French Connections Builders create an oldworld look with French country style by Connie Potter Parlezvous francais? If not, don’t worry—you don’t need to speak the language to appreciate the design elements of French country architecture. Natural materials, distressed ceiling beams, wroughtiron railings and stone exteriors are all part of an oldworld look that’s very popular now—but never really went out of style… The look has its roots in the hillsides of rural France. Generally rustic, warm and cozy, French country style features a lot of natural materials and earthy colors. Jess Alway, a Bend builder, is turning his fascination with the architecture into developing a provincial Frenchstyle village between the Deschutes River and Mount Bachelor. When completed, Mountain River Estates will include 19 homes on lots of 7,000 to 13,000 square feet, all in keeping with French cottagestyle design. Prices range from $625,000 to $1.3 million. Three homes are sold, and a model home is open for prospective buyers to tour. The project received a stamp of approval from a visiting French couple during the Christmas holidays. After walking through the model home they said Alway had scored a bull’seye. “They said I had captured the essence,” he said. With names like Belle Ensoleille and Chalet du Charme, the homes have elements of authentic French country style—including vaulted ceilings, antiqued timber trusses and wideplank alder floors. To give the floors an aged look, some hardwood pieces have been hand distressed. Wroughtiron entry gates create a courtyard effect at the front of each home, and the round gutters and downspouts and similar to those found in France.
BUILDER CREATES A FRENCH COUNTRY VILLAGE AT MOUNTAIN RIVER ESTATES by Connie Potter When builder Jess Alway researches architectural elements, he doesn’t just pick up a book. He hops on an airplane. The inspiration for Mountain River Estates, a French countrystyle village he’s building in Bend, came from visiting France and seeing firsthand the steep hipped roofs, elaborate wrought iron and shutters. “I’ve always been intrigued by the architecture of the French because of the uniqueness,” said Alway, a longtime Portlandarea builder who had entries in the Street
of Dreams from 1985 through 1987. “I was always drawn to that look even my house in Portland was in that French look.” Alway built a house in Sisters in 2000 and commuted for two years before deciding to work full time in Central Oregon. He found a fiveacre parcel of land nestled between the Deschutes River and Mount Bachelor and created Mountain River Estates, with 19 lots ranging from 7,000 to 13,000 square feet. Alway calls it “the most unbelievable piece of property on the rim of the Deschutes.” “You look across the canyon at Mount Bachelor and Broken Top, and it’s the most panoramic view you’ve ever seen,” he said. “I feel obligated to put in houses that are worthy of such a precious piece of dirt.” The homes in the development are priced from $625,000 to $1.3 million. The interior and exterior designs were modeled after homes Alway has explored during trips to France. In February, Alway returned from another continental visit with more than 500 photographs of steppingstones, downspouts and other details specific to French architecture. Rich and Sandy Ferraro of Lake Oswego found the development so captivating that they made an offer on a home within an hour of touring the model. “We weren’t looking for a house,” said Rich Ferarro, “but it was so striking that we bought it instantly.” During trips abroad, the Ferarros said, they enjoyed visiting French villages, and they found that Mountain River Estates captured the essence of places they had been. “Everything is totally authentic, topdrawer in craftsmanship,” Sandy Ferarro said. “It’s just this feeling of a village community. It’s totally into what my taste is.” Some of the projects homes include separate guesthouses built out of stone, patterned after the old stone farmhouses Alway saw in France. Masonry fireplaces, vaulted ceilings in the great rooms, antique timber trusses and wideplank alder floors add to the European flavor of the homes. The 40year roofs are two toned—black and teak like roofs Alway saw in Paris. The hardwood floors were handdistressed to give them an aged look. French doors opoen from the den, and each home has a wine cellar, inground spa and water features in the landscaping. The entry doors of every home are custommade an each is distinct. The oversized interior doors are 3 inches thick and made of alder. Stone barriers rather than fences separate some projects. Wrought iron, which is prevalent in French homes, is used in entry gates, creating a courtyard look for each home. While the architecture is based in the Old World, the amenities are all modern day. Stainlesssteel appliances in the kitchens are commercial grade, and heated floors in bathrooms keep feet warm on cold mornings. The houses are wired throughout for highend sound systems and lighting control. From the garage door opener, a homeowner can push a single button to turn on al the lights in the home. A security camera makes it possible to see who’s at the front door.
A homeowners association takes care of all landscaping, including mowing and fertilizingmaking Mountain River Estates especially convenient for residents who travel often or dwell elsewhere part of the year. Buyers appreciate not only the distinctive architecture but also the concept of community, Alway said. “We’re not just buying a great house on a great lot,” said Ferarro. “It’s the feeling of community and the sense of being quite unique.”
WOOD TAKES A BEATING FOR AN OLDWORLD LOOK It doesn’t take a century to create beams that look 100 years old. Beams, doors and furniture can all be given an oldworld look in a matter of hours or days through some careful craftsmanship. The kitchen islands and some of the entry doors in the homes at Mountain River Estates have a worn, weathered look, like they’ve seen decades of use. Builder Jess Alway created the look through “distressing” a process that includes chiseling nicks and patterns in the wood, followed by painting and staining. The trick, he said, is to carve only small areas to mimic the bumps tat furniture acquires naturally over the years. For the islands, he follows the distressing with black paint, then rubs through the paint to highlight the chiseled areas. A variety of objects from keys to rocks to chains can be used to strike and dent thet wood. To give doors a weathered look, Alway sandblasts, then stains. A technique he has used to distress big timbers involves soaking a packet of steel wool pads in gallons of vinegar for a week or more. “The ammonia in the vinegar will eat the steel wool,” he said. “You put it on a piece of wood with a sponge, and it kills the top layer of wood.” He follows up with a dark stain, making the cracks in the wood stand out. The result is reminiscent of woodwork in historic homes that were heated with fireplaces, their timbers darkened at the edges by soot. Connie Potter