HOUSE TOUR: exquisite manor house in Bordeaux
“We didn’t want to make a fashiony interior,” says the Paris-based designer Michael Coorengel. “For us, decoration should look almost natural.” So, when he and his partner, Jean-Pierre Calvagrac, set out to rejuvenate an 18th-century manor house in the Bordeaux wine region, it made sense to them to re-create a Louis XVI—style decor.
A pair of 18th-century obelisks and a 19th-century Louis XVI—style light fixture in the hall; the ceiling was hand painted, and the marble flooring was laid in a traditional 18th-century design.
Period appropriate, yes, but upon first sight, the color palette seems strikingly, almost shockingly, modern. Walls are bright green, sunny yellow, vivid turquoise, and deep teal. Yet, Coorengel points out, these are exactly the type of shades that originally would have been used at Versailles. After all, colors fade over 300 years. “Back then, Versailles was psychedelic, multicolored, like being in space,” he says. “It was the standard for design. Imagine having a palace done by Zaha Hadid. It would have been the same effect.”
The library of a French château decorated by Michael Coorengel and Jean-Pierre Calvagrac features a Directoire sofa that retains its original velvet, a 19th-century table and chandelier, and an 18th-century armchair with its original needlepoint upholstery; the paneling is painted in Canopee by Zuber.
The manor house, referred to as a chartreuse in this southwestern part of France, is the main residence of the owners of the Château Fourcas-Hosten winery in the village of Listrac. Fourcas is the name of the plain over which its 116 acres of vines stretch. Jean-Baptiste Hosten, a lawyer in Bordeaux, first planted those grapevines in the 18th century. In 2006, the property was acquired by brothers Laurent and Renaud Momméja, who belong to the Hermès dynasty. Both are board members of the French luxury goods house and Laurent previously served as managing director of Hermès’s home division.
The salon’s Georges Jacob settee and armchairs are upholstered in a Lelievre velvet, the chest of drawers, barometer clock, and Aubusson rug are all 18th century, and the chandelier and sconces are 19th century.
What drew the brothers to the property was the setting—from the lush landscape of Bordeaux’s famed vineyards to the charming Romanesque church next door that dates from the 12th century. “We liked the simplicity and elegance of the property, and the fact that it’s in the very heart of the village,” Laurent explains.
A 19th-century Louis XVI—style lantern and inlaid marble flooring in the entrance hall; the doors are painted in a custom color based on an 18th-century hue.
At first, Coorengel and Calvagrac, who form one of France’s most talented and well-connected young decorating firms, were hired simply to choose some paint colors, change the curtains, and add a few pieces of furniture. They ended up completely overhauling the building in a renovation that took three and a half years. “The moment we started to touch walls, we realized everything was rotting and falling apart,” Coorengel explains. The house didn’t look great, either. There were no wall decorations and the wood flooring was very simple. “It resembled an old boarding school,” Calvagrac jokes. “There was no true decor or soul. It was really quite sad.”
An 18th-century portrait of Marie-Joseph of Saxony, daughter-in-law of Louis XV, in the Polonaise bedroom; the Louis XVI daybed is upholstered in a chintz based on an 18th-century fabric, the chandelier is 18th century, and the walls are painted in Farrow & Ball’s French Gray.
To add to the challenges, the floor plan of the U-shaped structure was completely illogical. The former kitchen and dining room were adjacent, but not linked. There were only two bathrooms, and the back of the house was a warren of tiny spaces without any windows. When they started to knock down walls and partitions, the designers discovered several rooms up above, which had been walled up and forgotten for decades.
In the breakfast room, the sofa is by Georges Jacob, and the table, medallion chairs, and daybed are all 18th century.
In the wine-tasting room, a 17th-century Dutch painting bought at auction hangs above a Régence settee covered in its original needlepoint upholstery; the table is 19th century, the walls are 18th-century stone, and the floors are laid with 19th-century tiles.
As much as possible, Coorengel and Calvagrac tried to reinstate the original 18th-century layout. Along the front of the house, they created an elegant enfilade of rooms on either side of the foyer with its checkerboard floor. They relocated the kitchen to the back, where it would have been originally, and they tweaked the architecture of the bedrooms to install en suite baths. Very few items could be conserved—only a few fireplaces and overmantel mirrors.
The kitchen’s 18th-century table and 19th-century console and cabinet are all oak. The 19th-century chandelier is Dutch.
Now almost every architectural element is new, except for those salvaged from historic Parisian townhouses and French châteaux: a Versailles parquet, the Louis XIV mantel in the library, and the 18th-century columns on the terrace. Other vintage finds include the painted panels on the dining room walls, populated by playful monkeys, and the Maison Jansen dining chairs that once belonged to 20th-century socialite Daisy Fellowes. As a nod to the Momméjas’ family link, Coorengel and Calvagrac had the chairs recovered with the same leather used for the iconic Kelly bag. They also framed a trio of Hermès scarves with designs by Josef Albers and hung them as artwork.
Tiles by Original Style and a 19th-century painted wrought-iron washbasin in the hammam.
Dining chairs originally made for the socialite Daisy Fellowes, upholstered in an Hermès leather, surround an 18th-century mahogany table in the dining room; the chandelier is by Baguès, and the overmantel mirror is original to the house.
DINING ROOM CHINOISERIE
An 18th-century painted chinoiserie panel and gilded-bronze candelabra in the dining room.
When the owners requested a hammam, the designers decided to steer clear of anything too Oriental or modern, opting instead to conjure, as Calvagrac puts it, “a Wedgwood-slash-Marie Antoinette kind of bathroom.” It took the tile installer three months to execute the intricate design. “At the end, the tiler wanted to take early retirement,” he says with a laugh.
A bathroom’s copper tub and fittings are by Herbeau, the 1940s chair is by Jansen, and the linen for the curtains is by Chelsea Textiles.
A number of other rooms have acquired nicknames. A bedroom with a lit à la polonaise and family portraits of relatives of Marie Leszczynska, the Polish wife of Louis XV, became the Polonaise room. A cozy salon used for breakfast or tea was christened “Miss Marple,” of Agatha Christie fame. “Nobody understood the name,” Coorengel admits.
In a guest room, an 18th-century lit à la polonaise is dressed in custom bedding and a canopy of hand-embroidered linen by Chelsea Textiles; the chandelier and mahogany table are 18th century, and the marble bust is of Marie Antoinette.
GUEST ROOM SEATING
It turned out, however, to be premonitory. During the excavation of the courtyard, a grisly discovery was made. “The workers called to say they had to stop work because they had found a skeleton of a young woman,” says Coorengel. She had been lying in front of Miss Marple’s windows for decades.
In another guest room, the hand-painted chest, settee, and armchairs are all Directoire.