“My own preference is to create interiors in which real life and the presence of people actually complete the design, rather than spoil it” - Timothy Corrigan
An Invitation to Chateau du Grand Luce arrived on my doormat with a perceptible thud, just like a really good invitation should do. I was dying to open the envelope and look at this sumptuous and long awaited book. For anyone who has ever dreamed of having a home in France, however humble or grand, this gloriously illustrated history of the acquisition and decoration of Chateau du Grand –Luce makes fascinating and inspiring reading.
Chateau de Grand-Luce
The format of the book is a descriptive narrative of a weekend stay at the Chateau. Corrigan is a good writer, but he is perhaps an even better thinker and alongside the wonderful photographs by Eric Piasecki, we are given a running commentary of why Corrigan has made some of the decisions that he has. This is perhaps the best part of the book. It soon becomes apparent that Corrigan is a fantastically clever man, and perhaps his smartest move of all was to buy a Chateau that had an exceptional level of preservation, complete with perfectly preserved hand painted Chinese panels in salon. As the tour continues it soon becomes clear that nothing is by chance.
The Grand Salon
We move from grand salon to bedrooms and fabulous bathrooms. At the first night’s dinner, held in the Orangery, the table decorations are magnificent, but upon closer inspection all found in the grounds and created by the guests, they provide splendid inspiration for Christmas.
The following day, after croissants from the local bakery, we accompany our host on a walk in the woods and on a trip to the village. We go into Corrigan’s pottiger and have the enviable task of choosing and cutting the flowers for the various tables. Our host invites us to a boozy lunch under the linden trees, which support a line of chandeliers.
The line of Chandeliers under the Linden trees
Then finally, saving the best till last, on our final night we are invited to a grand dinner. By this time we are totally romanced into Chateau living, ready to put on our most beautiful party dresses and be at our very best.
As we enter the Chinois salon for a pre-prandial drink we pause, it is simply breathtaking. It is here that we meet Corrigan the decorator at his very best, supplying effortless comfort and grace into a room of real historical significance, and we realise that nothing is beyond his scope. He gets to show us what he is made of in his handling of this truly important decorative treasure. The panels here are by Jean Baptiste Pillement, an artist under the patronage of the French Royal Household and who also painted murals at the Schonbruun.
The Chinois Salon
Corrigan works subtle themes throughout. He is ever mindful of bringing the garden into the house and the creation of functional spaces that people want to use. The most significant element is his relationship with the magnificent eighteenth century architecture itself, which he manages to gently master. By not over accentuating all of the formal elements, although certainly emphasising some, he does not allow the architecture to intimidate. This is perhaps best seen in the Grand Salon, where the pilasters are painted a subtle sandy pale brown - a gentle mental nudge to the golden palettes of yore, and also to the potential formality of the room.
Bedroom suite at Chateau du Grand-Luce
The genius of this is in the creation of an atmosphere of relaxed comfort, without any loss of gravitas. Through this creation the purpose of the Chateau is revealed. It is not a ‘hands off’, formal historical experience, but a real place to live and have fun.
The story of Grand Luce is epic. It was bought from the French Government empty and uninhabitable in 2002, and yet in the way that Corrigan lightly describes the restoration, it would be entirely understandable for one to feel that perhaps it was not too hard a project, and that maybe we could all just do the same – to buy and renovate a French Chateau. That is, of course, until you consider what he has actually achieved here.
Taking a French Chateaus up to Californian levels of comfort in terms of heating, plumbing and kitchens, and remaining on the right side of the fierce French building regulations is as much a testament to his diplomatic skill as his architectural ability. The project must have cost a small fortune, but the outcome is simply stunning. The pure genius of the decorative scheme makes you feel as if it has been there forever, and after reading the book, one can only wish that the invitation was a real one.
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