Grand designs

Although Hege Morris has always had a love for interiors, it wasn’t until she moved to Charente with her husband Craig that she was able to channel her hobby into a business opportunity, says Anna McKittrick

For Hege and Craig Morris it was a camping trip to France that sealed the deal for their cross-Channel move eight years ago. The couple were holidaying in Provence, Lyon and Paris and were so taken with the French way of life that they decided to swap Edinburgh for France.

“I’ve always been fascinated with the French language and France in general,” says Francophile Hege, who originates from Norway and had lived in Scotland since 1997.

After their camping holiday, Hege, 36, and Craig, 34, returned to France to travel around and get a feel for the different regions so they could decide where to put down roots.

“We started in Carcassonne and drove around but we soon realised that it was too hot in the south-west and the prices were much higher than further north,” remembers Hege. The couple ended up falling for the charms of Poitou-Charentes and a partially restored barn in the village of Mazerolles in Charente.

Having moved from a new-build property in Edinburgh, Hege and Craig had no experience of property renovation but they knew they wanted a project to get their teeth into and the barn offered ample opportunity to learn the ins and outs of DIY. The couple weren’t put off by the lack of septic tank and electricity, and although it was a lot of hard work, they have fond memories of their first few months in France back in the summer of 2004.

“We both loved doing the renovation. It was a great time as the weather was brilliant and although we didn’t have hot water it didn’t matter and was still an enjoyable experience,” says Hege fondly.

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The renovation of the three-bedroom barn took a few months and then further down the line they updated the kitchen and bathrooms that were put in by the previous owners, even though the property had never been lived in before the Morrises took up residence.

In 2007, the couple had their son Magnus but with a baby and both Hege and Craig working from home, the family had outgrown the barn and they decided to move; this time building their property from scratch: “We’d been looking at plots and the difference in the price of building a house and buying a new house, and we worked out that it would be cheaper to buy the land and build a house. Plus you get to work with the architect and choose the exact layout from the size of the rooms to the windows,” says Hege.

The couple employed an architect to do the structural side of the build while they did the tiling, laid the parquet flooring and sanded and painted throughout, having more confidence in their own abilities second time round. The finished four-bedroom house, which is also in Mazerolles, was ready to move into in 2010.

When it came to the interior design, Hege relished the prospect of having a blank canvas to work with and while her background is in HR rather than styling, it’s something that has interested her since she was a child when she used to love flicking through the Ikea catalogue for inspiration. Although she hails from Norway, Hege says she often doesn’t realise just how much her roots influence her design aesthetic but with a penchant for light walls, wooden floors and a blend of old and new, her heritage is clearly apparent. Hege describes the style of their interiors as Scandinavian fused with French.

“I like mixing wood and whitewash as it’s easy to inject colours to a room by adding accent pieces so rather than having a whole wall that’s bright pink, I introduce little pink details,” she says.

Breathing new life into flea market finds is one of Hege’s hobbies and much of the furniture in their home has been sourced from nearby brocantes. When they first moved over to France, Hege says she had her heart set on buying antique French pieces for their home but on discovering them to be too expensive, she reassessed her shopping habits and reaped rewards.

“I realised that if you look at it differently you can find bargains,” she says. “You have to look at what people don’t want anymore and then you can customise it yourself.”

Many of Hege’s ‘upcycled’ flea market treasures are featured on her blog: Hege in France, which she started writing last November. The blog, which now gets up to 1,000 visitors a day, showcases Hege’s talent for styling throughout her French home and details many of her customised brocante projects from idea to inception, with beautiful photography to boot. Since moving to France, Hege has honed her creative skills, drawing on inspiration from her surroundings, and recently completed an online interiors styling course which was also a great way to improve her French. Moving forward, Hege hopes to transform her flair for styling and photography into a business venture by setting up a service offering g�te owners an interior design make-over package to help boost their rentals.

For Hege and Craig, much of the appeal of moving to France was the opportunity to start a new life without tiring commutes and long hours spent working in an office. While both their backgrounds are in HR – they met at university in Glasgow studying the same degree course – they wanted to move away from corporate jobs to follow their passions. Hege is concentrating on her love for interiors and set up an online shop in spring of 2012 selling a mix of designer furniture and vintage items sourced from local brocantes, and it has proved to be popular with shoppers from all over the world who want to add a little slice of France to their home.

Craig, who worked in HR for Seafood Scotland prior to moving, taught English to begin with but now works as an agent between Scottish fishermen and French wholesalers which allows him to draw on his expertise from his previous job while achieving a work/life balance. Working from home enables the Morrises to spend more time with Magnus, who attends the local nursery and speaks French and English and a bit of Norwegian.

When it came to settling into life in France, Hege and Craig found their neighbours to be very friendly but Hege says only speaking basic French in the beginning was hard.

“For me, as it’s my third language, it was most important for me to listen to French to get used to it because if you don’t it’s very difficult to respond if someone asks you a question. My advice is don’t be scared to make mistakes because you’ll learn from them. I make mistakes all the time but at least I’m still talking and I think I make myself understood most of the time.”

Having spent eight years living in Charente, the Morris family is now looking to move further west to Charente-Maritime: “We’ve been talking about moving closer to the coast for years,” says Hege who used to live by the sea in Norway.

Hege and Craig are concentrating their property search around La Rochelle and Saintes and are looking for a house that’s ready to move into this time round. And although they will be sad to say goodbye to the house they lovingly built, exciting times lie ahead for the family. LF

http://hegeinfrance.blogspot.co.uk

Image � Hege Morris