Real Life: A Tour of Interior Designer Benji Lewis’ Stunning Home in Landes, France

Real Life: A Tour of Interior Designer Benji Lewis’ Stunning Home in Landes, France

Interior designer Benji Lewis loves being able to decamp to his French bolthole in Landes, where he and his partner have created their perfect lifestyle, says Catharine Higginson

World-famous interior designer Benji Lewis bought a bolt hole in France over 26 years ago. He heads straight for his beloved home from home, Maison Noe, which he describes as being “on a high street in a village east of Dax”, whenever his hectic schedule allows and as you might imagine, today the property is an absolutely charming and beautifully restored maison secondaire.

(c) Benji Lewis

Originally from Liverpool, and after what he says was a “disastrous attempt to study French” in Oxford, he changed direction, took an interior design course and has never looked back. His introduction to life in France came about almost by accident as Benji explains: “I was no Francophile and my knowledge of the language was questionable -‘Il fait beau‘ being about the extent of things – but my partner at the time was a London-based Bordelais wine importer with a yearning to return to a life in France. One of the few life-choice decisions I’ve made that I’d consider wise, was the reality of needing easy access back to the UK, so while there was clearly a temptation to settle in a vast manor house (they were selling for buttons 26 years ago) down a long track a million miles from things, fortunately I had the wisdom to see the importance of not being cut off.

So with my partner, we concentrated solely on locations that were within an hour of an airport. We almost bought in the Dordogne on two occasions, then we looked at Lot-et-Garonne until a random road trip from San Sebastian through the Pyrénées and up to Bordeaux in our Renault 16TX took us through Landes.

As we passed signs for the coast and then Dax, with an old concert recording of Simon & Garfunkel singing in Carnegie Hall playing on the radio, I was reminded of a family story about an uncle called Walter Lancaster Hey. Uncle Walter had flown himself down here during the ’30s in his de Havilland Puss Moth, and I just thought to myself – this is it! Funnily enough, I recently found the map of his journey in an online auction so of course I had to buy it. I discovered he’d even refuelled a few miles from where I live today!

There’s nothing I don’t love about my home. It was built in 1806 and it had never left the ownership of the same family, until I spotted it in a local newspaper. It’s unquestionably pretty in the classic maison de maître style – and while it’s not small, it’s absolutely liveable because the layout is so simple.

“It’s a four-up/four-down with a central front-to-back entrance hall and landing, so the light floods through the whole building. With barns attached at each end, there was plenty of scope to extend the living accommodation too, which I did by putting my kitchen and office in one end. In the other barn, I’m planning to put what I call my ‘New Years Eve room’ with sofas, comfy armchairs, great lighting, an even better sound system and plenty of space for a dance.”



(c) Benji Lewis

Talking to Benji, it’s absolutely clear just how enthusiastic he is about this region of France. His face lights up as he explains: “It’s a remarkably easy and happy place to live in, this part of Les Landes. We’re far enough from the beaches to escape the crowds, yet close enough to drive over for an evening dip in the sea and dinner au bord de la mer. The glamorous seaside resort of Biarritz is within an hour’s drive, for culture we’ve got Bayonne and Pau to sink our teeth into, the Basque Country is one short and very beautiful drive away, and for year-round city buzz, we’ve got the choice of San Sebastian or Bordeaux – both of which we can very easily get to on the train.

“I have to be in the UK frequently for work purposes but if the travel connections behave (and they most often do) I can leave the house in West Berkshire and be in my maison in France within a perfectly reasonable timeframe.

(c) Benji Lewis

“Right from the start of my French adventure, accessibility and connectivity were always key; I’m self-employed so as much as escaping to the middle of nowhere in the French countryside has appeal, I’ve always had to maintain a realistic viewpoint about convenience for both travel times and online connectivity. “It stood to reason that for the latter, things like fibre broadband would be brought to towns and small villages where there are schools, so I settled on my house on a village high street once I knew that my professional commitments wouldn’t be compromised. As far as travel is concerned, I can get door to door from our house in the UK to my French place in seven hours; longer than that becomes tiresome, but this way I can dip between the two homes without missing a beat.”


(c) Benji Lewis

When he’s not working, Benji finds plenty to do and enjoy in the region. He loves exploring the area and says: “The road trips here are out of this world – there’s not a bad route – and the diversity of what you find is extraordinary: big birds of prey, huge vistas, pretty villages, mountains, market squares, beaches and brocantes and, of course, right on the doorstep we’ve got the incredible beauty of the Basque Country.

“Being so close to the Spanish border is fabulous, it’s entirely possible to go to Spain for an evening or the weekend and, of course, there’s always the exciting possibility of driving further into southern Europe – and even on to North Africa! I love the reality of being able to have breakfast at home, lunch on the beach followed by an ocean dip and an evening glass of cider in the mountains over the Spanish border.

“I’m still in love with old French houses and there are stacks of them to enjoy looking at; we’re not so much in ‘grand old château’ territory down here – although there are obviously some of those – there are far more handsome maisons de maître, beautiful townhouses and rambling farms. I’ve long been tempted by the idea of a hôtel particulier; these are houses with a slightly formal yet unassuming exterior, however, when you step inside, there is an absolutely unexpected level of grandeur. The French are excellent at this and as a designer, this really appeals.

(c) Benji Lewis

“I also use my interior designer credentials to justify my love of visiting flea markets or brocantes! No trip to France is complete without a visit to at least one of these. I don’t know why or how the French do junk so well; I always wonder did we ever have beautiful bed linen in the UK and if so, where did it all go? I’ve bought stacks of beautiful old linen sheets, all with embroidered detail – I have a weakness for them; those and antique crystal champagne coupes. You can never have too many!”

Pushed to come up with a ‘favourite’ destination within the region, Benji struggles and eventually explains: “I love so many places, I can’t think of anywhere that’s been a disappointment, so it’s really hard to choose just one. Heading east, we love Labastide-d’Armagnac; it’s an exquisitely unspoiled historically interesting town with an amazing square, 45 minutes from here – an absolute gem of a place that we love going to for coffee.

“Hossegor is another favourite, not only because of the year-round beachside energy it conveys – kids on mopeds with surfboards tucked under their arms – it also has a wealth of terribly splendid 1930s villas round the lake to enjoy looking at.

“We also go to Biarritz quite regularly. I love tea at the Miremont, which has the most wonderful cakes and patisseries; sun-downers at the Eden Rock Café; and dinner at Chez Albert in the old port. Pau is another favourite place to visit. It’s fantastic for cultural activities and of course the Henry IV château, and the streets of the old town in Bayonne – petit Bayonne – have to be seen to be believed!”


(c) Benji Lewis

After having spent so many years in France, Benji is well established within the community and he explains that this has come about from making an effort to fit in and become involved. “You don’t have to go to every fête or function in the locality, but do be happy to say ‘bonjour!”, shake hands and demonstrate that you’re ready to engage even if you can’t speak good French yet,” he says.

Buying a secondhand car from the local garage is a good way to endear yourself to your neighbours and do think about the property’s location. Don’t be persuaded into buying the perfect house on a hilltop that’s miles from anywhere-be practical and think about how easy it’s going to be to become part of the community if you are very isolated.

“The isolation thing is an important factor to consider. It’s true that French house prices can be temptingly low, but there’s generally a very good reason for this – namely that your dream home, aside from probably needing a complete rebuild, is miles from anywhere and there will be nothing to do for miles around!

My personal suggestion is always to view the house as something you want to enjoy for the foreseeable future, don’t focus on the magic of warm summer evenings, think about what things might feel like on a dark rainy Tuesday afternoon in November.”

Benji can be contacted for UK- and French-based interior design projects at

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Lead photo credit : (c) Benji Lewis

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