French magic

It's the personal touches in France's grand houses that make them homes
French style may have its roots deep in the sweeping tide of history, and it may often derive its glory from a distinguished past, but it is also enriched with a sense of personal intimacy and of family lives lived. It is these private touches, just as much as the more grandiose vestiges of history, that help to create a magical ‘spirit of place’, and to imbue a house with a soul. It is these personal elements that anchor homes firmly in the reality of the here and now, and that fill them with life in the world of today.

House-Nov14-02-590Left: The Château de Montrésor, in the Touraine countryside in west-central France. Right: A silver fruit présentoir in front of a 19thcentury painting, in the home of an art connoisseur, Édouard, near Parc Monceau in Paris

A home is a whole world, made up not only of memories and of real life, but also of plans for the future, of enthusiasms, and of passions. Through the home, we pursue an ideal of some sort; a dream we are determined to bring to life. As the philosopher Gaston Bachelard put it, a home is not merely a dwelling place, but also, and more importantly, a ‘dreaming place’.

House-Nov14-03-590Left: A library, known as the music room, in a town house in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, Paris, frequented by early 19th-century artists and scholars. Right: A mahoganypanelled bathroom in a town house in the Marais, Paris, containing crystal boxes and bottles and old family photos
House-Nov14-04-590Left: The seagreen dining room of the town house in the Marais, with antique engravings surrounding a portrait of the current owner’s great-aunt, Colombe, who died of melancholy at the age of 25. Right: A capacious silver wine cooler, one of the many objects and mementos of times past in the home of Édouard
House-Nov14-05-590Left: The trophy room at the Château de Champchevrier in the Loire valley, where preparations for a hunt are being made. Champchevrier is home to the oldest hunt in France, established in 1804. Right: The garden facade of the magnificent Hôtel d’Orrouer in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, with its unusual ‘tiara’ pediment. Built in 1732 by the architect Pierre Boscry for the Comte d’Orrouer, the residence is now owned by the legendary couturier Hubert de Givenchy

Private Houses Of France: Living With History, by Christiane de Nicolay-Mazery, with photography by Francis Hammond, is published by Flammarion, priced £55.