Running a luxury guesthouse in Picardy

Running a luxury guesthouse in Picardy

Once their children had flown the nest, one expat couple finally got time to turn their family house in Picardy in northern France into a luxury guesthouse

Fashion designer Clare Howarth always knew her much-loved family home in France had potential, but it was only after her children had grown up and started their own lives that she set about transforming the house into a luxury guesthouse. “We thought it would make a great guesthouse when we first saw it,” explains Clare. “But we were just too busy, and it took us until now to get around to it.”

The property in Crouy-en-Thelle, in the heart of Picardy, is built in the traditional brick and stone that is typical of the region, and dates back to the 19th century. Its design fitted the bill for a beautiful guesthouse and in September 2015, La Maison et l’Atelier opened for business.

Turning the family home into a guest house has been a labour of love for Clare and her husband, Carlos. So far, they have created two guests rooms but have plans to make two more where they will run workshops in cooking, wine-tasting, painting and cabinet-making. “I want to take things slowly to see how things develop,” says Clare.

The interior design

Clare’s background in art, design and fashion has been instrumental to the stylish interiors while craftsman Carlos has created some stunning pieces of furniture including the beautiful hardwood kitchen. “Almost all of the furniture is vintage or made by Carlos precisely to our needs,” says Clare.

Clare’s design philosophy has been to pull together all the original features and the later additions to the structure and décor, to continue the story of the house in a harmonious way. In the living room, for example, the pink and grey marble floor, the huge brick and stone fireplace, and the cast-iron radiators all arrived at different points in the property’s long history but now all sit together in complete accord. “There was never any intention to strip the house back to what it was originally,” she says. “How would we have done that anyway? The house is 200 years old. What would we have stripped it back to? It is more about accepting its evolution and respecting the contributions made throughout time, giving a truer idea of what those 200 years have looked like,” Clare explains.

A light and airy theme runs throughout the interiors, brightened with an eclectic mix of the furniture, fabrics, artwork and artefacts that Clare loves. Her preference for all things personal means avoiding popular trends. “It’s important to mix the vintage with the new, and many of the things here I’ve had for so long, and yet they always find their place. Avoiding fashion, ironically, helps to make something more timeless and personal,” she says.

“I’m a pretty conscientious anti-consumer,” says Clare. “I’m really careful about what I acquire, and before I buy anything, I’m sure I really love and need it, and that it will do for a long time.”

The colours Clare has chosen for the guest rooms are a restful pale grey and white, with black wood and metal work as a strong accent colour. The beds are both king size and the linen and towels are beautiful quality. One of the rooms has a window at both ends so, to keep the light and airy feel, Carlos built a glass wall to screen the bathroom from the bedroom area. He also made the headboards in both rooms and worked with a local metal worker to create the wood and metal console tables.


Outside, a lush garden extends over an acre, out to the boundaries of the property, and which Clare created from scratch. “When we first came here, there was no garden. “When we first came here, there was no garden. The land was a paddock for horses, and the outbuildings were stables. I didn’t know anything about plants then, but I just started by planting trees. I brought a lot of them home in the back of the car!”

“I wanted the garden to look good in winter so I have planted a lot of things that look good when they are dead,” she says. “I don’t cut the garden back till February. It looks fantastic especially when it’s covered in frost and snow. “The trees also look fabulous in autumn, and the garden is now lit beautifully too. I just love being out there. I completely lose track of time in the garden. I forget to eat!”

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