I decided to speak quite candidly because I think this awful period of lockdown has brought out an honest vulnerability in so many of us, made us stop and think and re-evaluate what we want in life and how to get there. As I heard recently and I believe, it’s nature’s way of pressing a little reset button.
The story began when I saw a Chateau in Cognac, SW France. I guess I’m a romantic and you know that feeling when something speaks to your soul, and you simply fall in love?
It took me back to my dear Grandfather, who I loved very much, saying to my Grandmother, who he adored… ‘Can you live without it?’ Imagine the scene; they would be in a dress shop where my Grandmother would be trying on yet another outfit in multiple colourways, patterns or fabrics and could not decide what she wanted. My Grandfather’s philosophy and advice was; if you feel like you can’t live without it, then go for it but if you can’t choose or you are in any way unsure, then leave it. With that advice in my head and heart…. I went for it and bought the Chateau!
So how did I end up with a massive renovation project in a different country?
I was divorced when my children, two daughters, were quite young. It was my choice, and I was determined that they would have as good a life as I could give them. I had married when I was very young, just 19 years old. My husband and I built a secure life together, him climbing the career ladder and me investing in property, restoring, refurbing, styling and selling on. I bought my first cottage at 17 years old for £18,500 to later sell it for £77,000. After we separated, I dedicated myself to bringing up my girls and after many years, met my now partner Brad. He was working internationally in the corporate world, and I had saved my cash from my divorce with the determination to build a business with it.
In January 2011, I decided to buy a failing pub in the country in the UK. When I saw the place, I could almost see the tumbleweed blowing around, it had been neglected and seemed to have had its day. My daughters thought I was crazy, but all I saw was this beautiful 17th-century building set in its grounds with several detached outbuildings to work with too. I restored, redesigned it and brought it back to life. Shortly after opening, we were winning awards and gained Michelin Recognition. With 36 members of staff and six years down the line, everything was running smoothly, and business was booming, but I wanted my next challenge. I thought I ought to invest in another property, but I just fancied something a bit different and this time maybe not in the UK. We started to look at what was available in France because it was so commutable from where we were in the UK. I drew a circle on a map outlining the furthest I was prepared to travel from Bordeaux airport, and we lined up a string of viewings.
At the end of a long trip, viewing many properties which I could happily live without, the agent said; “Well, there is one property which I wasn’t going to show you because it’s like a ruin”. Those might not be the exact words he used, but that is what I remember. We turned the corner into the gates of the Chateau I knew this was the one. The one I could not live without. I fell hook, line and sinker for its sheer presence, beauty and very sexy curb appeal. It was much bigger than we intended, but I’ve never been afraid to take an educated risk. My theory, after losing my Mother very young, is that you’re a long time dead, so live your best life, take chances to make that happen and push yourself.
Running a business in the UK and trying to manage a team of builders in France wasn’t easy! The restoration was massive (still is). The towers had never been lived in, they had no access, so the central roof had to come off. We then redesigned it to allow a continuation of the magnificent staircase up to the tower floor. We took a triple chimney stack out through 4 levels of the house as it was disused and went through the middle of every room below it. We dug out the cellar, ground floor level, down 1.5 feet to allow good headroom to create a cinema room, bar, wine cellar and tasting library, utility boot and hobby room, pool changing room and office with cobbled walkways and stone arches throughout. The work has been massive, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.
In November 2019, My Country Inn in the UK was sold by Christies, London as an 11 en-suite guest roomed country Inn with an award winning Michelin restaurant and bar, Kitchen gardens and a beautiful three bedroomed owners cottage with grounds. On the 12th of November 2019, we drove to France in 2 vehicles, with all our belongings to follow. The Chateau was now our home. I played George Ezra’s ‘It don’t matter now’ repeatedly on the journey because, despite the vast undertaking, The Chateau just gives you a sense of peace and that everything is going to be OK. It’s a wonderful place to be, and although we still have a big push to get through before it’s finished, we really are living the dream!
The builders have now moved to outside. The pool is under construction, gardens, terracing, wedding and party barns are being renovated. Tone and façade restoration are also on the list goes on, but the delight is, I can now start to have fun with the interior design: furnishings, fabrics and all the beautiful things to style the many gorgeous rooms. The French Bedroom Company is right at the top of my favourite companies for style and quality and is just the perfect choice for the rooms in this place. I cannot count how many times I have swooned over The Palais Royal Avenue French Bed and thought about which other pieces I could add. There are so many that would be quite at home in The Chateau.
We are still a way off completion, but every day we are one step closer to opening the Chateau up for guests. Every room I design, decorate and furnish, I think about the happy memories that will be made within these walls; the weddings, birthdays, retreats and all the other celebrations that will add to the story of my Chateau.
To follow the story please find us on Instagram @restore_the _chateau
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