[Decor] Enduring castle style

Château de Fleury is just an hour’s drive from Paris, yet upon first sight of the castle, which is nestled on the outskirts of the Fontainebleau forest, you can’t help but feel even farther removed—transported centuries back, to France’s glorious past. The stately 16th-century property was commissioned by King Henri II’s secretary of state, Côme Clausse, and then passed down through various families, all of whom had noble-sounding names like d’Argouges, La Trémoille, and La Rochejacquelein. It was finally acquired by Count Jean de Ganay in 1896. He already resided in Courances, an even more splendid abode, and bought the neighboring Fleury mostly in order to improve his shoot. “Some people say my grandfather was aggravated at seeing all his bred pheasants fly into Fleury’s park,” jokes Charles de Ganay, who has lived at the château for the past five decades.

The Harvard-educated Charles has always been considered the adventurer of the family. Not only does he spend many months of the year in South America—dividing his time between homes in Argentina (his mother’s birthplace) and Uruguay, as well as taking far-flung treks around the world—but as the former president of the International Falconry Association, he has spent a lifetime hunting wild game and raising falcons. “Unfortunately this year I have given up access to a lovely moor where I used to fly my hawks,” he laments.

No doubt such passions help explain why Charles’s historic home—he occupies one wing, and two of his brothers live in other parts of the 18-bedroom château—looks every bit a modern-day hunting lodge. The entrance hall is lined with moose skulls and other trophies collected in Mongolia, Pakistan, Alaska, and Turkey, while stag antlers line a whitewashed corridor. Many of the furnishings have been passed down through the generations. Old-world landscapes, rich damasks, densely patterned Oriental rugs, Louis XIV chandeliers, and wall-size Flemish tapestries evoke the grandeur of the past and trace the visual history of European nobility.

In the early decades of the 20th century, Fleury was inhabited by Martine de Béhague, Jean de Ganay’s sister-in-law. A banking heiress and legendary art patron, de Béhague was known for her extravagant shopping sprees, as well as for saving historic monuments and paying for the Mona Lisa‘s frame. “Fleury had, in fact, been abandoned for many years and was in very bad shape,” Charles explains. “So she completely transformed the layout of the ground floor and the main reception rooms in what we call the great house.”

True to her reputation, de Béhague filled the house with valuable objets d’art and furniture—her collection was said to rival the Louvre’s in certain areas of the decorative arts. The extraordinary grounds were groomed with the same discerning eye: De Béhague added a potager and a celebrated Persian garden. During the Second World War, however, much of her considerable legacy was destroyed. Fleury, like most of the grand houses in the region, was occupied by the Nazis. “They did an awful lot of damage to the furniture,” Charles recalls, “and prevented the park from being properly cared for.”

When Charles moved into a wing of Fleury in 1961, he brought his own aesthetic to the interiors. He added vivid floral wallpapers to what were originally white plaster walls. Mogens Tvede—the Danish architect and painter known for his society portraits of Nancy Mitford and other Paris celebrities—designed the artful ceilings of the main drawing room and dining room. And Charles’s former wife, Pascaline Beghin—with whom he had two children, Rose and Antoine—spruced up the wing’s five bedrooms.

When at Fleury, Charles spends most of his time in the large drawing room—a space that seems as long as a soccer field, with soaring ceilings, multiple fireplaces, perfectly aged leather armchairs, and generous sofas. “It faces east and benefits from the most lovely light,” he says.

The dining room, meanwhile, holds his favorite paintings, a pair of moody still lifes by Paul de Vos, a 17th-century Flemish painter. It’s a handsome, period-perfect room, melding a gilded 19th-century mirror, vivid-green walls, and a set of tapestry-covered chairs surrounding a Regency-style carved-wood dining table. An eagle, painted by Alexandre Serebriakoff, spans the ceiling and serves as a reminder of Charles de Ganay’s family emblem and motto: “It is not with the claws or the beak but with the wings that you go to heaven.”

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