hidden gems.”
Ask The Owner
Q: What’s the best thing about living in Avignon?
A: The dolce vita rhythm to balance my exciting trips to Shanghai to visit my husband who is still running his company there.
Q: Describe your home in three words.
A: Cosy. Happy. Friendly.
Q: What’s the first thing you do when you get home?
A: Drop my stuff everywhere.
Q: How do you unwind?
A: Sipping a glass of rose wine, listening to music while preparing dinner.
Q: Where do you spend most of the time at home?
A: In the dining area where I always sit to work.
Q: What’s the view outside your window?
A: An old cobbled street lined with beautiful plane trees.
Q: How do you scent your home?
A: With mint and basil perfumed candles or fresh flowers.
Q: What’s your favorite object at home?
A: I love our large wooden dining table.
Q: Where do you source furniture in Avignon?
A: I particularly like two places : CQFD and Flo shop.