For years, American expatriates Shauna Varvel and her husband enjoyed spending summers with their five children in Provence. In 2014, kismet led them to rent the home that is now Le Mas des Poiriers, an 18th century farm house nestled among 65 secluded acres including working pear orchards. The family fell in love, and a year later when the property became available for sale, they decided to buy it. Le Mas des Poiriers underwent extensive renovation by the esteemed Alexandre Lafourcade. Landscape architect Dominique Lafourcade transformed the gardens, and Susan Bednar Long redesigned the interiors using Pierre Frey fabrics exclusively. Every inch is true to the spirit of Provence.
Le Mas des Poiriers is available for rent, and I am fantasizing about a dream vacation in Provence! In the meantime, I am delighted to welcome Shauna Varvel to The Glam Pad today for a virtual holiday…
Q: How did Le Mas des Poiriers receive its name, and what is the English translation?
A: Our farm, Le Mas des Poiriers, produces 60 tonnes of pears annually and the house sits adjacent to the pear orchard. The actual and original name of the house is Grange Neuve, which we use, but we have named the farm Le Mas des Poiriers, which translates as “The Pear Trees Farm House.”
Q: In what year was Le Mas des Poiriers built, and what is its history?
A: The house was built over 200 years ago as a farm house, or a “Mas.” The Rhone River divides near Avignon and the Palace of the Popes and the farm sits between the two arms of the Rhone, on an island. Thus the property’s land is very fertile and green, which is unusual in this dry and rocky region. The farm was formerly in a flood plan and had a high platform near the barn that served as a place to put the animals during during a flood.
Q: What inspired you to purchase this beautiful property?
A: Provence has been a passion of mine for many years. When my five children were young, we would rent a house for a month or so in the summertime, spending our mornings at the markets or visiting ancient Roman ruins, our afternoons by the pool, and our evenings making dinner together and eating al fresco in the garden to the tune of cicadas. We created beautiful memories as the children ran around in the Provencal sun without the distractions of everyday life, picking grapes and pears and enjoying the beauty and serenity of the region. In the summer of 2014, we rented the home that is now Le Mas des Poiriers and fell in love with it for its uniquely large structure and distinct location, being within minutes from the charming city of Avignon and yet in a secluded world of its own on a fertile island within the Rhone River. We were thrilled a year later to discover that the property had been listed for sale. We knew that we loved having 10,000 square feet in one building to fit our large family (many properties in Provence connect small buildings together to make one), the high volume in the ceilings and the flat and green land surrounding the property. We also knew that it would be a lot of work but we felt that in the end, the effort and investment would pay off in a way that it couldn’t in other properties.
Q: Please tell me about the architectural, interior, and landscaping renovations you have overseen.
A: We hired the Alexandre Lafourcade architect team for the renovation. They are the clear specialists in this region for these kinds of old houses. Through their vision we were able to re-organize the exterior, adding a new front door in a new location, tearing out ceilings and staircases to make a new beautiful front entry, add a new master bedroom, family bedroom, living room and mud room in a space that had formerly been a barn, with a dirt floor. We tore out floors, walls, all bathrooms, added antique fireplaces, new floors throughout, etc. We used finishings that would have been used traditionally in the house, like Dordogne stone floors, on the main level, reclaimed antique terracotta floors on the upper level and traditional marble cut in a Provencal style in the bathrooms. We completely changed the landscape working with the famed Provencal landscape designer, Dominique Lafourcade. We moved the swimming pool from the south side of the house to the west, the kitchen side of the house which made more sense to us. We added a tennis court adjacent to the swimming pool and Dominique designed a charming tennis court house on the east side of the court, painted a beautiful French blue. The property boasts 75 200-year-old plane trees in three allées, which were cleaned and pruned to highlight their beauty. Additionally, we added very tall cypresses to form a cypress allée coming off the center axis of the house. We added a wisteria covered arched walkway to the pool and also a beautiful rose covered archway off of the living room. The tennis court is surrounded by old olive trees, lavender and plants that would be found in the Luberon valley, giving it a distinct feeling that is different from the rest of the property. There was an old decrepit barn on the property that we renovated to house two staff apartments with a two-bedroom apartment upstairs and a one-bedroom apartment downstairs. On the east side, there is a view of Mount Ventoux and we have a large room that can be used as a rec room or a staff room.
Q: What was your vision for the beautiful interiors, and were you able to work with antiques original to the home? How did you decide to use Pierre Frey fabrics exclusively throughout?
A: The house is very large and could have been decorated and finished to feel more like a Bastide or a Villa, but I felt strongly that it should maintain the feeling of the country farmhouse that it is. I absolutely love and was inspired by the La Mirande Hotel that is just across the river from us. The La Mirande is a city hotel and is very elegant but we took inspiration from their fabrics, bathrooms and from their Chef’s Table kitchen, in the basement of the hotel. In fact, our kitchen, was built by the son of the gentleman who built the Chef’s Table kitchen years ago. We did inherit some antiques with the house and have used them in a few places. We inherited some lovely hunting dog paintings that feature in the entry and living room and two small desks that are in the living room. Additionally, I travelled between Paris, shopping on the left bank and at the weekend market, Isle sur la Sorgue in Provence and London for the Decorative Antique Fair, every few months collecting antiques and art. It took the full two years to find all of the pieces needed to fill the house.
Regarding Pierre Frey, I have long loved their traditional French country fabrics and was thrilled to be able to integrate them here. I worked with a decorator, Susan Bednar Long, with whom I have had a long professional relationship. We worked together on this project and sat in the Pierre Frey showroom in Paris for two days straight pulling fabrics and creating fabric schemes for each room. The manager of the Paris showroom, Eleonore, came to the house several times during the project and recommended the seamstress and upholsterer that Pierre Frey uses in Paris.
Q: For a guest staying at Le Mas des Poiriers, what does a typical itinerary look like for a long weekend visit? And for a week or more? What activities do you recommend?
A: We rent the entire house for approximately 4 – 5 weeks a year on a weekly basis. In a week, you could cover many of the famous Provencal villages in the area and visit some of the most popular markets. There are a myriad of sites and markets to visit in Provence. We recommend that you take it slowly and balance days out with days lounging by the pool or playing tennis, touring the gardens, sunflower fields or pear orchard at Le Mas des Poiriers attended by our thoughtful and professional staff. Gordes is a favorite among most visitors along with the other hilltop villages in the Luberon Valley such as Bonnieux, Lacoste and Menerbes. When visiting Gordes do not miss the lovely Abbey Senanque with its lavender fields, just beyond Gordes in a beautiful canyon. Avignon is just ten minutes away and is home to the Palace of the Popes, one of the largest and most important Medieval Gothic buildings in Europe, and a UNESCO Heritage Site. Pont du Gard, the highest and one of the best preserved Roman Aqueduct and another UNESCO Heritage Site, is just 30 minutes away to the west. St Remy and Eygalières are very popular market towns with markets Wednesday and Friday mornings. Arles boasts a beautiful Roman Coliseum that rivals the famous coliseum in Rome and Nimes is home of the beautiful Roman Maison Carree.
Q: Your culinary team sounds amazing, please tell me about dining at Le Mas des Poiriers.
A: Our culinary team are state of the art with experience from New York’s Park Avenue to fine French kitchens. They are on-hand to create a personalized menu for each meal during your stay, moving your dining experience from our patio to the plane tree allée, the cypress allée or by the pool for a beautiful and varied experience at each meal.
Q: How many guests can Le Mas des Poiriers accommodate at one time? I would imagine this would be an ideal venue for a destination wedding!
A: We have nine double bedrooms and have a maximum sleeping capacity of 18 guests. Le Mas des Poiriers is a perfect wedding venue and we collaborate with the incredible talented team of Matthew Robbins Design to coordinate events.
Thank you, Shauna, for sharing your enchanted home with us today! Le Mas des Poiriers is now at the top of my bucket list.
With seven bedrooms in the main house and two additional bedrooms in the guest house, Le Mas des Poiriers offers the utmost in seclusion and luxury. The property boasts a tennis court and swimming pool, and it is professionally staffed with a culinary team of two chefs and two waiters, as well as full-time housekeeping. Within easy reach of Avignon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gordes, St. Remy, and Aix-en Provence, Le Mas des Poiriers is ideally situated to access all that the region has to offer, should you decide to spend a day away from the peaceful property.