On Thanksgiving Day in 2002, when ad-exec-turned-designer Timothy Corrigan rolled into what would ultimately be his next place of residence, France's Château du Grand-Lucé, the property surprised him, and not just in a good way. Firstly, the château—"which I know sounds pretty fancy, but [it] is essentially a big country house," Corrigan demurs in his 240-page tome about the place—was at the center of town, not pulled to the country hills. Secondly, its Cour d'Honneur (motor court) was a community parking lot and its gardens open for public perusal. Apparently, however, it would take more than a smattering of Peugeots to overwhelm the estate's otherwise considerable beauty, what with its "long, stately central allée of the formal garden" or the "slate-colored lake" or the "private forest" or the "silence broken only by the birds." And so began the estate's climb back to the architectural gleam it once enjoyed as home to an 18th-century Baron.
The backstory written Corrigan's design book, An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé: Decorating a Great French Country House, is notably easy-to-read, particularly for an interior design text, a genre that's often so bogged down in name dropping centuries-old table-makers that readers must be content to look at the pretty pictures. Corrigan's book, on the other hand, goes into much detail about the construction of the estate (built for Baron Jacques Pineau de Viennay, whose letters to his architect in the 1760s are all in the National Archives in Paris) without sacrificing intriguing candor, like the unwelcome surprise that was the first winter's heating bill ("it would have been cheaper to give every guest a fur coat!").
This history, when coupled with hundreds of pages of capital-M majestic interiors photos, mean it's really no surprise that the country manse has become a darling for national design magazines since the book's release last fall. First there was the languid spread in Arch Digest, where Corrigan's choice of Hermès throw pillows paired with tokens of New-World aristocratic glamour was met with clamorous (figurative) ovation. The magazine peeled back the thick, overt layers of historical loveliness (which, one must admit, could probably occupy decor aficionados for months) and exposed the proof of Corrigan's Southern California background, such as the Mexican Day of the Dead figures that adorn a mantlepiece or the turquoise necklace on a marble bust. "I didn't want the place to take itself too seriously," he told Arch Digest. "We're not in a museum. The message is, we're just having fun."
(Speaking of fun, it's well worth noting that when Curbed covered the Arch Digest spread in September, the first commenter gave this assessment: "Wow! For about 2 seconds my finger was covering the top part of the picture and I thought that this was the Beverly Hillbillies mansion." High praise, indeed.)
A month later, T, the style magazine published by The New York Times, broke down the details of the restoration, and the results were beyond fascinating. For example, the French government spent €2.9M ($3.977M) to restore the roof using the original material, regional angers slate. That's a huge chunk of the roughly $10M total renovation cost. Inside: 139 lamps, 990 yards of fabric for 49 pairs of curtains, 2,215 window panes, 97 mirrors "that need to be polished seasonally," 227 rolls' worth of wallpaper, 16 chimneys, 752 lightbulbs, and 34 antique stag trophies. The number of days Corrigan spent there in 2012? 43.
But enough babble, let's get onto the rooms!
↑ Upon entering the Grand Salon, Corrigan writes, "you are immediately struck by the wonderful sense of scale, the exquisite poise with which the architect balanced drama an intimacy." Translation: if French architecture were owned by three bears, this room would be Mama Bear's, the one Goldilocks said was "juuuuuust right." The salon is basically the 18th-century French equivalent to a den or family room, and here the warmth is in the details: gently rounded corners, fluted pilasters to "establish a reassuring rhythm," and a color palette that echos the green hills and sunlight outside.
↑ Unlike all the architectural details, which were parsed by the eagle eyes of France's historic watchdog organization, the furnishings (such as those pictured in the Grand Salon) were totally up to Corrigan. He writes: "Rather than a more traditional, historically correct arrangement of delicate (i.e., small, gold, and spindly) furnishings, the focus has been put on comfort and informality."
↑ What's now the kitchen originally served as a lady's boudoir, which explains how the room boasts original oak Parquet de Versailles floors and fake walls (over original, government-protected woodwork) from which to hang kitchen cabinets.
↑ Corrigan writes that the Salon Chinois "is perhaps the most significant room in the chateau," thanks largely to the oil-on-canvas wall murals. The decor picks up the golds, reds, and greens of the murals, which are "emblematic of their age." Corrigan writes that, in the house's heyday, "China remained more of an Eastern fantasia that provoked the Western imagination than an actual place with real people and things in it."
↑ The Master Suite has its own sitting area, meant to be a continuation of the adjacent living rooms. "The only problem with making your bedroom a semipublic space is that you have to remember to pick up your socks and make the bed."
↑ The bedroom is furnished in an "eclectic mix" of styles, but the Louis XIV bombé commode, above, is a true 18th-century French antique. The room also brags, just to the right of the bed, a secret door leading to a hidden master dressing room. "Not that I've got all that much stuff, but when it comes to storage, as the saying goes, it's better to have it and not need it than vice versa—even in a French château."
· All On the Books posts [Curbed National]
· All Timothy Corrigan coverage [Curbed National]