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How to Move to Provence, Manage Other People's Vacation Homes

and Live the Good Life!

 

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Vacation rental management in Provence is one way to live the good life.

How would you like to live in an ancient French village with fields of lavender and ancient Roman ruins in the surrounding countryside? Imagine artisanal cheese, freshly baked whole-meal bread, delectable meat, fowl and river fish available fresh on a daily basis, in shops you can actually walk to. Envision residing in a restored farmhouse that’s been standing for over 85 years, complete with vegetable gardens and fruit trees.

Now picture nearby wineries, exceptional restaurants, and picturesque walking trails linking you to most of the nearby villages. Have all these indulgences securely in your head?

Well, welcome to Jane’s life.

Jane is a vacation rental manager. She’s not even French, she’s American. How did she do it? How did she get this charmed life?

Vacation rental management in Provence is one way to live the good life.

Jane Satow, a vacation rental manager, and tour guide, lives in Eygalieres, France. It was her lifelong dream to live in this part of the world. She made it come true in 2004.

Well, it started with a dream.

I met Jane about 15 years ago when both of us were in the midst of raising babies and toddlers in central Chile. She and her husband lived on a hydroponic tomato farm operation in a little farmhouse. Jane spoke of her dream, way back then.

“I want our family to move to a French village in the next five years and start local businesses,” she used to say. She was very targeted and specific about her goal. She was not fantasizing; she was strategizing. Basil, Jane’s husband, is a hydroponic tomato farmer, so it wasn’t far-fetched for him to look for an operation in France to manage or even start himself.

So Jane, Basil, their two children, Charlie and Sophia, and soon to be born Julian, moved to Eygalieres, France in 2004. Basil bought land with a French partner and started a small hydroponic tomato farm in the Eygalieres countryside. To supplement their income in the early stages of business, Basil continued to consult internationally for other tomato operations; Jane immediately pursued her own tourism business to take advantage of the fact she spoke English and could cater to English-speaking tourists, of which there were many.

“I started doing bespoke, very individualized tours, to small groups of people wanting a very authentic Provence experience,” Jane explained in our interview. “I wanted it to feel spontaneous and yet be very meaningful and unique.”

Having immediate success with her tours, Jane expanded into arranging cooking classes, private wine tastings and finally taking over the management of several second homes, which she rents out to tourists.

Jane Satow arranges cooking classes for the guests who stay in her vacation rentals.

Jane arranges both wine tasting and cooking classes for her guests. St. Remy Mansion, Eygalieres, France.

“There are lots of second homes in Eygalieres and most are rented out during the high season,” explains Jane. “It made sense for my next step to be vacation rental management because I could offer so much more than the average agency. I’m available to my guests in many, many ways, from design touches that make their stay as charming as possible, to giving them lots of meaningful and authentic cultural experiences outside their chic temporary home.”

“The two go hand in hand,” she adds.

I interviewed Jane via Skype and here are some of the questions I asked her:

1CR: Jane, from a design perspective, what do you recommend to owners?

JANE: When an owner approaches me about managing their home, I do a house visit and tell them what I recommend for full bookings. There are some homes that need a lot of decorative help and I give design recommendations. If there are budgetary constraints, I explain the link between beauty and bookings and I try to educate them on thinking of decoration as an investment not just spending money for beauty’s sake.  This is a gorgeous part of the world and people spend a lot of money to get here; if the house isn’t done up really well, it simply won’t book to its potential. Ideally, an owner will listen to my advice and sometimes even contract me to decorate the house.

There are some homes that need a lot of decorative help and I give design recommendations. If there are budgetary constraints, I explain the link between beauty and bookings and I try to educate them on thinking of decoration as an investment not just spending money for beauty’s sake.  This is a gorgeous part of the world and people spend a lot of money to get here; if the house isn’t done up really well, it simply won’t book to its potential. Ideally, an owner will listen to my advice and sometimes even contract me to decorate the house.

This is a gorgeous part of the world and people spend a lot of money to get here; if the house isn’t done up really well, it simply won’t book to its potential. Ideally, an owner will listen to my advice and sometimes even contract me to decorate the house.

1CR: Can you give us an example, complete with photos, of a house to which you have given decorative touches while managing?

JANE: Sure! One house I manage belongs to an Austrian family. They bought the house as an investment and wanted to rent it out right away. The outside was stunning – four hectares of lush gardens, a pool, gorgeous exterior worthy of movie shoots; however the inside needed a bit of decorative help. It was bare, save for the furniture; there were no design accessories like pillows, books, rugs, artwork or bedding, Worse still, every room was a different color – pink, purple and yellow. The owners gave me a budget of 10,000 euros and told me to enact the changes I thought necessary.

The owners gave me a budget of 10,000 euros and told me to enact the changes I thought necessary.

Vacation rental mansion in St. Remy, France

This 18th century mansion is one of several vacation rentals that Jane manages for second homeowners. The house accommodates  up to 3 families and has 4 hectares of lush gardens to relax in.

The first thing I did was paint the walls a very bright shade of white. It’s really common for the old homes in the area to be quite dark inside and it was crucial to bring in more light; white paint is almost like adding windows, but a lot cheaper. I painted the windows a muted slate black, typical of Provence countryside homes. The built-in cabinetry was painted in “Provence Grey” (at least this is what they call it around here) and it contrasts beautifully with the white walls. The bottom fourth of the wall is painted a very light gray to give the room more modern vibe.

I painted the windows a muted slate black, typical of Provence countryside homes. The built-in cabinetry was painted in “Provence Grey” (at least this is what they call it around here) and it contrasts beautifully with the white walls. The bottom fourth of the wall is painted a very light gray to give the room more modern vibe.

Vacation Rental in St. Remy, France

The joint kitchen and dining room in the Saint Remy vacation villa transformed with gallons of very white paint. “The house was very dark before,” says Jane. “Now it’s bright and inviting.” The dining ceiling lamps are original to the house, but the kitchen pendants are from Ikea.

1CR: I love what I see so far, Jane! Looking at the photo above, tell me about your approach to the dining room.

JANE: The owners thought to paint the traditional French dining table two contrasting blues, to give the dining room some contemporary flair. The black chrome dining chairs were deliberately chosen to juxtapose the old with the new. It sets a dynamic, cutting edge contrast to the house’s traditional architecture.

The walls were absolutely bare, no art at all. In the dining room, I put a tastefully framed print of garden fruits and vegetables I found at Ikea. I don’t believe in spending too much money on artwork because there is always the possibility it could go missing. However, I do spend a bit more on the framing because it makes the art look more valuable.

1CR: I call that “marrying up.” Cheaper items can look great if they are next to quality ones.

JANE: Exactly!

St. Remy dining room in a chic vacation rental

The dining room is a study in the use of good contrast. The lighter blue table base contrasts with the darker blue tabletop and the simple white dinnerware contrasts with the dark blue underneath. The curtains are made from locally made linen and, like the walls, are white to add brightness to the space. The framed poster of fruit is from Ikea.

1CR: Why is the table set in the dining photo?

JANE: I believe that getting people to envision their experience inside a vacation house is key to getting them to book. Saint Remy is all about enjoying food and wine; having plates and wine glasses in the photo allows potential guests to imagine themselves sitting down, enjoying a magnificent meal – perhaps one they prepared themselves in a private cooking class – and talking together, laughing, relaxing.

1CR: I notice you put flowers on the table too. Is this for the photo’s sake or do you give fresh flowers upon a guest’s arrival?

JANE: I  put freshly cut flowers in all the rentals I manage. It’s like giving guests an extra colorful treat! In winter, I put sprigs of olive branches in vases throughout the house and they last for weeks. People love it!

1CR: What do you recommend for dinnerware?

JANE: I definitely made mistakes on dinnerware and silverware when I started out. I used to think that mixed silverware would be sort of charming in vacation rentals, more authentically French, a country where people have collected pieces for years and have lots of mismatched pieces.

Boy was I wrong! Guests complained about them, said it was unprofessional to have mismatched spoons and forks. And not just Americans either, it seemed it was an across the board thing.  Same with the dinnerware. I manage one cottage whose owners insist on keeping their beautiful, but mismatched, plates, bowls and silverware and I know that it will always be a source of grumbling among the guests.

Guests complained about them, said it was unprofessional to have mismatched spoons and forks. And not just Americans either, it seemed it was an across the board thing.  Same with the dinnerware. I manage one cottage whose owners insist on keeping their beautiful, but mismatched, plates, bowls and silverware and I know that it will always be a source of grumbling among the guests.

Recommended flatware in a vacation rental

Jane has learned guests prefer matching silverware every time. Mismatched pieces do not go over well. These sturdy pewter pieces hold up beautifully in the dishwasher. Photo courtesy of Dinner Series.

I recommend white (white plates make food look better), easily replaceable dinnerware along with universal silverware. No more mismatched stuff, no matter how charming it is. Glassware too. I make sure to have quality goods because guests demand the best of things they hold or touch. Anything a guest picks

I make sure to have quality goods because guests demand the best of things they hold or touch. Anything a guest picks up, holds for any length of time needs to feel valuable. No, you don’t have to spend a lot of money, you can find high-quality pieces at reasonable prices, especially if you shop sales. On the same note, make sure the cookware is of the highest quality too. The kettle, dish clothes, wooden spoons, spatulas, salt-cellar – you name it – must be top notch. Guests tend to cook in my rentals and they expect the best. I don’t always have the best stove or refrigerator, but the cookware is killer. And absolutely no Teflon! It’s the kiss of death in vacation rentals. Guests hate it and think you’re cheapening out on them. Furthermore, there are health hazards associated with it.

You don’t have to spend a lot of money, you can find high-quality pieces at reasonable prices, especially if you shop sales. On the same note, make sure the cookware is of the highest quality too. The kettle, dish clothes, wooden spoons, spatulas, salt-cellar – you name it – must be top notch. Guests tend to cook in my rentals and they expect the best. I don’t always have the best stove or refrigerator, but the cookware is killer. And absolutely no Teflon! It’s the kiss of death in vacation rentals. Guests hate it and think you’re cheapening out on them. Furthermore, there are health hazards associated with it.

On the same note, make sure the cookware is of the highest quality too. The kettle, dish clothes, wooden spoons, spatulas, salt-cellar – you name it – must be top notch. Guests tend to cook in my rentals and they expect the best. I don’t always have the best stove or refrigerator, but the cookware is killer. And absolutely no Teflon! It’s the kiss of death in vacation rentals. Guests hate it and think you’re cheapening out on them. Furthermore, there are health hazards associated with it.

I make sure to have quality goods because guests demand the best of things they hold or touch. Anything a guest picks up, holds for any length of time needs to feel valuable.

1CR: What food items do you stock in your kitchen?

Vacation rental olive oil

A chic olive oil jar is key in a well-presented kitchen. Jane refills the jar as needed. And there’s always a new jar for sale for guests who wish to take a souvenir of the delicious Provence flavor home. Photo courtesy of Kevan Davis.

JANE: A bottle of local olive oil, red wine vinegar, butter, basic spices, sugar, and coffee. Guests plan to cook in this part of the world and really appreciate the basics.

Baguette delivery in a Provence vacation rental

Jane delivers baguettes on the first morning of her guests’ stay. “They love it,” she says, “and mention it in the guest reviews.” Photo courtesy of Robyn Lee.

On the first morning, I have a loaf of fresh bread delivered along with a jar of local fruit preserves and the guests go wild. They always mention it in reviews.

A coffee grinder, press pot, and bag of local coffee is waiting on the kitchen counter upon guests’ arrival and is almost always used straight away. It’s another instant hit. Also mugs for the Americans! They love their large mugs with a sturdy handle.

1CR: Tell us about the living room. I love how welcoming it is.

Vacation Mansion in Saint Remy France

The large living room’s furniture mainly consists of Italian pieces. The throw, pillows, and artwork all came from Ikea and The Conran Shop.

JANE: When I walked into the house for the first time, there was absolutely no character whatsoever. I knew I had to change that if the house was going to attract guests.

The only objects in the living room were white Italian sofas and a coffee table. The color clashed a bit with the earth-toned terracotta floor and I knew I’d have to bring those same earth tones into the seating and walls; otherwise, it would look like white orbs floating in space. The animal print sofa throw, pillows, books, artwork and zebra-print armchairs unify the color scheme and to personalize the room.

A fine balance of personalization in vacation rentals is imperative. People are drawn to vacation houses because of their unique character; however, too much character often doesn’t work either. If it’s too quirky, too personal, sometimes guests feel as if they have invaded the private space of a stranger, and thereby can’t relax in their own skin. On the other hand, if you go too generic, it starts to feel like a hotel room and most guests rent to avoid that generic look.

1CR: What sorts of items give character, for example, and what are things you avoid?

JANE: If I had to name one thing that guarantees character and charm, it’s the presence of books. Books are warm, wise and accessible. They give “age” to even a new house. I strive for wisdom in a vacation home, if that makes sense. As if the house has been waiting for you and has been there a long time. Big coffee table books are wonderful, as well as the latest bestsellers mixed with classic hardbacks. I go to second-hand bookstores to buy them. I don’t think I’ve ever spent a retail euro on a book. It’s unnecessary.

Sofa throws, pillows (always have pillows!), candle holders, artwork, tasteful knickknacks (but not too many!) all give singularity to a house.

I recommend owners to take down personal photos, mementos and anything referring to religion or politics; in fact, I have a tasteful basket kept in a locked closet just for personal stuff. When owners want to enjoy their home, out comes the basket with their mementos.

1CR: Tell me about the bedrooms.

JANE: Well, now that I’ve read your post on creating romantic bedrooms, I realize I should do a bit more with them! That being said, my primary goal is that the beds be noticeably comfortable, meaning that guests notice and remark on the mattresses. The mattresses need not be expensive, but I do tell owners to invest in top quality mattress toppers, which make a huge difference in sleep comfort. In fact, I make sure to sleep in all the rentals I manage – in every bedroom – at least twice a year to make sure the mattresses and toppers are all in top form.

The mattresses need not be expensive, but I do tell owners to invest in top quality mattress toppers, which make a huge difference in sleep comfort. In fact, I make sure to sleep in all the rentals I manage – in every bedroom – at least twice a year to make sure the mattresses and toppers are all in top form.

In fact, I make sure to sleep in all the rentals I manage – in every bedroom – at least twice a year to make sure the mattresses and toppers are all in top form.

Master bedroom in a St. Remy vacation rental

The master bedroom’s simple design is relaxing. Bedcovers are from The Conran Shop, sheets are 300 thread-count from Ikea. The slipcovers on the ottoman and corner armchair were custom made with locally sourced organic linen. “I wash them when they get the slightest bit dirty and they come out looking new,” says Jane.

1CR: You sleep in your rentals twice a year? That’s a great idea!

JANE: It’s a necessary part of this business if you want to really succeed; the only way you discover flaws. Little things, like the bedroom shade not rolling down all the way, or a faulty light switch, for instance, are only noticed when you stay there yourself.

1CR: Do you differentiate the bedrooms much; in other words, is it obvious which is a master or a child’s?

JANE: I actually avoid making each bedroom noticeably different. My main goal is that the bedrooms be color neutral and restful. Furthermore, I don’t want to create a situation where guests are going to fight over certain bedrooms, have to flip a coin or something; everyone should be happy in the one they end up in. Fresh flowers, crisp white sheets, and good reading lights greet guests in their bedroom. Oh! And plenty of table surface to spread out their personal belongings!

Fresh flowers, crisp white sheets, and good reading lights greet guests in their bedroom. Oh! And plenty of table surface to spread out their personal belongings!

St. Remy master bedroom

Jane puts fresh flowers in all the bedrooms. “They add a touch of simple garden elegance,” she adds. She hangs curtain rods at ceiling height. “It makes the ceilings soar.”

St. Remy bedroom

“I like to keep tables bare so guests can put their things upon them. Knickknacks get broken so I keep them to a minimum,” explains Jane. “The three prints that appear to be resting on the table are actually securely hung on the wall. Perching, instead of hanging, makes rooms look less formal, giving the room a more relaxed vibe.” The sheets are from Ikea and the French gray curtains are printed with Baudelaire prose.

If I appoint a bedroom as a child’s room, I do add some bright color like pink or green. Children like bright colors!

Childs room in a St. Remy vacation rental

Jane adds a bit of bright color in this child’s bedroom. “Kids love splashes of color,” says Jane. “At the same time, it’s not too, too obvious that it’s only for kids. The fetching color combination of pink and gray still appeals to the single adult.”

1CR: Jane, you have done an absolutely outstanding job decorating and have taught us all so much managing a chic vacation rental with thoughtful touches. Is there anything else you’d like to suggest to One Chic Retreat subscribers before our interview ends?

JANE: Thanks for inviting me! Okay, my last two suggestions are

1. Leave a handwritten note welcoming your guests upon arrival with your cell phone number if they need anything during their stay. Then, call them mid-morning the next day, or come over with a baguette or local treat and ask them if they need any tips of things to do. Guests feel so well taken care of if you do this. It doesn’t take much time to do it and it goes a long way in guest appreciation.

2. Invest in good photography. No matter how stunning a house may be, if the photographs aren’t professional, no one will know. This is like gold to make gold. Do it. Don’t hesitate.

1CR: Jane, thank you so much for sharing so much with us! If anyone wants to contact Jane for advice on buying or decorating a vacation rental in her part of the lovely world, you can contact her at Provence Cultural Tours.

If anyone has any particular questions for Jane, use the comment section below and I’ll make sure your questions get answered. Thanks for tuning in everybody!

  • Eva Whitney

    I love Jane’s style and as a manager I love learning new tips from fellow managers, thanks Jane for all the wonderful input!
    Thanks Mercedes, so informative, thanks for all your great posts and wonderful expert information!

    • Thanks Eva! Jane has lots of great ideas. Glad it was helpful!

  • What a great interview. There are some useful tips here – I like the idea of decorating and furnishing the bedrooms in a similar way. I know from experience as a guest travelling with another family that there can be issues over who gets which bedroom, and if they are of a similar quality it makes it easier to manage and choose.

    • Yes, I agree Heather. Everyone should have a wonderful bedroom, so making each as nice as the next is a great strategy.

      • Eva Whitney

        Yes great touch for same bedroom format, different color as :(
        That link I sent you Mercedes for Citrus Estate carries a similar theme in a different bright color!

  • LOVE the fresh bread delivered with local fruit preserves! Who wouldn’t go wild over that? Great interview.

    • I think it applies to everywhere too, Amy. Every town has something special about it, right?

 

GET THE FREE LIST OF SHORT-TERM RENTAL ESSENTIAL ITEMS

THE 31 MUST-HAVE ESSENTIALS THAT GUARANTEE GUSHING GUEST REVIEWS

On the house!
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