IMG_3020Not everything is exquisite good taste over here in the land of butter and croissants. We have soul-less subdivisions with idiotic names and no trees. We have strip malls and mall-malls (though definitely inferior….watching “Stranger Things” made me nostalgic for the mall as social center; though our centre-villes are better than most downtowns). Instead of velvet Elvises, there are velvet Johnny Hallydays.

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That’s a turret on that house, which was probably built in the last decade or two. No comment about the metal work on the gate.

Worst of all, we have McMansions. There is a wonderful blog, McMansion Hell, which dissects all that is wrong about the genre.

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Prison or home?

Tear-downs are a new phenomenon. Many a gorgeous château is the result of hundreds of years of additions and renovations. The mixed styles create an endearing eccentricity about these rambling stone heaps with willy-nilly towers. It is quite a different thing to start with a blank slate and do a wide-ranging pastiche all at once. It’s the architectural equivalent of canned laughter, silicone boobs, Viagra. Fake, fake fake.

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How many finials are too many?

I also have to say that I have seen more than my share of hideous interior décor. These people clearly are not reading the plentiful blogs about French style. In fact, they have rejected French style for something amorphously modern, but not TOO modern, for goodness sake. Instead, it’s a bastard of modern (aka 1970s/1980s) with the contemporaneous interpretation of traditional. The result is furniture that is both ugly and uncomfortable, a simultaneous assault to the eyes and to the spine.

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House on steroids. The definition of “butt-ugly.” Not from these parts but farther north, where, on a walk, all I could think of was, OMG everything here is H.I.D.E.O.U.S.

Take, for example, the home of a couple we know. Her: extremely short hair because it’s less work; had Groucho Marx eyebrows until her daughter’s wedding when they were plucked and she is thank goodness keeping up with that; explained, the first time we met almost 20 years ago, that they had “just” stripped the wallpaper (and neither new wallpaper nor paint was ever put up). She’s all about efficiency not aesthetics, function over form. Him: cocky; retired from a sinecure but likes to brag about his business acumen, which consists of inheriting money from his father-in-law; always on the lookout for a fight (of the fist variety, not the sharp words kind); brags about having finagled great deals, through under-the-table clever negotiations, but always pays way too much. Sound like anybody you can think of?

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House on…antidepressants?  Is there anything kind one can say? I fear there is not. And WTF is on the ventilation grate?

They bought a house for retirement that was twice as big as the house they had raised a family in. It’s in a subdivision outside of town, where one must take a car to get anything. Not a single shop. It’s near where a big forest fire ravaged the pines last month. Where houses don’t belong.

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Where no man has gone before.

This house, which was a “great” bargain, has some peculiarities. There’s a three-centimeter (2-inch) step just after you enter, swinging in a half-circle along with the front door. That’s because the builders miscalculated the interior floor. (First tip that this is a bad house!!!!) The steps to the second floor have risers that are about 30 centimeters (12 inches). I found it hard to climb them, and I’m pretty fit. Yet, even though I’m very short, I had to duck not to hit my head going up/down because the stairwell was too small.

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Nightmare.

But hey, the house is HUGE.

They also bought it furnished, so I can blame multiple people for bad taste–the couple for thinking it was just fine and the original owners for having committed such furniture felonies in the first place. In the living area (open plan kitchen/dining/living), there’s a sofa and matching love seat, both with legs so high none of us could sit back and also have our feet on the floor. In pleather.

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The strip in the middle is the wall of the “new” city, built in the 1300s. The buildings that cuddle up to it on either side were built much (and on the right much, much) later.

The dining table has a similar design, with those big-based chairs/seats that you can’t scoot in once you sit and that are also too high to touch the floor. Maybe the original owners were giants? The current owners aren’t–he’s moderate height and she is even shorter than I am.

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Case in point: there was a big opening here at one time. Somebody closed it up, probably for good reason. But there’s still a door, with a cool arch above, and a window with adorable hearts in the shutters.

This is just one example, because I sometimes think everybody here has bought furniture from the same place. You can get antiques practically for free, and yet people go to big-box stores in a “zoning commercial” (how do I even describe that….it’s a part of town that’s full of strip malls and big-box stores….pure hell) and they choose the absolutely ugliest options available. I love antiques but I also love modern–le Corbusier, lots of Ligne Roset. It isn’t to judge modern vs. antiques. I guess the stuff I see is a downscale version. But why? Ikea does a good job of modern for cheap. Heck, I am a total cheapskate. But that’s why I love antiques. Plus the quality. You can’t beat it–solid wood, hand craftsmanship, no off-gassing.

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Not built in a day. The gray-roofed towers are more modern by a long shot, but date to the 13th century; the red-roofed tower is Roman, far older.

Anyway, I would not photograph examples of bad taste in people’s homes even though they don’t read the blog. And this post is more about homes as buildings, rather than their interior design. Usually I show you places that are achingly beautiful, worthy of being on postcards or calendars. Yes, there is much to celebrate in French taste, but not everybody has gotten the memo.

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Sprouting like mushrooms. Or cancer.

I love it all the same.

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But I don’t love this house. Windows? Why no windows?

Surely you have McMansion horror stories to share. Unload them!

39 thoughts on “French Style Fails

  1. Well I don’t know if it’s a mcmansion but I grew up in a farmhouse that was huge at least it felt huge to a little girl and when I go back and look at it it’s still looks gigantic The Farmhouse had 5 bedrooms all small by today’s standards I do only have find memories of that home but I think it was because of the people in it not the house itself😊 laura

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      1. Oh yes, and made by hand of course not by my parents, but by those they bought it from, with what we call a Michigan Basement – more of a cellar than a basement, but with a walk out door. It had a dirt floor in the basement and always cool because it was so deep. Lots of wonderful memories there.

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  2. You struck a very zingy cord with this. I live in the western suburbs of Sydney and we have our fair share of McMansions. The facades always leave me gob smacked at their horridness. I am saddened that this disease has spread to France, my soul is heavy. As for interior design and uncomfortable furniture, well we have it in spades here. Your query about the house with no windows is matched by mine with the gigantic thin glass windows (we don’t do double glazing in this country, bizarre I know) that face due west to make the interior of the house as hot as Hades! Go figure!? Every visit to France we have avoided seeing these monsters close up and do our best to incorporate the better bits of French style into our own home. We can only try and hope more people copy. Love your insights, photos and blog.

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    1. Ah, our new mairie has an enormous east window that will ensure the inside is broiling by 6 a.m. in the summer. Will they add shutters? Doubt it. An overhang to get the light without the direct rays? So far, no. Stupid, stupid.

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  3. God knows we have our share here in Kentucky. McMansions abound, with all the latest kitchen and bathroom finishes that will scream mid-20teens in 10 years. Ugly brick, often only on the front, with vinyl siding around the other 3 sides. And huge yards, that we call “too small to farm, too big to mow”. Why does it make me feel slightly better to know that we do not have the monopoly on bad taste and even the paragon French can be tacky too?

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  4. I think every country has the kind of architecture that you have pictured – a lot of the houses you showed could have been in Britain! It’s when they are right next to something beautiful (not necessarily old) that they become really jarring. I feel that lot of the interior horrors come down to the fact that there seem to be hardly any individual furniture stores – in our area it is all chains everywhere you look, and they all peddle the same stuff. When I was trying to replace the sofas in our rental a couple of years ago, I had to go to Paris to find something of the right size and style!! For something truly amazing, you have to go past DACA Industries in Narbonne next time you are there (90 Avenue Carnot). At one point the had a concrete stag in their display lot – the letterbox in the opening picture might have come from there too!! 😀

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  5. This was VERY FUNNY TO ME!I enjoyed YOUR COMMENTS immensely!
    NO windows in ITALY were for the HEAT!TO keep the house cool.Maybe they are still considering that TODAY?Who knows but bottom line the Taste of indoor furniture was just plan ugly when we lived there too!NO ONE HAD TASTE!For me who likes pretty things and a flow it was a BIG ADJUSTMENT FOR ME.IN an odd way it affected my personality too!GREAT POST!XX

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  6. McMansions are a particular bugaboo of mine. I envision them as multi family homes (hopefully), sometime in the not too distant future. I won’t even go into their disproportionate energy usage. Do family members ever see each other in these huge “homes”? One of the things I love about Europe, in general, is the creative use of small spaces for housing.

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    1. I won’t lie that a big room with a high ceiling is wonderful. But yes, a family of four in six bedrooms seems like overkill. I read an article a few years ago about a family in a small house in New Orleans; after Katrina they thought of moving, especially because they were able to afford it. But they stayed put precisely because the house was small and they would be in constant contact with each other. Family.

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  7. Here in the American Southland, we know from McMansions. Gah. Most of those monsters are built with no regard for light or air flow, the way older houses are. They all rely on heavy use of air conditioning, which will become even more expensive in both dollars and environmental cost over time.
    I’ve seen some French real estate listings in which people have “renovated” or “improved” old houses by tarting them up inside with angular, ugly furniture that looks more appropriate to a loft in Tribeca. Very jarring visually.

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    1. Check out the McMansion site. The houses are designed from the inside–a cathedral ceiling here, walk-in closets there–with the result that the exterior is incoherent. And you’re right, nobody cares about air flow. If they were net-zero houses, it would be one thing (tightly sealed and super-insulated, the fresh air arrives via pump–and filters).
      The old-with-new trend is indeed trendy. I do love modern design, but for day-to-day living prefer well-worn antiques.

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  8. On the other hand, it is comforting for an American about to travel to France to know that there are French women who lack “French style”. Being style-challenged myself, it gives me hope that I can blend right in.

    After following your blog, I was hoping to visit Carcassonne but couldn’t work out the logistics in a short trip centered around Paris. I will be “stuck” with a side-trip to Reims and the Champagne district instead. Tough work, but somebody’s got to do it. Cheers!

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    1. Also, did you see Friday’s post about street style? I look for style, not beauty, which is wasted on the young. It might give you some ideas. There are two indispensable accessories for real French style, and they’re not sold anywhere: good posture and confidence. Pack those with you and you will always feel good about how you look.

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  9. Our neighborhood is one of those that’s currently undergoing “turnover.” It was originally a working class neighborhood, with small (2 bd, 1 ba) homes built during and after WWII. Currently about every 12th house in the neighborhood is/recently has been torn down and rebuilt with a huge mid-century modern BOX, 3000 sq ft of house on a 5000 sq ft lot. It’s crazy, and I feel like it’s losing all of the charm!

    (We’ve lived here for 22 years, and our house is now one of the smaller ones in the neighborhood. Previous owners added a 3rd bedroom, we added a bathroom, but we’ve kept most of the original house intact.)

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  10. Oh, where to start?? This is a fantastic post, serving to remind us mere mortals who don’t live in a postcard-perfection locale that we do all get to share the joy of hideous architecture! I shall confine my observations, mostly ditto to everyone’s above, to the rather peculiar phenomenon I’ve seen in my husband’s family village and environs in Italy. McMansions get built to 85% completion then are left with the top floor just with reinforcing steel rods poking out of the concrete floor, looking like a crazy person’s stick garden, &/or the sweeping cement staircase up the front of the (inevitable) family duplex is left in the raw unfinished state with no balustrades or finish to the whole deal, and (most importantly) the landscaping at the front is left as an avant garde jumble of builders’ rubble and litter-strewn man-sized weeds … all as some sort of Tax Dodge!!! If you don’t complete the project, you don’t pay your full rates or some nonsense like that. Whatever it is, it’s so Italian!!

    Mr P and I were invited once to a cocktail reception at the Italian embassy in Canberra (our nation’s capital), a city famous for most of the embassies building in a distinctly home-country vernacular. We had a merry laugh when we saw the rather stylish mid-century modernist building had the de rigueur metal security fence surrounding a garden left to weeds with (possibly) some litter and (we hoped!) the essential feral cats skulking in the night. Just like home, haha!

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  11. Furniture felonies and hideous homes… STOP!!! Not in France! Ugly subdivision? Not wanting anyone to get hurt, but perhaps the best thing would be for one of those fires to sweep through. And the no windows thing? Twenty years ago my husband and I fantasized about a home in Colorado. We spent a long time looking in an area that overlooked God’s country. It was oh, my stars beautiful, but the cookie cutter homes all had tiny square windows! Go Figure. xoxox, B

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      1. We’re planning to build and it will be a really small house in a great location with two aims: affordable to build and run! I’d love an old stone house in town but without unlimited time and money – for both renovation and upkeep – it’s just not practical. I have friends locally in the same situation as us (working with small children) who’ve done it and it’s been a labour of love but I know they’d like a garden instead of a yard and more light. They’d have something far more practical if they’d bought new and, while they love their beautiful house, they know it. Also, a lot of these houses are riddled with asbestos, which the French are really blasé about. Again, that’s fine for anyone over about 40 or 50 but different when you’re putting your kids in there. With (very) new you at least know what it’s made from.

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        1. Too often new houses are built to be affordable to buy but they’re poorly insulated, etc. and are costlier than they should be to live in. Good for you that you are aiming for a house that achieves both!

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          1. Not really. Anything built since 2012 has to conform to thermal regulations and the rules change at the end of this year, becoming more stringent. Houses built pre-2012 are a different matter!

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  12. Dear Taste of France…first time reader via Cote de Texas. You had me at “unload”….I live in Santa Fe County New Mexico. Our area predates the pilgrims and the architectural style is based on Pueblo design going back thousands. When the Spanish showed up they married Moorish design principles with the Pueblo which eventually morphed into the lovely adobe structures we cherish today. There is no such thing as “Santa Fe Style”…back in the day “newcomers” showed up with east coast and European furnishings then added native pieces to create a distinct, gorgeous interior. Each adobe home one of a kind, handcrafted with love and an innate aesthetic, (No decorators, no architects, no contractors, no building codes)….Unfortunately “clever” marketing schemes reduced our beloved state into the howling coyote cliché you find today…The McMansion has invaded…all one need do is check out the ghastly real estate mags… cannot decide which is worse the interiors or exteriors. Adding insult to injury is the fact that lots of the old structures are either being torn down or they’re just melting away…..I’m talking National Treasures…UGH!!! My eyes bleed daily!!! Anyway, thank you for letting me vent. It helps to know that there are like minded hermanos y hermanas out there….as they say: Can’t wait for the people with dinero to get taste, and the people with taste to get dinero. Que Viva! Melissa Delano Santa Cruz NM

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  13. I find the French on the whole not to be as style-conscious in their interior decor as in other countries. The whole home style trend with sparely furnished modern spaces or staged interiors with artfully chosen accessories just has not hit the mainstream. And judging from the odd real estate show (Chasseurs d’appart), the French love multicoloured paint and far too much ‘cheap and cheerful’ decorating. As for the McMansions, we don’t really have any near us except for the Gulf owners’ ‘residences secondaires’ with multiple quarters for many wives. I can accept many different architectural styles as long as they are true to themselves or simple boxes. What I cannot bear are the cutesy done-up faux French Provençal style homes. Or any stone lions on a gate.

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  14. Our first McMansion is being built next door to me. A ‘modern farmhouse’ 2 stories with 10-12 ft ceilings 4500 sf on 7000 sf lot. It absolutely dwarfs our home and we’re in darkness. All the homes on my block were built in 1940 are small brick cape cods or traditional. We have a brick Santa Barbara, with old barrel tile roof. We’re leaving this killed our joy.

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      1. A millennial couple with 2 kids. Our real estate agent said she hopes they stay married, she’s listed several of these once finished, as the couple split due to stress of building. Also this kind of home will go on market in probably 10 yrs when the kiddos hit college. I remember growing up in a house that was half this size and we shared one bathroom my parents, myself, and my brother.

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