I dream of living in France on a fairly regular basis. A chic little apartment on the Left Bank or in the Marais would suit me just fine. But periodically, my dreams run a little bigger. I was flabbergasted to discover that many French châteaux are LESS expensive than a nice apartment in a good neighborhood. Well, purchasing a château is one thing and maintaining it is another. Plumbing, landscaping, wiring, and the ROOF, well, that alone can run to millions of dollars.
Designer Timothy Corrigan is living my dream in a big way. In 2003, he discovered that a 45,000 square foot property known as the Château du Grand-Lucé in the Loire Valley was for sale by the French government. His remise en état (ruhmeez ehn aytat), or restoration, of the eighteenth-century estate has been the subject of two features in Architectural Digest and a book just released by Rizzoli, An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé: Decorating a Great French Country House.
Restoring this beautiful property was no easy matter. Here’s a short video showing some of the tasks Corrigan had to undertake. Every decision was overseen by Les Architectes des Bâtiments de France as the property is an historic monument. He even had to rally support from experts at the musée Carnavalet in order to be able to paint a room yellow!
The property has an amazing history. It was one of very few château that was spared during the French Revolution, apparently because the lady of the manor had shown kindness to the villagers during their time of need. Yet, the property was rather abused as a field hospital in World War II and a tuberculosis sanatorium in the years following. The four un-restored bedrooms on the upper floor still have the signs for patients stating the times and prices of meals. There were only three antiquated bathrooms in the château when Corrigan took it over. Now each of the fourteen restored bedrooms has a spacious en suite created by sacrificing some of the many other bedrooms.
The most glamorous room is the Salon Chinois full of rare murals featuring young ladies playing with parrots while their escorts are fishing. Here’s a video in which Corrigan explains what makes this room so valuable. The murals were painted by Jean-Baptiste Pillement, an 18th century landscaper painter favored by Marie-Antoinette. Pillement helped spread the fascination both for the Rococo-style and Chinoiserie.
Corrigan only lives at the property during two months of the year. (Perhaps he’d like me to live-in the other ten months of the year as caretaker?) The 80-acre gardens are open to the public on a limited schedule. Maybe you’ll see me there in my new job. If you’re very nice to me, I might let you see a glimpse of le Salon Chinois.