When Katie and Oli Lyons sold their London flat to finance buying a townhouse within the medieval walls of Saint-Paul de Vence, an ancient hilltop village that was a magnet for masters such as Picasso and Chagall, it was the marker of their permanent move to the South of France, and a place to overlay some modern interior design into a charming period home.
It was also intended as an expansion of the small hospitality business they had set up, having revamped the tiny house next door to run as a holiday rental.
But after nine months renovating the property, Coronavirus hit and the way they have subsequently used the townhouse has changed, with it becoming a bolthole for them to spend time with visiting family and friends – when restrictions allowed. Birthday celebrations and boys’ weekends have been hosted in the townhouse, which Katie has remodelled into her own mini boutique hotel.
‘It’s the perfect getaway to go and escape normality,’ says Oli.
It was serendipity that brought the couple to both houses. Katie knew the famous artists’ village well having regularly stayed there through her teen years. And, after moving to Nice in 2014, while Oli studied for an MBA, the couple still visited, heading to the legendary La Colombe d’Or hotel for the odd lunch.
It was on one such trip, in 2016, that they spotted the first property they bought. A couple of years later the house next door came up for sale and it was too good an opportunity to miss. 'It’s quite rare for properties to come up for sale because the old village is not very big,’ says Katie.
The townhouse, known as ‘Number 5’, was a 16th century five storey property that had been pretty much untouched for 60 years. With few original features in situ, the couple had free rein to reconfigure it.
Inspired by the light, colours and textures of the area, Katie’s skill has been in seamlessly blending traditional Provençal materials and antique French furnishings with modern comforts.
‘My style is instinctual,’ she says, ‘but I try to create spaces that are timeless.’ The revamp was no small feat – she had just given birth when the builders started and she frequently went on site with her newborn baby in a sling, to the consternation of the contractors.
Katie has indulged in her passion for brocantes, regularly trawling local markets to find pieces.
‘Vintaging has become part of my life in France,’ she says. ‘I love finding treasures.’
One of Katie's vintage finds inspired the look of the dining area.
‘I fell in love with a painting of a dinner party I saw in the Cours Saleya market in Nice. I thought, this is my vision for what I want in this house. That warm feeling of people around a table enjoying food and each other’s company.’
The mix of wood and tiling in the kitchen is faithful to true Provencal style.
‘The lime wall finish in the bedroom was an investment, but everything else is very simple so it was worth it,’ says Katie.
Using one bold piece to focus on in the en suite space is a guaranteed way to understated luxury.
‘These colours are a theme through all my designs,’ says Katie. ‘I think it’s led by Provence – the olive greens and the orange of the terracotta roof tiles.’
The antique side table adds a dose of rich character in the en suite.
‘The nice thing about Saint-Paul is its open-door policy,’ says Katie. ‘People we know will walk past and just stop in for a glass of rosé. I love being there for that reason.’
Future plans for the house include hosting wine tastings and pop-up supper clubs – partly because had life taken a different turn Oli may have become a professional chef.
It was through doing this renovation – and visitors’ reactions to it – that the couple realised they were on to something and decided to set up their interior design venture, harnessing Katie’s creative eye and Oli’s business experience.
It also means Katie has an excuse to keep trawling those markets, in search of the perfect piece to inspire the next project. ‘You should see our cellar,’ laughs Oli. ‘We’ve got our very own brocante in there!’
Rent Number 5 via airbnb.com
Interior designer/ Katie Lyons Interiors
Photography / Helen Cathcart
Text / Kara O’Reilly
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