It’s a cliche, but it’s true. The kitchen is the heart of this home. And at first glance, when I viewed Lalande all those years ago, it didn’t look like a very healthy heart. Smoke stained mustard gloss walls (and ceiling!) were the dubious backdrop to 70s kitchen cabinets, and the only oven was a 150 year old wood-fired range. Oh, and there wasn’t a sink.
But I wasn’t going to let small considerations like that stop me from buying the home of my dreams and turning the kitchen into its epicentre. But that transformation didn’t happen overnight. We decided to live in the chateau for a year before starting a major work, to see how we used the house, how the light fell, what its strengths and shortcomings were.
We quickly realised that it was worth saving the original kitchen as it was superbly placed. At Lalande, literally all corridors lead to the kitchen. And it’s a large room with light coming from both sides and easy access both to the main rooms of the chateau and to the service corridor. And it has a superb flagstone floor. But we quickly found access to the garden very irritating – it took ages to walk outside. So our first job was to turn one of the windows into a French door straight onto the garden. That was the turning point for me – it transformed the room into a liveable space and made it feel like home.
The main feature in the kitchen was – and is – the table. It was already in the chateau and I can’t imagine the room without it. Everything seems to happen around that table – laughing, planning, problem-solving, cooking, eating, (being told off by my mother), gossiping, working on our laptops… And when Daddy was alive I’d find him sketching at the table every morning when I finally made it downstairs.
I chose a soft matt grey for the walls, as a backdrop for my collection of blue and white porcelain. My parents and I had gone to the factory shops in Stoke on Trent, and to say that my father and I went mad is an understatement. Spode was left bare… Mummy was a little disapproving, and I can still hear my father say, ‘Oh, I think you need this one, too, Steph,’ as she rolled her eyes. But how happy I am now, as every time I glance at a cup or a plate, these happy memories return.
Mummy also made a crucial contribution to the room. She brought the statue of the Virgin Mary that had belonged to her grandmother. She’s been watching over us in this kitchen since we first moved in, and – wow – if she could talk, she’d have some stories to tell.
Our beautiful but deeply impractical range cooker was taking a huge amount of space, but I never dreamt of parting with it. Instead, I chose a black La Cornue cooker to live alongside it. This company’s aesthetic is true to the same tradition of French style, so it quickly looked at home.
We were working on a strict budget and I couldn’t justify having an expensive fitted kitchen. So I found an old cupboard in an outbuilding, and fit a reclaimed sink into it. Instead of a dresser, the ‘original’ 70s cupboards were repurposed as the base to a shelving unit that was another find in one of the sheds. This became our wall of blue and white plates.
I had a lot of blue and white fabric that had originally lined the walls of my bedroom. It was blackened with soot from fires over the decades, and I had to remove it to be washed. The fabric was so old, that some of it disintegrated and I couldn’t put it back on the walls, but I wanted it to stay in the chateau. I saw my opportunity in the kitchen, and turned it into the curtains.
With the remnants, I made a spice rack to free space in our cupboards and to make it easier to quickly find obscure spices whilst cooking. Who knew we even had Madagascan pepper?
The final addition – and best – was the chaise longue. It’s only downside is that we all fight over who gets to lie in it.