Conversation with Astrid Barbey and Laurence Berdeaux
In Port-en-Bessin, a small Normandy fishing harbor between the D-Day beaches and Mont Saint-Michel, only two and a half hours from Paris, Astrid Barbey and Laurence Berdeaux have opened nine different vacation home rentals. They began with a tiny sailor’s house, with a fantastic view of the harbor and cool marine deco. Simple but comfortable and elegant, this house – the Harbor House – was the start of an adventure.
ASTRID AND LAURENCE, TELL US YOUR STORY. WHY ARE YOU HERE, IN PORT-EN-BESSIN?
“We opened our first house in 2009. It was just a ‘folie’. For a long time, I wanted a small house on the sea. Astrid too. But we lived in Paris. One day we came to the harbor to buy some fish and saw this cute little house for sale, just in front of the sea. I immediately fell in love and bought it!”
WHY IS YOUR HOUSE SO SUCCESSFUL?
“The decor and the sailor style of the house, a mix between modern and old, was quite a new idea. At the time, houses available for rent in Normandy were almost always in the same old style, without charm and originality. It was my first project, and I wanted to create a new kind of house to rent but at the same time something very simple and authentic. This is why I worked to keep the ancient elements of the house, like the stair, the old wall and tiles, so it’s still kept the authenticity of the old tiny fisherman’s house.
“A few years later, when another house came up for sale on the same harbor, that was the beginning of a new life for us. We left Paris and started to be involved full time in this project of renovating houses and renting them. Today we have nine places for rent here. Port-en-Bessin has a special ambiance. Guests love the fishing harbor and the activity of the boats. This is a charming place.”
WERE ALL THOSE HOUSES ACTUAL FISHERMEN’S HOUSES?
“No, not all are fishermen’s houses, but they all have a spirit that we wanted to keep, out of respect for the history of the buildings. So we saved details of the past like an old bathroom sink, a staircase, tiles… Sometimes our inspiration comes through an object or even from the personality of the former owner of the house. We’re trying to tell a story. And this story must go on after us.”
WHERE DO YOU FIND YOUR FURNITURE AND DECOR?
“We are decorating on our own, without an architect or decorator. We buy a lot of antiques online, and we’ve got a good network of antique dealers and friends. As a result, some of our guests have asked us to decorate their own houses, and this became part of our business. We have opened a boutique where we sell products from Normandy but also are working with different artists that create products especially for us. So our guests can find some of those creations in our rentals.”
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE BOUTIQUEHOMES?
“We always like to welcome guests when they arrive. It’s important for them and us to meet in person. The people we meet through BoutiqueHomes have a high cultural level. They have a special way of life and a real interest in France and Normandy. They are curious and they want to live an experience here.”