I've always been intrigued by the notion of owning a chateau in the French countryside. You read in various publications about Americans who escape the day to day grind of their busy lives by hopping on a plane bound for their chateau getaway. It really sounds dreamy, does it not? But forgive me if I sound like a complete rube, because I have always wondered what life is like during these jaunts to one's chateau. Is it relaxing? Complicated? Busy? Laid back? My dream has always been to own a pied à terre at The Carlyle, so owning a chateau seems like shooting for the moon. So, to set me straight, I thought I would ask Los Angeles based designer Timothy Corrigan what it's like to own a chateau.
Timothy is the proud owner of the Chateau du Grand-Lucé, a c. 1760-64 chateau in the Loire Valley. Built by the man responsible for governing the Eastern part of France under Louis XV, the chateau has been deemed "one of the most precious elements of architecture of the French Enlightenment" by the French Historical Monument. While many grand homes were ransacked during the French Revolution, Grand-Lucé was spared the ravages of this turbulent period and in fact retains all of its original wood paneled walls and fireplaces.
The Grand Salon as it appeared when Timothy purchased Grand-Lucé
And the Grand Salon as it looks today after Timothy worked his magic
Timothy's French adventure goes back to his time living in Paris in the early 1990s. Falling in love with the French countryside, he went on to own three different chateaux at various times. In 2003, the French government decided to sell Grand-Lucé, and after a lengthy application process, officials chose to sell it to Timothy because of his plans to restore the chateau back into a private home. Once the chateau became his, Timothy embarked on a major restoration to return Grand-Lucé to its former grandeur (when he bought it, the chateau had no working electricity, no bathrooms, and no kitchen in the main chateau), all the while making sure that the house was comfortable and livable too.
Chateau living does at times include ironing as Timothy seems to be doing so competently
The lake's swans that Timothy likes to feed
So what is life like at the chateau? When not entertaining guests, Timothy loves to putter around the house and the gardens (sometimes puttering includes ironing, as seen above!), recharge his battery (he recently spent time there designing new additions to the Timothy Corrigan Home line), and walking through the property's woods and feeding the swans, geese and ducks that reside in the lake.
The Formal Garden
The Kitchen Garden
Speaking of the outdoors, the gardens of Grand-Lucé are simply stunning, having been laid out in a series of decreasing formality as one moves away from the chateau. The formal parterre and green rooms are reminiscent of Le Notre's gardens at Versailles. Beyond the parterre is an exotic garden that originally held plants considered to be exotic and unique in 18th c. France. Today, the garden holds herbaceous flowering plants. This is also where the orangery, two green houses, and a swimming pool hold court. The potager, hidden from view from the chateau, is planted with fruit trees, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. A Landscape Garden and 42 acres of wooded forest round out the property. Curious as to what Timothy's favorite plantings were, he responded that the flowering Horse Chestnut trees and the flowering cabbages are among his favorites.
Timothy visiting a local flea market with fellow designers including Vicente Wolf and Frank Pennino
While Timothy's alone time there is quite relaxing, entertaining friends and family is equally as relaxed. Timothy says that no one wears a watch while there and no one is on a schedule. Time is spent conversing with one another (something that is unfortunately becoming a lost art), dining, and walking the property. For those guests who might prefer something a bit more active, Timothy plans outings to the local flea markets, visits to other chateaux in the region, driving go-carts at the Le Mans race track, hot air balloon rides, and cooking classes. (Sounds like heaven to me!) In August, the Concours de Hippique, one of the oldest horse shows in France, is held on the grounds of Grand-Lucé. Now it is becoming clear to me why people want to own a chateau!
Radishes and Strawberries from Timothy's garden
I asked Timothy about how he likes to entertain while at the chateau. When he dines alone, he admits that his meal usually consists of something from the freezer section of the local supermarket. But when guests are at the chateau, meals are a bit more elaborate and usually consist of fresh vegetables from his garden and local fresh fish. He also likes to visit the weekly farmers market that is located outside of the gates to his chateau where he buys local honey, chevre, and wild strawberries. Meals that Timothy typically serves to guests includes Lotte fish, quiches, salads, cheeses, strawberry souffles, apple tarts, and profiteroles- typical French dishes that Timothy lightens up for his American friends.
Lunch in the Garden
A Formal Dinner
A winning centerpiece
Daytime meals at Grand-Lucé are more casual and are set up outside in the garden. Dinner is usually more formal (though not stuffy) and is served in one of two dining rooms. Oftentimes during the day, Timothy divides his guests into teams and leads them out into the garden and woods with the challenge of finding natural decorations for the table. The winners usually win something tasty like a bottle of champagne. When a dinner party really calls for something special, Timothy likes to entertain in the orangery where candlelight dinners are served.
Timothy serving drinks
Of course, seeing that Grand-Lucé is in the Loire Valley, wine is also an important part of any meal at Grand-Lucé. Champagne and local Loire Valley wines are often served. In order to break the ice at the start of a house party weekend, strong cocktails are the order of the day. Recently, Timothy and his guests concocted the "Tim-tini" made of vodka, lime juice, cucumber puree, simple syrup and mint. I like the sound of that cocktail so much that I might commandeer this cocktail recipe for myself and christen it the "Jen-tini"- if Timothy doesn't mind, of course.
A July 4th Celebration at Grand-Lucé
Finally, I asked Timothy for his tips on creating a comfortable home- whether it's a chateau, a Stateside house, or even a small apartment. He said something that really struck a chord with me: "Comfort is about more than just how something feels- it is also a state of mind." Timothy likes to have music playing in all rooms of his chateau and candles burning throughout the house. Scent is so important to a house that Timothy created his own line of candles. There are three different scents in the line, each one creating a different mood when burned: L'air de Californie; La Vie de Chateau; and Maison en Ville. (Click the links to read the descriptions of each scent; I think they all sound heavenly.) And of course, books. Timothy has piles of books everywhere and encourages guests to read them at their leisure.
So now I have an answer to my question as to how one lives at one's chateau. Life at Grand-Lucé seems to be relaxing, comfortable, gracious, and a lot of fun.
All images courtesy of Timothy Corrigan