Renovating the chateau kitchen was not originally a high priority as we felt it was functional enough and there were plenty of other projects to keep us occupied. But during our first stay in February 2015 the reality sunk in with an oven that shorted the power every time you used it, temperamental hot plates, water we were not sure was drinkable, suspect damp issues and a very dark and cold room. So, renovating the kitchen went to the top of the priority list but if we wanted to be able to do all the works when we returned for the summer then all the preparation, planning and scheduling had to be completed before we left in three weeks. Not a lot of time to plan out what is quite a large kitchen. Luckily my daughter Jade who is a fab at design was on hand and between us we managed to come up with a workable plan.
Given the age of the chateau I felt a traditional style kitchen was appropriate but at the same time I wanted a bit more of a modern take on the rustic country style kitchen. The kitchen also needed to work whether it was just the two of us or a full house of guests and I also wanted it to work as a cooking school. The end result was extra wide aisles, bench cabinetry that is mainly drawers, zoned areas, two dishwashers (no more dirty dishes sitting on the sink ever again), a large central island bench, farmhouse sink and the fabulous ESSE wood stove, which I wonder how I ever did without. But how did it all happen…..
The kitchen was first stripped back to the bare stone wall, layers of floor tiles removed and the floor levelled as originally it was two or more smaller rooms. The doorway thru to the pantry (which was previously the laundry) was moved and new electrics and plumbing were installed. The ceiling was repaired and the beautiful wooden beams lightly sanded and waxed. I am often surprised when showing before and after photos that people will comment ‘oh you put beams in” but there were always there. Just overshadowed I think by everything else in the room. Finally, the room was ready to turn into the perfect kitchen.
We were very fortunate to stumble across a local kitchen company Mobalpa and Francois the most accommodating kitchen salesman you could ever hope for. It’s not usual in France to ask for something that they don’t have, if an item is offered in blue and red it would be most unusual to ask if they have it in green. But I didn’t know that so when the options for the cabinetry were either matt shabby chic or a glossy white I naturally asked could I have something in between. I am not sure he knew what to say but being obliging his response was “certainly Madame” and we agreed doing the shabby chic with one extra cost of paint might give me the look I wanted. But, if it didn’t work then we would need to repaint all the cabinetry after it had been installed. Installation of the cabinetry was challenging as nothing is straight, square or level and an installation that would normally be done over a couple of days stretched into a couple of weeks with daily problems to resolve.
The ESSE and farmhouse sink were ordered from the UK, the rest of the appliances were
sourced by Francois. I gave him a list of what features I needed on each of the appliances and then he found the solutions. As an experienced cook I really don’t need or use many of the features you get nowadays on appliances and so the basic models are more than adequate and often half the price when without all the bells and whistles.
Sourcing the marble countertops nearly drove me mental. First, I had to drive around the country side looking at slabs of marble till I found exactly the right one. Then the marble supplier tried every tack possible to talk me out of having marble countertops and even the guy in the factory went on a go slow (as a form of protest) during the cutting. Apparently, the French don’t do marble in the kitchen – probably something to do with the fact they usually take the kitchens with them when they move out. But I can be pretty persistent and I think in the end they decided it was easier to just go along with me rather than try and argue.
However, watching 8 men carry a 2 metre slab of marble from one end of the chateau to
the other was just too stressful and at that point I retreated to the front terrace with a strong gin and tonic. In the end however the marble suppliers felt it was one of the best kitchens they had ever seen and the loved the marble in this “unusual” application.
For the floor we used end grain wood blocks. I had been unsure about what to use as I felt tiles would be too cold and parquetry didn’t seem right plus the floor was not 100% level. Then on a visit to the Paris Flea Market I literally stumbled across these amazing wooden cobblestones. Apparently, years ago they used these wooden cobblestones outside theatres in order to muffle the noise of the carriages of late arriving patrons. I felt they were the perfect solution for the floor but sourcing a supplier was not easy nor was cajoling the trades into laying them. But once laid they look fabulous are great to stand and walk on and easy to maintain. In fact I loved them so much I then used them again the guesthouse.
Finally, after three months of having just a toaster and microwave for a kitchen and doing the dishes in the laundry sink the kitchen was ready and I could add the finishing touches. The industrial style lights help balance out the country feel, the blue and white ginger jars add some colour whilst the kitchen bench styling changes with the season. The end wall still needs cabinetry and so I am on the lookout for a fab old dresser or antique shop shelving I can then fill withcookbooks and my china collection, the perfect kitchen stools still elude me as does finding that perfect item for the chimney hood. But without doubt it is my dream kitchen and is definitely the heart of the chateau.