Buy Of The Week: Normandy
Hand-painted murals, ornate wood panels and floor-length windows set the scene inside this romantic Normandy castle
Wednesday 03 August 2005
When she found Château de la Motte, she made up her mind to buy it immediately. Surrounded by six acres of parkland, overlooking two lakes, and enclosed within ancient stone walls, the six-bedroom house was in need of major repairs. But Beresford could see that the house, which was built on the foundations of an enormous 17th-century granite chateau, had a solid, strong fabric.
"Half the roof needed replacing," she says "but the rest of the structure was sound. There was no kitchen and only one bathroom and, of course, no central heating. The old parquet floors were almost unrecognisable, and there was different wallpaper on every inch of wall.
"I added three extra bathrooms and completed the other essential works, but the remainder was done with the help of eager teenagers belonging to various friends of mine, who would come out during the summer or for longer if they were enjoying a gap year.
"They would spend two or three hours a day stripping back the parquet floors with wire wool attached to their shoes and after a good session, they would leap out of the windows for endless games of ping pong."
In total, the chateau consists of a group of three large houses; the main house, built in 1821, which Beresford has made her home for the last 16 years, and two substantial gatehouses, the only remaining parts of the original chateau, dating from 1600, which she lets out to holiday-makers.
The interior of the main house is a testament to Beresford's unique sense of romantic style. After having studied and worked in design in Australia, she returned to England where she met her husband, the Australian film director Bruce Beresford.
"I have always enjoyed designing interiors, but I am not manifestly an interior designer. My talent is finding lovely things in junk shops and knowing where to put them - that's the part that I love."
The ground floor has two huge, pavilion-like rooms with rows of full-height windows overlooking the park. "It was the windows that sold the house to me," says Beresford - "and this room is lovely to come down to on a damp, cold Normandy morning." The kitchen looks on to the dining room through a wide opening that can be shut off with panels to create a more formal setting. "I keep the space open most of the time, unless I am entertaining the sort of guests that would prefer not to see the cats all over the kitchen," says Beresford.
Over the years, she has embellished the interior with murals painted by several different artists. The walls of the dining room were painted by Georges Margarin, whose portfolio includes Mick Jagger's dining room and the Cipriani Hotel in Venice.
A couple of local young artists, the Sineux, produced the decorations for the sitting room. Originally the doors in here would have been embellished with boiseries or ornate wooden panels, but they had been removed. The young couple painted replacements over the doors, and added ribbons and a picture of a sultry sky on the ceiling of the entrance hall.
The large master-bedroom has a parquet floor, which is continuous throughout most of the house, with four big windows facing east over the lake, and a weighty, rust-coloured marble fireplace. On the same level is a romantic chambre de bonne, with its wooden panelling and carved alcove. The library bedroom is a deep red, with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and the en-suite bathroom has an under-water mural which was painted by Beresford's daughter. On the top floor are three further bedrooms.
Another long-term project that Beresford undertook was the restoration of the garden. It was full of wonderful old trees, but most of the grounds had turned to a wilderness. "With the help of the wonderful French landscaper Alain Richert, I made a rose garden around the house." The cultivated area blends softly into wilder parkland beyond the swimming lake.
But, now that Beresford's children are scattered all over the world, she has decided that she would like to spend more time in London where she will be more accessible. "It's going to be very painful to leave," she says, "but I've bought a little stone house nearby and I will be coming back."
Get the spec
What's for sale: a six-bedroom French chateau with two gatehouses that can be rented out separately
Serious kit: parquet floors, marble fireplaces, muralled walls, panelled wood interiors
Extras: six acres of parkland with rose gardens and two lakes in the grounds; extensive outbuildings, which could be converted
Buy it: Château de la Motte is for sale through Mme C Baudrant (0033 23327 2001), price €1.4m
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