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Jacqueline Aranzasti, a beautiful wisp of a woman of a certain age, lives on a quiet street in the village of Estang, an old castelnau in the heart of the Gers. From the outside, her house blends seamlessly with the faded plaster, potted geraniums and lace curtains of the 13th century town of 642 inhabitants. But, looks can be deceiving. Her 18th century house, constructed before the French Revolution retains the original oak floors, oak beams, staircase, cabinets and hardware. Although it only appears to be two stories from the outside, I was astonished to discover it is actually a five story house complete with a full basement and attic.
Jacqueline, an Air France stewardess, who traveled the world until retiring in 1979, moved to Estang and bought her house in the middle of the village in 2000 after living in Paris for over 30 years, to be close to her aging parents. She loved the bones of the old house and respected its ancient atmosphere, and indeed, one feels a tremendous sense of history contained within its walls. She brought a few of her favorite pieces with her from Paris and dated though they may be, the interior seems like a movie set for a 1950’s romantic drama. When it comes to interior decorating the French see no reason to cast aside anything that’s useful no matter its age or style. Do you have an old worn couch? Just throw a quilt over it and the room is transformed.
Jacqueline is quick to point out her Basque heritage. A Basque flag hangs in the stairwell of the incredible staircase and she tells me that her name means, “bush of wild prunes”. A voracious reader, she spends most of her days in her salon when she’s not working with the local patrimoine gathering historic facts about Estang. She has a secret garden across the street from her basement entrance on the other side of her rue awaiting the skilled touch of a gardener’s hands. Little by little Jacqueline Aranzasti is restoring her house, one Louis XIV door at a time.