Forbes.com Decorator Timothy Corrigan Restores French Chateau To Full Glory, Shares Design Tips
Author: Blue Carreon/Photos Eric Piasecki
Decorator Timothy Corrigan Restores French Chateau To Full Glory, Shares Design Tips
Ah but to have your own chateau is the ultimate dream.
The Los Angeles-based interior designer Timothy Corrigan found one, jumped through bureaucratic hoops to buy it and navigated the complex and challenging French preservation laws to restore it. The majestic home is called the Chateau du Grand-Lucé. It is located in France’s Loire Valley. It is a 45,000-square-foot house on an 80-acre property with expansive grounds, formal gardens and a forest.
Corrigan has just released a book that tells of the story of how he found and fell in love with the house as well as the renovation and restoration process it underwent under his capable hands. The book is entitled An Invitation To Chateau du Grand-Lucé and it is filled with images of manicured gardens, impressive neoclassical architecture, beautifully decorated rooms and wonderful vignettes that ignite feelings of fantasy, envy and escapism all at the same time. If I were to visit Chateau du Grand-Lucé I am certain that my Instagram feed will be buzzing with emoticons of delight and jealousy and multiple exclamation marks.
Corrigan is one of the country’s top interior designers with projects spanning the globe. He also has an office in Paris where he keeps another home. He is one of the rare designers who can take classical elements and make them look current. His rooms are always about layering — be it textures, colors or styles and the end result is always the perfect combination of wow-factor and comfort. Before launching a second career as an interior designer, he was in the advertising field. Lucky for us that he made the shift or we wouldn’t have known such a glorious taste and a refined eye for decorating.
Below, I talk to Timothy Corrigan about his great house and his book that are both celebrations and testaments to a life well-lived.
What are you most proud of what you have accomplished with the chateau and the book?
One of the reasons I invite people to visit the chateau is to demonstrate that any home can be a place that enables us to be at our best. My approach to design involves determining how my clients like to live, and creating interiors that enable that to happen – and at the end of the day, the story of the chateau is really no more or less than that. The message of the book is really all about how you can achieve great beauty in a practical, liveable way.
What were the biggest challenges — in terms of logistics and decoration — you had to face during the restoration?
Besides the challenge of managing a project from over 5,000 miles away, in my second language, restoring a national landmark that is considered one of the finest examples of French neo-classical architecture is a daunting task—particularly as the French authorities have a strong point of view, as to how it should be restored; details such as the color of paint, type of tree, and kind of gravel are all within their area of control.
What new things did you learn during the process? Given that you are a seasoned pro, were there things that you learned?
As in all challenging situations, the demands of the French authorities forced me to come up with creative solutions, and I received a priceless education in the minutiae of eighteenth-century architecture, decoration, and horticulture. Every fencing match came with a lesson, and made me appreciate my special new home that much more.
How do you feel about the results of the chateau? Of the book?
Shortly after completing the first round of restoration, I had a dinner party for a number of titled French chateau owners, including the Vice President of the French Senate who had played a key role in my being awarded the right to purchase the chateau. They were totally blown away that it all looked as if it had always been like this. With the exception of the fact that I substituted comfortable, upholstered furniture for the usual little spindly gold chairs that are often found in chateaux, it has all the authenticity of a chateau that has been furnished over generations. I laughed when one particularly grand Duchess whispered: “I could kill for a single bathroom like yours!”
In terms of the book, one of my favorite early reviews said that it was “Equal parts fantasy and yet completely down to earth.” I am thrilled that people understand the lessons I’ve tried to convey, and have found the book approachable and inviting.
What goes into the maintenance of the chateau and its grounds?
Just to give you an idea, it take 5.5 tons of composted fertilizer a year just to nourish the 11 acres of formal gardens on the property. Then there are the remaining 44 acres of woods, and the chateau itself, all of which need constant maintenance and repair.
Do you have a favorite space?
It’s hard to choose a favorite space at the chateau. It doesn’t matter what room I’m in or what I am doing there, (pulling weeds, walking in the woods or sitting in the grand salon.) Chateau du Grand-Lucé is the place where I find true meaning of joy. When I am there, I continually give thanks to that I have been so lucky in my life. It also reminds why I work so hard just to keep the place going!
Is restoring a chateau something you would recommend to other people?
Restoring a chateau is not for the light-hearted! It comes with the responsibility of honoring the past: knowing what should be preserved and what can be modified. As with any restoration project, you never know what you’ll uncover, so having a surplus of money and a sense of humor will help see it through. In the end, this has been a kind of folly for me but also a great education. I am so happy that I did it!
How did you decide on the decorating scheme of the chateau? What was your approach to decorating?
I tried to create a setting that was somewhat more casual and “light-handed” than one would normally expect to find in a building that has been called one of the finest examples of neo-classical architecture in France. It’s intentionally not historically appropriate, and when people who’ve visited other chateaux come to stay, they tell me the décor elsewhere is typically very much: “look-but-don’t-touch.” But believe me, if I decked out the Grand Salon with proper groupings of little gilt-wood chairs and settees, we’d never have any fun – and nobody would ever want to come back!
What do you want your guests to feel like when they come to visit you?
The single comment that people most often repeat after staying at the chateau for a couple of days is that while they were afraid that it was going to be a little overwhelming, yet they leave thinking that it is the most comfortable and relaxing place they have ever stayed. I want my guests to feel free to put their feet up on the sofa and not go crazy if they spill a drink. Comfort is about more than just how something feels—it is also a state of mind. At the end of the day, if your home isn’t a total sanctuary from the outside world, you haven’t succeeded in creating a good home. After all, everyone’s home should be their castle.
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