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The Architect

June 27, 2013

converted french mill

Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Okay. Let’s just get this out there. My blog is going to have a split personality for the next year, or probably longer. I’ll be talking about the French cottage in the countryside. Giving updates on the renovation. Sharing photos. And very likely taking trips back to France when we need to make in-person decisions. But I’ll also be talking about Oakland. Very urban Oakland. What it’s like to settle in. What we figure out for schools. And how we’re making our house a home. I hope it will be more fun and interesting than it is confusing. But who knows? We’ll find out soon enough. : ) This one is a cottage post.

On Tuesday, we met with an architect named Bernard Pasquier. And it was the dreamiest sort of meeting. Bernard is actually retired and he’s only taking on passion projects at the moment. So before he would commit to our project, he wanted to meet us, and visit the property to “get a feel for the spirit of the place”. He also wanted us to see his work in person to make sure his style was a good fit for us.

So we had our first meeting at his home. It’s the building pictured above. A converted mill. And it’s stunning! See the bridge heading to the top floor? That’s the entrance. He designed the bridge himself. And that top floor? It’s a modern open loft with French industrial influences. It looks like it would be right at home in Soho. I love it.

french loft

Oh man. I was in awe at the space and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to meet him. We really wanted to work with a local architect if at all possible, but we are so rural there aren’t many around, so to be introduced to Bernard feels like such a gift. And guess who made the introduction? The same family that owns La Cressonnière. They know all the coolest people! I swear.

At that point, we knew it would be ideal to have him as our architect, but he still needed to see our cottage. And what if he didn’t like it? It’s so modest, and in such ruin! But he went with us to the property, inspected every inch of it, and spent some time walking around the building. His conclusion: it’s a special place with a really unique outbuilding. And yes, he’s going to work with us!

french architect and ben blair

As an extra bonus, Bernard speaks about as much English as we speak French, and we understand each other quite well. During our conversation, Bernard would typically speak French, and we would answer in English. It worked out for everybody!

We couldn’t be happier. This adventure is really happening! We can hardly believe it.

Tell me, Friends. Have you ever worked with an architect before? Any tips? I haven’t and don’t quite know what to expect. But I’m excited!

P.S. — I’m thinking I should create a “Cottage” tab and an “Oakland” tab to make it easier to follow along. Watch for it.



June 24, 2013

greetings from oakland

By Gabrielle.

It was fun to see the guesses come in last Friday and over the weekend. At last count, 55% of people who voted guessed San Francisco. And they guessed right. We’re moving to the Bay Area!!

The home we’re moving to is actually in Oakland, not San Francisco. But when I’ve mentioned Oakland to people, some give me a blank stare (apparently most of our French friends have not heard of it), so I’ve mostly been telling people we’re moving to San Francisco. : ) We actually don’t know much about Oakland at all, so we’re trying to get caught up! We’ve heard it referred to as East Bay, Berkeley, and Oaktown, and several friends have described it as the Brooklyn of the Bay Area. If you are an Oakland lover, I hope you’ll chime in with some of your favorite things about the city — and I’ve been scouring SFGirlbyBay’s Oakland guide, too!

Here are a few FAQs we’ve been getting about the move:

Q: Why are you moving?
A: We first made plans to move because the family that owns La Cressonnière was going to move back in. They’ve since decided to stay in Australia for another year or more, so yes, we could have stayed around. But we feel like it’s time to head back. Ralph and Maude are ready to try American high school. And sometimes, living here affects how easily we can run our businesses. But we hope we stay tied to Normandy for the rest of our lives! In fact, we hope our cottage purchase ensures that we do. But the whole family agrees that it’s time for us to head back to the U.S..

Keep reading for more FAQs.


apple blossoms at a French farmhouse

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Earlier this month, I wrote a post called Rent The Life, all about unusual and picturesque places you can lease and live in. And I received a bunch a funny + sweet emails in response telling me they’d rent my life in the French countryside if they could. : )

Well. Someone’s dream may be coming true. Because the fairytale farmhouse that we’ve lived in for the past 2 1/2 years is available!

Yes, we’re moving home in July, but the homeowners of the farmhouse have decided they’re not quite ready to move back in — they’re going to extend their stay in Australia. Which means La Cressonnière is available starting August 1st! We first found this home when we searched on a site called Sabbatical Homes, and the house is listed there again if you’re interested.

Living here has been such a gift. The house really is extraordinary. And not just the house, the whole experience of living here — buying fresh eggs from a neighbor, fresh milk from another. Goodness, Oscar was baptized in the stream just down the road!

We get really emotional thinking about moving away, but we like imagining another family getting to enjoy this remarkable space. What do you think? Did you get butterflies reading this? (Maybe it’s a sign that you should move in!) Are you up for an adventure in the French countryside?

P.S. — Here are all my posts with photos of La Cressonnière — the older ones share room by room photo tours. Or you can browse my Instagram stream. It’s full of photos of this beautiful place!


Five Affordable Souvenirs to Bring Home from your Trip to France.

Image and text by Gabrielle.

The other day, we were wiring some money from one of our U.S. bank accounts to our French bank (funds for the cottage!), and I realized I’ve learned a few things about how to move money from place to place that might be helpful for anyone embarking on an international adventure. Here are 5 tips I wish I’d known before we moved.

1) is our favorite for international transfers.
It’s free to sign up. You can add multiple accounts to draw funds from (we have a personal account and a business account), and you can also add multiple accounts to send funds to. We use it to pay rent on La Cressonnière. And since we get paid in dollars, but run errands in euros, we also use it to transfer our monthly budget from our U.S. to our French account. XE seems to offer the best exchange rates we’ve seen and there are no added fees, so the exchange quote you see is what you pay. I love that.

There are two downsides. First, it takes time. The transfers don’t happen overnight. It usually takes about a week for the funds to make it from one account to another. This means you have to work ahead and think ahead. When we don’t think ahead, we end up using our U.S. debit card for groceries or gas, and there are added fees for international purchases. Which is a bummer. Second, the max transfer is $10,000. Normally that’s way more than fine, but when we were buying our car, the max limit didn’t work for us, so we had to figure out a different way to go. 

Keep reading for 4 more practical tips.


A Few Things

May 24, 2013

French Farmhouse

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends. How’s it going? As you can tell by the photo above, the plants at La Cressonnière have really come to life this week. This is our 3rd time seeing the wisteria make its appearance and I can’t imagine ever tiring of watching Spring unfold with this stunning backdrop.

That said, it is actually quite chilly and wet today in Normandy. Our heaters our turned up, and I wore a full coat and scarf on my errands this morning. I had to keep reminding myself this is late May! Hah! I’m craving a long walk in the countryside this weekend, accompanied by my camera. (I hope the weather cooperates!) How about you? Any fun plans? Is this the first weekend of summer for you? Will you be warming up the grill?

While I pull on a sweater (and shake my head in wonder), here are a few things I thought you might like:

- Pet pillows for people.

- Is cranky contagious at your house? Thanks, Heather.

- Another sister + brother bedroom — Scandinavian style.

- Some people might say “This is the most important app ever made. Ever.”

- Ben Blair and Ralph are in London this weekend. We’ve been watching Ralph’s videos when we miss them (here’s the latest episode of Zombie Smash, and his most recent mini-movie — less than a minute long).

- I’ve been thinking about this essay on celebrities and inequality. Have you read it?

- How to create a focal wall.

- Let’s have a tea party!

- Morgan is getting rid of 5 items in her home every day for 90 days. That is some epic Spring Cleaning.

- Party mini buttons.

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and a Happy Memorial Day! We don’t have a 3-day weekend here in France, so I plan to share a post or two. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



Easter Egg Hunt at Eiffel Tower01

Images and Text by Gabrielle.

Have you ever had an Easter Egg hunt in an out of the ordinary place? Last year, right before my sister Jordan moved back to San Francisco from Paris, we had an egg hunt at the Eiffel Tower. I shared this instagram at the time (which, by the way, might be my favorite instagram I’ve ever taken), but I haven’t shown you other pictures, so I thought it would be fun to share them today while I’ve got Easter plans on my mind.

Easter Egg Hunt at Eiffel Tower02Easter Egg Hunt at Eiffel Tower03

To be clear, this wasn’t an official event hosted by the City of Paris. We just found a grassy spot off to the side on the Champs du Mars (the big park next to the Eiffel Tower), scattered the eggs all over the lawn, and let our kids search them out. (If you’re in Paris over Easter with your kids, you could totally do the same thing!) But no matter how simple the activity is, doing it with the Eiffel Tower in the background makes it feel pretty darn spectacular.

More pics ahead! Keep reading.


A Late Winter Walk

March 14, 2013

winter walk11

Text and photos by Gabrielle.

On Sunday, a few of us decided to take a late winter walk as the sun was setting. We walked down the road to see how high the water was in the little creek, and say hello to the sheep that live across the way. We also wanted to scout out signs of spring.

And I remembered to bring the camera! (Instagram has me out of the habit of carrying my DSLR.) So I thought I’d share a few photos from our walk with you.

winter walk08winter walk09winter walk10

I can’t believe how much I enjoy seeing the little lambs…

Lots more photos ahead.


The Stonemason

February 21, 2013

Text and images by Gabrielle.

The big event at our house this week was watching the grand old stone wall get repaired. Back in December, on the day the Mayan calendar ended, we didn’t wake up to the end of the world, but we did wake to find a section of the wall had crumbled. Apparently, it’s been so wet this winter, that this is happening all over the region. The wall is massive — tall, thick, and sturdy as can be. It was hard to imagine anything being able to crumble it.

Well, the stone mason arrived earlier this week and each day he steadily repaired the wall. I instagrammed a picture of him working, and the comments mentioned the timelessness of seeing him work. I felt the same way. It was easy to imagine the wall being repaired in the very same manner for hundreds of years. Pretty neat.

Here’s a photo of the repaired wall snapped this morning:

One thing that’s been interesting to observe since we moved here is how well the French seem to be able to maintain traditional skills while modernizing at the same time. A quick example, on the same day the stonemason finished up, a faster internet line was also installed. But more than that, I’m so impressed with their instincts to preserve instead of tear down.

There’s a cathedral in our town (shown here) that was almost entirely destroyed in World War II. We’ve seen pictures of the rubble and that’s not an exaggeration. It was about 80% destroyed! Instead of tearing it down, the community spent 40 years and rebuilt it. And it’s stunning! It’s the jewel of the town now. I’m so glad they didn’t tear it down.

And I’m so glad the old stone wall at La Cressonnière has been repaired, and then repaired again, over hundreds of years. You can’t help but think about the history of this place while you’re here.

P.S. — Ben Blair found these images of the destroyed cathedral.


A Few Things

February 15, 2013

Text and image by Gabrielle.

Hello, Friends! How has your week been? Now that Valentine’s Day has come and gone, I really start to yearn for Spring in earnest. You too? We’ve had buckets and buckets of rain this winter and the ground is absolutely soaked — puddles everywhere that don’t disappear, even when the rain stops. What I want to do most this weekend, is pull on my wellies and take a long walk through the countryside. How about you? Any weekend plans you’re looking forward to?

While I muddy up my boots, here are a few things I’ve wanted to share with you:

- A new minimalist mentality. Thanks, Katherine.

- This tote turns into a picnic blanket.

- Wow! What a fabulous family photo shoot.

- Instead of buying your next car, 3D print one instead!

- Or, have your head made in 3D chocolate. Thanks, Alexandra.

- Illustrated zip-lock bags.

- If you like recycled, you’ll love bicycled.

- Like the balloon door idea? Here are 13 more great ways to use balloons!

- At your request, here’s a bit about how Ben Blair and I fell in love — it’s an interview from 2010.

The Light That Shines. It’s 15 minutes long, so you might want to bookmark it for later. But it’s worth it.

I hope you have a marvelous weekend. I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — I’ve noticed that about 10-15 comments per week are going straight to the spam folder on my blog. I’ve been checking the folder and restoring the comments, but if I’ve missed yours, please drop me a line. I’d hate to lose any of your words!


Two Years in France

February 11, 2013

la cressonniere hallway

By Gabrielle.

February 1st marked 2 years that we’ve lived in France. Two years! It’s flown by so incredibly fast. And I feel emotional every time I think about it. We hoped and suspected it would be a happy and growing experience for our family, but it has been so much more positive and life-changing than we could have imagined.

Our plan is to move back to the U.S. in July, after the French schools let out for the summer. Which means we’ve got 6 months left here at La Cressionère. And we want soak up every last minute of it! So don’t be surprised if you see a heavier dose of French-themed posts in the next while.

I want to give you the latest report on our children’s experience in French schools. A language learning update, too. I want to share my favorite inexpensive souvenirs. I want to recap what we’ve done, and the places we’ve visited since we arrived. And generally just reflect on what we’ve learned, and what comes next.

Speaking of what comes next, I’ve mentioned it before, but we are trying really, really hard to buy a rustic cottage here in Normandy before we move. (Rustic = needs much TLC.) Lots of paperwork involved, but if we are able to make it happen, I’ll definitely report. Please wish us luck!

And if there’s anything specific about our experience here in France that you’d like me to write about, let me know in the comments.

P.S. — Man oh man I love this house. The image is the hallway at the top of the stairs.


Living With Kids: ace&jig

November 27, 2012

By Gabrielle.

This one’s different. Completely. It’s a little less of what you’ve come to expect from a Living With Kids home tour and a lot more of what you’d expect from a love story about two friends. Because, to me, this is exactly how Cary Vaughan and Jenna Wilson’s life reads. They’re the gorgeous designers behind ace&jig — Cary is the brunette, and Jenna is the blonde — which is a cool enough story on its own. (Have you seen their clothes? I think this skirt should be traipsing through the gardens of La Cressonnière!) But then there’s their personal relationship. They met as interns over ten years ago, became roommates and bridesmaids in each other’s weddings, and now live and work together in the same neighborhood where they’re also raising their babies. See? A television series in the making! Friends, meet Cary and Jenna. This is how they live and work with kids in two separate houses and one studio. Enjoy!

Q: Where do you live?

A: We both are lucky enough to live in a not only picturesque (think Cosby show brownstones!) but very supportive community of Park Slope Brooklyn. We live very close to Prospect Park, which was designed by the same designer as Central Park, and we spend many weekends there. It’s wonderful to have a respite right in the middle of our city. There are a plethora of children that live here, playgrounds to romp around in, and many cool and creative activities abound. Needless to say, our children are never bored. In fact, they’re probably overstimulated!

textiles galore, just ahead!


Hello, Friends! Are you ready? Are you set? The holidays are here! I’ve been trying to put on my gratitude hat today, to sit still whenever I can and think about what I’m thankful for. Here are 7 things that came to mind:

- I’m thankful that Ben Blair takes his job as a parent seriously.
- I’m thankful for enthusiastic kids.
- I’m thankful that we get to live in this paradise for 2 1/2 years.
- I’m thankful my body does what I need it to do.
- I’m thankful for work that inspires me.
- I’m thankful that I recognize beauty.
- And I’m thankful everyday for YOU. As cheesy as that might sound, I’m constantly amazed at how supportive and good this community is. Design Mom readers really are outstanding.

How about you? What are you feeling thankful for today? I’d love to hear!

I’ll be taking a couple of days off for the holiday, so here are a few things to keep you entertained until I get back.

- Moomah Magazine. We should all memorize their tagline before the holiday rush starts: Be Inspired And Know You Are Doing Enough.
- Wow. It’s the size of a quarter. It tracks your movements when you swim, bike, run.
- Now I want to read Gone Girl.
- Awkward.
- Love: Underground New York Public Library. Thanks, Carter!
- Does yellow cheer you up?
- Excited for Liz’s new project!
- Loads of ideas for your holiday table. (And here are 18 craft ideas for the kids.)
- I’ll be instagramming and pinning through the break. Join me!

I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, and a lovely weekend with friends and family as well! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.



Meet Koseli

October 29, 2012

By Gabrielle.

Please tell me you’re loving meeting my new contributors as much as I’m enjoying introducing them to you! Up next is Koseli, who finds the coolest things for us daily in addition to having one of the coolest names ever. (I just discovered that I’ve been saying it all wrong in my head!) A New York transplant, she also gives me a lovely dose of East Coast edge that I crave all the way from La Cressonnière. Among other things, Koseli has shown us beautiful subway art, changed the way we see clouds in the sky, and took us along when she met Maira Kalman. And now, I’d love for you to meet her. Friends, this is Koseli!

Q: If we only knew four things about you, what would they be?

A: I love young adult fiction and crave good solid teen angst every couple of months. Keeps me grounded. I love to cook, collect Japanese stickers and stationery, and I also have serious wanderlust. I want to move to Copenhagen, or really anywhere in Scandinavia, for a year and see everything. My name is Norwegian, actually, and pronounced Kos-lee. There isn’t an exact English translation but it’s an adjective that means warm and cozy. Like Christmas morning. (I couldn’t stop at four!)

Q: How did you get here?

A: I come from a big, happy family, and what I’ve learned within that framework defines much of who I am. My husband’s name is Keenan. He’s my better half and I still feel like I’m crushing on him even after five years. I don’t feel like my professional pursuits can be unraveled from my personal ambitions; they work in tandem. Unlikely mentors along the way have guided me towards copywriting, but blogging was always there, keeping me writing and aspiring — though I was scared to death and only published privately until I started Inadvertent Haiku last year. I’ve since retired IH and just launched Original Archiving Company. It’s blog as catalog.

Up next…Koseli’s favorite part of her everyday. So lovely!


Custom House Portraits

October 26, 2012

By Gabrielle.

We didn’t send out holiday cards last year and I missed it. So I’m trying to think early about what to send this year. I really like the idea of using a house portrait for a card. Send Miranda a photo of your house, and she’ll draw up a charming little exterior just for you. I love the version with wreaths on the windows!

La Cressonnière doesn’t belong to us forever, but it feels like home right now and I think it would be neat to have a little drawing made of it. Do you like how your house looks? Do you think it would make a pretty card? Have you already made plans for your holiday cards this year?


A Few Things

September 21, 2012

a trio of pears

Happy Weekend, Friends! How are you? We just picked up Matt & Julie of Tiger in a Jar from the train station. They’re here to work on a new video project — a project that isn’t Olive Us. That’s right. It’s a totally new project that has come in to our life all of sudden. I’ll remain cryptic for now, but you won’t have to wait long for the details, because the videos will launch in October (which is like 2 seconds away in parenting time). I’m sure I’ll be sharing instagrams along the way if you’d like to get a sneak peek!

In addition to video stuff, we’ll also be doing some exploring for Love the Place You Live. Will you join me? Do something local and cool this weekend, then write up a post on Monday and we’ll all link up. It’s lots of fun, I promise!

While I get back to video prep, here are a few things I’d love to share with you:

- A magical purse. Thanks, Macarena!

- I think I spent a good hour playing on this site. Thanks, Sara!

- These must be made. Tell me if you you do. And please send eight to La Cressonnière.

- On getting up in the morning.

- Check out my super hot sis-in-law.

- Rule breakers, unite!

- Cookies for your yoga obsessed friend.

- Paris vs. New York. Thanks, Carter!

- And here are my latest Babble posts.

I hope you have a marvelous weekend! I’ll meet you back here on Monday. I miss you already.


P.S. — There was a big spring freeze here and our apple trees, cherry trees and walnut tree didn’t produce any fruit at all. But there are some beautiful pears!


Hey there! It’s time for some What to Wear to School posts. Let’s start with Olive Jean Blair. She just turned 11 and started 6th grade here in France. Fun fact: because of different age enrollment guidelines, in Colorado she would be starting 5th grade.

In this first outfit, Olive is wearing pale-pink sequin capris we found at a Next outlet near Dover, England. Her pink layering tee is from Carrefour (a Target-like French grocery store chain) and the dark brown oxfords are too. The grey wool v-neck sweater used to belong to Ralph, but it was accidentally washed and now has a cropped, shrunken, felted (but still cute) look. The necklace is by Truebirds.

For years, bright green was Olive’s favorite color, but recently she’s had a change of opinion and currently there isn’t a bit of green in her wardrobe.

Click here to see 6 more of Olive’s outfits.


Curious Vase

September 7, 2012

I like to think I’m a curious person by nature, finding a thrill in the how and the why and the who and the what’s next. You’re probably the same exact way, aren’t you? It’s why we keep and read blogs, Pinterest daily (if not hourly!), and Instagram every little moment that makes us stop for a second or two.

But tell me: Would you ever in a million years be so curious that you’d destroy a vase to see the others waiting patiently inside to make their appearance?

Sigh. I adore design. And I’ll never have enough vases to hold the flowers of La Cressonnière. But I am far too practical to smash a gorgeous vase. Even though I’m dying to know what the others look like! What about you?

Curious Vase found on Today and Tomorrow.


Filling a Bookcase

August 17, 2012

The other day, I saw the instagram above from Jenny Komenda. She recently moved to a new house, and one of the first things she did when it was time to unpack, was fill the bookshelves. She said, “Unpacking the books made this house come alive. Feeling much more settled today.”

I totally know that feeling! When we moved into La Cressonnière, which already housed a great collection of books, I still took time to unpack our own volumes (a couple of boxes full that we’d shipped), add them to the existing collection, and reorganize the shelves to reflect our family. It made me feel at home! Bookshelves — what they look like and what they house — can make such a statement and add so much to any living space.

Pottery Barn Kids asked me to write a few articles for their Design Studio (a fantastic resource, by the way) and for the first one, I wrote out my thoughts on bookshelves. My favorite shelf height, how I like to organize them. Stuff like that. Click here to read. And I hope you enjoy it!

What about you, Friends? Do you like filling your shelves? Or is it a task that makes you hesitate?

P.S. — In Colorado, we organized our books by color.


Teenage Bedrooms

August 15, 2012

The walls of a teenage bedroom are usually covered with photographs, magazine tear-sheets, a tangle of twinkly lights, and the occasional inspirational quote. And we can’t forget the unmade bed! While we live at La Cressonniere, my teenagers’ bedrooms have remained charming and French, but they both talk about what they’ll put on the wall when we move back to The States.

Have you thought about your philosophy on older kids’ rooms? (Did that just make some of you with younger children panic?) Is it a space in your home where you’re willing to hand over creative control, or do you have rules and restrictions?

Lots and lots of real teenage bedrooms here.

P.S. — Do you remember your first “grown-up” bedroom? What design statement were you trying to make back then?



August 2, 2012

How smitten are you with the USA women’s gymnastics team? Fierce and sweet and sparkly even to the top row in the Olympic arena, they’re champions and friends through and through. Did you watch them win the Team Gold? Aren’t you dying to know how those leotards stay in place no matter what flip or twist is performed? No tugging, no riding up, and everything showing…without everything showing!

If your curiosity is anything like mine, you’ll love this article. Those leotards take over a year and a half from concept to product, are decorated with thousands of Swarovski crystals, and are much like a wedding dress: no one on the team wants you to see theirs until the big day!

It all makes me want to do cartwheels around La Cressonnière in a bedazzled leotard. I wonder how many girls — and women! — are searching for a gymnastics program right now? I know I’m interested! Is anyone in your house flipping over gymnastics?

Incredibly cool time lapse found here.

P.S. — The Olympics are so close to us! We decided to roadtrip to London this weekend to enjoy some of the Olympic atmosphere. We don’t have tickets to any events, but hopefully it will be awesome anyway.

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