TIMOTHY CORRIGAN'S SPECTACULAR FRENCH CHÂTEAU
The American interior designer buys a neoclassical Loire Valley château and transforms it into an exquisitely aristocratic, exceptionally livable home away from home.
Château du Grand-Lucé, interior designer Timothy Corrigan’s palatial estate in France’s Loire Valley, comes with a lovely legend. In 1781 the surrounding village, built mostly of wood, was destroyed by a fire that started in a bakery. The chatelaine, Louise Pineau de Viennay—a daughter of the residence’s original owner, Jacques Pineau de Viennay, Baron de Lucé, a state councillor under Louis XV—supposedly sheltered the townspeople in her splendid outbuildings while she had their homes and shops reconstructed in tuffeau, the region’s creamy white limestone. Eight years later, when the revolution came, not only was the lady of the house spared (her generosity surely remembered) but so were Grand-Lucé and its treasures, among them a room full of rare chinoiserie murals.
By 2003, when the Los Angeles–based Corrigan discovered that the 45,000-square-foot property was being sold by the French government, the building’s neoclassical glories had been dimmed by centuries of paint and decades of benign neglect. Built between 1760 and 1764 by engineer Mathieu de Bayeux, the château had barely been modernized.
A private home until the mid-20th century, it was transformed into a military hospital during World War II and eventually pressed into service as a tuberculosis sanatorium—neither of which did much for its condition, as Corrigan’s new book, An Invitation to Château du Grand-Lucé (Rizzoli), explains. “There was no heat and little electricity,” recalls the designer, who left a successful career in advertising in 1997 to follow his passion for decorating. Still, stumbling across Grand-Lucé was a coup de foudre. “It had such a luminous feeling,” says the Francophile, who previously restored two venerable country residences in this part of the world, one in Normandy, the other near Angers. “You could tell it just needed to be brought back to life.”
Resurrecting the estate, which is entered via a monumental gate facing the village of Le Grand-Lucé’s main square, was certainly daunting. Though the government gladly sold the property to Corrigan in 2004—a feature on Grand-Lucé’s initial renovation appeared in AD’s September 2009 issue—the transfer came with a double-edged honor.
The château is a historical monument, meaning that every shade of paint the designer planned to use had to be vetted by Les Architectes des Bâtiments de France, fearsome watchdog of the nation’s patrimony.
Luckily Corrigan’s furnishings were of minor interest to those officials, so he has cheerfully ornamented a marble bust in the entrance hall with a turquoise necklace and accessorized a mantel in a bedroom with Day of the Dead figures from Mexico. “I didn’t want the place to take itself too seriously,” the designer says. “We’re not in a museum. The message is, we’re just having fun.”