Inspiring French bathrooms
Careful bathroom design can transform a home. Here we meet three property owners who have created rooms that really make a splash
Former wine domaine
Sandie Apthorp combined comfort and style in the design of her bathrooms at Domaine de Nerige, a six-bedroom country home and former wine domaine in Languedoc-Roussillon.
She takes up the story: “It’s all very well having an old house, which we love, but we do not subscribe to being uncomfortable, especially in the bathroom department. We both agreed we would go for spacious rooms with modern equipment. We were lucky enough in being able to completely re-design our house with five en-suite bathrooms, one guest toilet and two further shower rooms in the attached cottage.
“Before we prepared any bathroom designs, we needed to know what products were available in France and naturally their cost.
“Our view is that bathrooms rarely, if ever, get changed once a property has been renovated, unlike decoration and soft furnishings, so we were prepared to invest in good-quality equipment with a modern feel.
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“We were surprised at the number of shops in France selling bathroom equipment. Every DIY superstore stocks these products but there were plenty of independent stores in Carcassonne specialising in bathrooms and tiles.
“We loved the range of French-made products being offered at Ferrand, a superb supplier of Carrelage-Sanitaire-Cuisine, Marbre-Pierre-and Granit. With such a selection it was difficult to make a decision but we finally settled on the fabulous Jacob Delafon range which reflected the clean lines and style we wanted.
“Previously, the house had only one bathroom, so we were starting afresh. We planned to convert bedrooms into bathrooms and move walls where necessary. Our two attic rooms were enormous and gave us scope to do virtually anything.
“We sat down with pen and paper and drew five bathrooms. We dislike small showers, so we started with large independent shower cubicles with three tiled walls and a glass sliding door. One shower is 1.5m x 1.2m, which is quite large! We could not find the right size shower trays so we designed non-slip pebble floors instead which was virtually unknown in this part of France at the time.
“In one attic room, we decided to go ‘off-piste’ and placed a wonderful double-ended bath (with pillows) in the middle of the bedroom, surrounded by up-lighters set in the floor. It makes for a very romantic experience and the room is fought over by our guests.
“Our advice to anyone starting afresh would be to spend time researching the equipment and identify precisely what it is you want in a bathroom, not overlooking floor tiles, wall tiles, heating, ventilation and wow factor!”
Hilary and David Smith explain how they created the bathroom at Maison Occitane, their renovated five-bedroom holiday home in a pretty winemaking village 30 minutes from the coast in Languedoc-Roussillon.
“We came upon our renovated winery in the Languedoc when it was two-thirds of its way to completion, so our concerns with the builder/architect were of the post-construction kind: the style of bathroom and kitchen fittings and fixtures; the colour of walls and doors etc.
“We fell for the house at the outset because of the architect’s clever blending of original features (such as wonderful stone walls and beams throughout, the reclaimed doors, radiators and fittings) with contemporary comfort (insulation, lighting control system and clean lines).
“Of course, as with many romances embarked on during brief sojourns in foreign countries, the honeymoon period ended right after signing on the dotted line. Myriad problems emerged and they were not just snags, there were big issues.
“Major teeth-gnashingly expensive problems including re-laying gas pipes and replacing several beams were just two on the list that awaited us. Two years on, we’re finally enjoying the place and keeping our fingers crossed that there aren’t more unwelcome surprises around the corner.
“We delight in the bathrooms. Often bathrooms are over-designed. They can seem too functional, too technological. An ideal bathroom should be a haven of tranquillity, an escape from hard work, pressures and stress. Where daily ablutions are a pleasure rather than a perfunctory chore.
“Bathing should have a spiritual dimension, where you can relax, surrounded by sensual and tactile natural textures. Fortunately, old French properties have those in abundance.
“Because the building was a winery, we are blessed with spacious rooms with high ceilings. In the bath, you can contemplate the beautiful stone walls and the beams high above you that have been there for more than a hundred years.
“The halogen lights on the beams illuminate these elements. And to complete the sensual experience, there’s a speaker in the ceiling for a built-in sound system!
“Our shower has no boundaries, no nasty doors or cubicles caging you in. You walk into the spray and out of it as naturally as if it were a rain shower. The flooring of the room is divided in three: under the shower, tiles, inclined toward the middle, in the middle under the bath, wooden slats, then tiles again under the wash basin and toilet. The wooden slats cover a drainage channel.
“The ‘plug holes’ for bath and shower are this: the water simply goes through the slats and drains away. This is not necessarily a convenient solution. We have to oil the wooden slats regularly, and the water splashing on the door means we have to paint the door regularly with a transparent waterproof paint. But the aesthetics outweigh the practicalities.
“The choice of contemporary bath and other fittings was in keeping with all our decisions in the house. We believe that by juxtaposing minimalist design with the patina of the past, you achieve a harmony that is greater than the sum of the parts.
“We love the sleekness, the hardness of contemporary design and materials; we love the imperfections, the softness, the longevity of old materials, their connection with history. And we love the synergy the two expressions create together.
“The architect allowed the building to reveal the possibilities to him so it was a sense of discovery for him as to how the space would end up. For that, we are thankful to him.”
Norma Schipper has created eight luxury bathrooms at Ch�teau Fromental, a 15th-century, seven-bedroom ch�teau in Haute-Vienne.
She explains: “After searching for two years we fell in love with our 600-year-old home because it had character, history and it was still in simple authentic condition. The house had 16 rooms and only one bathroom which had been installed in the kitchen, in the 1970s, probably because it was the warmest room in the house.
“Before we started on the restoration we decided that we wanted to convert eight of the rooms into bathrooms so that each bedroom had its own bathroom. It was a luxurious decision but we had the space so we thought, why not?
“We also made the decision that we would create each bathroom while using the existing elements and maintaining respect for the old.
“Since we were doing the entire rebuilding ourselves, we took the time to think, talk and plan each room, and for each bathroom space. In creating the bathrooms, we took the measurements of the room and the measurements of the fixtures we wanted to put into them, then sat and drew out the space in four or five various possibilities. Each time, we moved the shower or bathtub or sink to various corners of the room to better visualise the final result.
“At the same time, we decided on old French country style for the atmosphere of each bathroom which was accentuated by the natural elements already in the room itself. For example most of the bathrooms have exposed stone walls, which we cleaned up and which became part of the decoration.
“Most of the time, we had beautiful oak beam construction which we sanded, treated and stained. These beams were accentuated by painting the area in between the beams an off-white or cream colour. Some bathrooms had big windows bringing lots of light which also created an striking effect and here we usually put in beautiful artisan tiles.
“The fixtures we put in were old French 19th-century style, and more classical to fit our ambience. We then added more wooden elements to the bathroom creating a harmony with the already existing wood, which again added to the country feeling we were looking for. The mirrors and sinks were either made by us from wood or we bought an old wooden mirror or placed the sink in an old but not very valuable armoire, thereby being functional but not too modern.
“Last of all, once everything was painted and finished, we applied the finishing touches and here we chose to add some antique items such as an old bidet or porcelain water carafe, old candle holders, some lace or a cast-iron candle chandelier and lots of baskets and old paintings or drawings and pillows.
“Once finished we had created eight beautiful bathrooms; all very different, respecting the actual space and elements, but making them modern with all of today’s needs. We feel that they are an important part of our home and no matter how much space we had for them, they are all warm, cosy and visually appealing. They all invite you into them and encourage you to take the time to relax and pamper yourself.”
For more information on all these three homes, visit holiday home rentals site www.purefrance.com