“Jiko says that everything has a spirit, even if it is old and useless, and we must console and honor the things that have served us well.” Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being

“Je suis d’un autre époque” are the words of a woman whose artistic accomplishments reflect very modern sensibilities including the mantra reduce, re-use, and recycle.

An alchemist of the ubiquitous, Martine Macé greets visitors to her charming eccentric home in Bonnieux in the south of France.
The Troglodite cave provides a gallery for a collection of Provençal clay pottery, baskets and zinc washbasins

“Les poubelles, j’adore les poubelles” says Martine Macé after years of discovering treasures in what others discard for the decoration of her eclectic home and atelier in the south of France.

Martine was born in the city of Marseilles France into a dynasty of artists. Possessing all the natural talents required to follow the family tradition of painters Martine rebelled against the “feast or famine bohemian lifestyle” of her childhood. She chose instead a sensible career in business and parallelled it with a personal life spent passionately collecting discarded utilitarian objects to repurpose as artifacts in her private residences.

The 19th cenury trunk and leather suitcase could well have belonged to the man in the Rembrant-like portrait. The green tub chair was fashioned from a zinc barrel.

It is an aesthetic sensibility that redefines do-it-yourself decorating and revels in the irreverent and unusual. The results are as deliberate as any exalted decorator might achieve.

“What interests me are authentic objects utilized for domestic life.” Wire salad dryers become light fixtures, a gas can and funnel makes a standing lamp, bicycle seat springs are repositioned as a back cushion of a chair or a bale of chicken wire is transformed into sculptural forms.

A collection of zinc watering cans, a chair made from a zinc barrel, white plastic tam-tam table and antique mirror become eclectic foils in the second storey living room.

The house itself had been reclaimed many times over the course of history from Bronze Age, Ligurian, Celtic, and Roman times to the present. It is located at the top of the limestone hillside of Bonnieux, a wedding cake-like village. The stones quarried from the hillside, indeed most likely from Martine’s house, were used to build Roman villas and temples in the Bonnieux valley during the 3rd century. A fortified village as early as 972 AD. It started off lower down the hill where today there are vineyards, cherry and olive orchards and plentiful water. It inched its way up the slope as events got hairier in the 13th century, and barricaded itself against invaders and attackers with ramparts.

A cosy corner of the living salon. The words translate to “a summer in the Luberon” are hand painted on a canvas sheet to act as an improvised room divider against the cave wall.

The three story house was created by joining two Troglodite houses, carved out of the limestone hillside. The arched doorway between the dwellings is over a meter thick. Huge stones found too large to move are used as decorative elements on the ground floor. The rez-de-chaussée is a neolithic cave. The upper floors were added in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Martine and her husband, a mason by trade, joined two existing troglodite caves in the lime stone hillside of the Luberon. The opening created between the two caves preserves the Bronze age drainage system carved into the floor. Hanging on the wall is a zinc postman’s letter carrier.

In the later 30 years of the 20th century up to today, peasant farms in the area have been purchased for renovation into chic country estates due to economic decline and perhaps also to Peter’s Maille’s charmed books about the area. Martine found, “entire contents of barns were dumped off at recycling centres or déchetteries and into garbage poubelles.”

While she flouts convention Martine does not dismiss modernity or contemporary materials, especially anything dating from the mid 20th century. Strong graphics and round shapes of 1950’s patio chairs and tam-tam tables mix happily with ancient stones and objects of peasant utility. Bright accents of an orange plastic pineapple juice jug and yellow table add pop to the otherwise neutral palette of zinc, grey flannel, sand and stone.

The rez-de-chaussée with Roman vaulted ceiling and masssive stone floor blocks.
The working kitchen on the second floor displays re-purposed chicken wire for a hanging lamp.

After years of collecting discarded treasures the visual impact of her passion pays homage to Provençal ‘peasant’ memory. Her Bonnieux house is a testament to the rich, historic continuum of the region and one woman’s aesthetic preservation of the long, rich history of its habitation, decoration and spirit.

Martine holds her hat in a mistral wind at the foot of the stairs leading to her Bonnieux home.

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