The transformation of the Grand Salon was my greatest decorating challenge at Lalande. When we bought the chateau, there was a very elegant salon at the end of the enfilade, but it felt far too small for the size of the house.
In fact, all of the reception rooms were small, and many of them were also dark. It’s very, very lucky that I’d decided to buy the chateau before I’d even set foot inside, because the interior would have put most people off. But, as we drove into the courtyard, I said to my parents, “This is it, we’ve finally found it.” My father replied, “But you haven’t seen inside yet!” To which I said, “It doesn’t matter. We can change the interior.” Thank goodness I had that attitude, because the interior certainly needed changing!
Further inspection of our dark, poky rooms revealed that many of the internal walls had been added in the 19th century, presumably to make it easier to heat them in winter. Removing all of the 19th century additions instantly revealed an enfilade of spacious reception rooms, with light flooding them from both sides of the building.
My mother hated the mess and destruction, but my father and I were in our element, cheering whenever another wall crashed to the ground. But the removal of the walls left us with many problems. The most pressing was that our floors no longer filled the rooms. As you can see from the photo above, the grand salon became a room with three different types of flooring – a nice herring bone covered half of the room, whilst two different types of 70s tiles completed the look.
So we decided to make the most of this setback by taking the opportunity to put in underfloor heating before laying new floors. The low point of the entire renovation process was the moment when we had a minidigger inside the house. My poor mother was beside herself!
After looking at seemingly endless possible flooring solutions, we decided to create the new floors of all of the reception rooms in antique terracotta tiles. We had many in the attic, which would be hidden in the future when the attic floor was insulated, so we decided to move all of them downstairs, where they could be seen and enjoyed every day. But we still needed thousands more and I started to source them all over France. Our tilers did a superb job. We didn’t have enough tiles of the same type to floor the grand salon, so they created a pattern in the floor – the centre of the room was a huge rectangle of diagonal tiles, surrounded with a border of straight tiling. The result it stunning, and our floors give me joy every day.
We then discovered a beautiful beamed ‘plafond a la francaise’ behind the plaster ceiling, so ripped down all of the ceiling (another 19th century addition) to reveal it. Finally, the decorating could begin! We were on a very strict budget, so had to make do with painted walls, and, of course, had to do all of the decoration ourselves. I still remember the daunting moment when Nic and I realised that there wasn’t a square inch of wall/ceiling/floor in the chateau that didn’t need something doing to it.
We painted the grand salon Gervaise Yellow by Farrow & Ball. Yellow is my favourite colour as – used correctly – it can flood a room with warmth and sunshine. I like the walls of the salon now, but I’m still dreaming of buying antique wall panelling one day to panel all of the walls. It’s what I would have done at the time if our budget had allowed.
I bought beautiful silks at the silk factories in Sudbury – David Walters Mill and Gainsborough Silk Factory. I made two pair of curtains for each window, an under pair of lined white silk, and a front pair of interlined golden fabric. I had only just enough fabric for the curtains, so made the pelmets from a stunning Watts of Westminster golden apricot brocade. The curtains required nearly 300 metres of fabric (silk/interlining/lining/pelmet) – hence the need to choose from factory shops and to learn to make them myself! But the final result was worth it – they’re sumptuous, and they provide excellent insulation.
I wanted the grand salon (and all of the rooms in the house!) to look as though its decoration had evolved over many decades, even though I had to do it all in one go. So I needed to create a layered effect that wasn’t too faithful to any one period. In this I was highly influenced by the ‘country house style’ of John Fowler and Nancy Lancaster. And, most importantly, I wanted the room to be comfortable. I absolutely love 18th century French chateau interiors, with their delicate chairs and matching upholstery, but I don’t want to live in a museum. I need to be able to lounge around on sofas, and accidentally mark a side table without weeping!
I was incredibly lucky to find a beautiful pair of Dudgeon sofas at auction. Dudgeon are a British company who have been making sofas since 1947. They’re unbelievably comfortable and the quality is superb – we’ve had them for 14 years (and they were already 2nd hand then) and they’re still going strong.
I placed them, back to back, in the centre of the room, and they create two distinct, and cosier, sitting areas.
A very important addition to the room was the Yamaha baby grand piano that my parents bought me for my 15th birthday. My piano playing was dreadful, but they got it for my singing. My singing teacher used to come to our house to teach me (and several of her other students). So the piano is very precious to me, and, whilst my playing is still lamentable, I have many friends who play, and there’s nothing nicer than hearing the sound of the piano filling the room and floating down the enfilade.
The grand salon gets the evening sun (and, apparently, the morning sun, but I’ve never been up early enough to experience that), and has two french doors onto the terrace. So it’s the perfect spot to have aperitif on warm summer evenings whilst watching the sun set.
I collected the rest of the furniture slowly over time – it’s all a mix different periods and styles. The room feels lived in and alive – it’s no stuffy museum. The final touch is my father’s paintings, a splash of contemporary colour and joy that lifts the whole scheme and truly makes it ‘home’.