We catch up with the stars of Channel 4’s Escape to the Chateau and their French fairy tale of a renovation project, namely the 19th-century Château de la Motte-Husson in Martigné-sur-Mayenne.
Photography by Ian Wallace and Two Rivers Media/Chateau TV
The Chateau could be described as the ultimate do-er upper. Now that you’ve had more than a few years to settle in, what would you say were your biggest successes on the DIY front?
A: With a building of this age and size, naturally there are a great many challenges, so even the smallest successes are moments to be proud of. On the largest scale, replacing the roof and rendering the entire Chateau was incredibly worthwhile as it means our children, Arthur and Dorothy, will not have to do it in their lifetime. Dick adores the Walled Garden; it’s really been a labour of love that has given us a lot of joy, as well as sustenance. On a design level, the wallpaper museum is one of my first and proudest moments. Finding all the original off-cuts in the attic was just magic for me!
And the toughest learning curves?
A: I think on a project like this, you just expect them, so in fact, when you get a set-back, or can’t get hold of something, you change direction!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to take on a project like this?
D: Do it… but plan ahead! We cannot stress this enough. We’re both advocates for ‘giving it a go’ but the key is always in the planning. Consider the tools you need if you’ve doing the work yourself and do some research into the best method and execution. Use an expert for the things you really need help with, and don’t cut corners – this can end up costing time and money. For bigger projects, a budget is really important. Costs can escalate wildly, so plan a contingency for the unexpected.
How did you combine your skills as engineer and designer in making over the property?
D: We complement each other very well. We are both doers and our combined skills and interests mean we’re able to take on a great many tasks and make things happen. This is something we don’t take for granted and we know how lucky we are to have such a partnership. When undertaking an interior design project, it’s usually Angel who comes up with the creative concept and I work out how we are going to make it happen on a practical level. We both get stuck in with the tougher jobs. In the early days when we first bought the Chateau it was often just the two of us doing everything.
Can you tell me a little bit about the role of sustainability and self-sufficiency at the Chateau?
A: Dick is really passionate about living sustainably. This is something he’s lived and breathed for decades, and of course has influenced every decision we make. From top to bottom and in everyday life, it’s part of what we do. From the way we heat the Chateau, to the installation, to how we try and re-use pre-loved furniture and materials and buy quality that will last and not end up in landfill… Dick also tried, where possible, to include our Walled Garden is his sanctuary; it’s absolutely thriving and this year’s harvest was bountiful. We very much follow the cycle of the seasons and as well as fruit and veg, we have chickens, geese, and have reared turkeys and pigs!
How would you describe your interiors style? (And are you always in agreement over it?)
A: Eclectic but homely. First and foremost, the Chateau is our home and everything has been designed around working for us as family, as well as reflecting our taste and love of old things. Every room in the Chateau has a story and is a reflection of us. Dick is generally quite happy for me to get on and design the interiors.
In such a sprawling property with so many rooms, would you say that your work is ever finished or is it a constantly evolving project? How do you deal with the enormity of it?
A: We’re not sure the Chateau will ever be finished! We have done a lot but then you notice something else and think, “must add that to the list!”. The potential of what we can do next is what we love about it. Dick always says, “you eat an elephant one bite at a time”. At some point, you never know, Arthur and Dorothy may take over. Arthur is a true gourmand and has dreams of running a restaurant from here, so watch this space!
Tell me about your furniture choices. Where do you shop?
A: So many places! France has incredible brocantes and flea markets full of treasure. We go to Emmaus shops a lot and have sourced many wonderful items there. They are all over France and are a brilliant charity. We’ve also found some amazing things on eBay, including our barge, Le Bateau at the Chateau, which we renovated to accommodate guests, and Le Van du Vin, now a bar for all our events!
Talk me through a few of your favourite pieces
A: We have a Victorian penny machine in the Salon, which I adore, as well as lots of original fairground signage. Most of this came from the UK. My very old pineapple light that lives in the entrance hall came from America via eBay. Dick had to re-wire it just before our wedding! And we love our faux taxidermy pieces – the unicorn, giraffe, zebra and wolf – which were handmade by our friends Broken Hare in Wales.
Favourite thrifty finds/family heirlooms? What’s the story?
D: It’s a hard one because we have a Chateau full of them! We love history and the Chateau is like a living museum. Many of the treasures we’ve discovered here, like an old musket, side saddle and a sword, have been given pride of place in one of the turrets, called the ‘Tower of Curiosity’ so family, friends and visitors can see some of the Chateau’s history being brought back to life.
Which is your favourite room, and why?
D: In the Chateau, it’s probably the Sou-Sol, the basement. I have my kitchens down there, the preserve cupboard, and it’s the heart of house. A special memory for me was when my Big Boy James (eldest son) came over. James, Arthur and I all spent the afternoon cooking together in the professional kitchen.
What are you working on at the moment?
A: We’re back filming for a new series of Escape to the Chateau, which is really exciting and there are some interesting projects at the Chateau that we can’t wait to share with everyone. I’m busy designing and working on The Chateau Collections and in amongst all our ventures we’re looking forward to lots of family time over the summer holidays – the kids are growing up so fast!