For London interior designer Clio Wood, buying a sprawling property in rural Limousin was a dream come true. Anna McKittrick finds out more
Having a piece of French property to call her own has always been on Clio Wood’s wish list. So when Clio and her husband Bryn started to think about selling their two-bedroom flat in London Bridge, they soon realised that they could get a lot more for their money across the Channel.
“We looked at the London property market, and we could have chosen to double our money and maybe got one more bedroom, or opt to buy a place in France and a houseboat in East London, which is what we ended up doing,” remembers Clio. “It’s been my dream to buy a house in France, so it’s lovely that it’s finally coming true.”
Clio’s connection to France dates back to her childhood when she used to go on family holidays. “We were one of those families who either went camping in Scotland or to holiday cottages in France, so that’s where my love for the country and the culture started. I’d always been pretty good at languages at school, and went on to study them at university,” says Clio, who lived in Paris during her degree and then went on to teach English in Vendée for six months.
While Clio has spent a lot of time exploring France over the years, she says she didn’t have one particular region that she felt drawn to when it came to deciding where to put down roots. So, after the couple sold their London flat in 2012, she began to research and consider potential locations in France.
The region that ended up capturing their hearts was Limousin. “When I got there I realised that it was just what I was looking for. It’s very typical of rural France with pastoral scenes and storybook countryside,” enthuses Clio, who says they viewed in excess of 50 properties before finding the one – an 18th-century eight-bedroom manor house in Haute-Vienne.
The couple were keen to benefit from a bucolic setting without being too remote, so the property’s location on the outskirts of the small village of Saint-Priest-Ligoure, with a population of around 600, was perfect. The local inhabitants of this tight-knit village have fought hard to keep the school, post office and little shop open, and it’s this sense of community that appealed to Clio and Bryn.
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The couple immediately saw the potential of Manoir la Croix de la Jugie, both as somewhere for them and their families to spend holidays, and as a business opportunity. “We wanted it to be a family holiday home, but for me I’ve always wanted to welcome people,” says Clio who is no stranger to hosting after running a B&B at their London flat. “I used sites like Airbnb and got really good feedback, so it was always an ambition to take it up a step. It’s the perfect opportunity to combine the two and, because we can’t move out there permanently as Bryn is tied to London with work, it means we’re making the most of the property,” adds Clio.
Unlike many large-scale properties in rural France, the manor house didn’t require any structural work. Clio and Bryn bought it from a French family who had lived in it for more than 20 years and taken good care of the property. So luckily for the couple it was more about transforming the decorative aspects, which was ideal for interior designer and furniture maker Clio. “One of the other reasons I wanted to get a place in France is that it’s really lovely for me to be able to get my hands on a nice big space and put my mark on it,” says Clio, who certainly had plenty of rooms to add her deft touch to. “Our flat in London was about 700 square feet, and the house in France is about 6,000 square feet so it’s a bit of a change,” laughs Clio.
Designing the interior scheme for Manoir la Croix de la Jugie was a challenge that Clio relished. She wanted to make sure that she respected the history of the property and made the most of the period features, such as the old beams and the original fireplaces, that add to the charm of the sprawling manor house. “The way that I work as a designer for my business, Clio The Muse, is around upcycling, recycling and being a little bit sustainable, so what I didn’t want to do was go out and buy everything from scratch,” says Clio, who has knitted together pieces the previous owners left behind along with items gifted from their families and furniture from their London flat.
Clio has also sourced second-hand pieces since purchasing the property. “I love all sorts of vintage items and it’s lovely that they are so readily available in France. I enjoy going to the dépôts-ventes held in different villages at the weekends. You can find some absolute gems there. It’s definitely something I wanted to incorporate into the style, because a lot of my work is around taking old or unloved pieces of furniture and reloving them,” says Clio, who was keen to put her own stamp on the property. “It’s very much a French/English meld. We definitely wanted to be inspired and take on board French style, which I love, but there’s also no denying that I have very East London and English influences in my background. I guess it reflects both of those sets of design aesthetics,” she adds.
The result is a stylish yet laid-back bolt-hole, and with six acres of grounds and views of the surrounding countryside, it’s certainly peaceful. It’s this combination of style and substance that Clio and Bryn wanted to create not only for guests but also for them and their families to enjoy. As the couple are based in London, they have a housekeeper who looks after the property and guests in their absence. “The vendors kindly passed on their local contacts and introduced us to them as well. Their former housekeeper and cleaner has continued to work for us. We’ve both been very conscious that we want to build relationships within the community from the beginning and show that we don’t want to isolate ourselves,” enthuses Clio.
It’s an exciting time for the couple as they are about to embark on their first season at Manoir la Croix de la Jugie. They had guests stay over Christmas and during the winter months, and Clio says it was great to get feedback that the property is a cosy place to visit off-season. “We were a bit worried because people think of France for summer holidays and long lazy alfresco lunches and we thought they might not be so receptive to staying in the winter months. But because there are a couple of lovely open fires, the house is actually a really nice space to be with your family whether it’s hot or cold,” says Clio.
The self-catering property sleeps 16+, and with an attached barn that can host 80-100 guests it’s ideal for family celebrations, anniversaries and as a delightful rustic wedding venue. Clio is also planning to run yoga retreats at the manor house, with the first one taking place in June this year. The week-long retreat features two daily yoga sessions, taught by resident yoga instructor Ellie Coats, massages and wholesome homemade food.
The yoga retreat is not the only event that Clio plans to run at the manoir, and later in the year she’s hoping to host craft weekends or hen dos based around creating craft projects such as paper cutting. “I’ve definitely got the skill set to make that work, and because I feel quite passionately about the subject matter, I’m able to be much more genuinely enthusiastic about it,” says Clio.
It’s a busy and exciting time for Clio and Bryn, not only for the business but also as a family, as they are expecting their first baby in August. “When we bought the place in France we really wanted to have somewhere for our families to gather on holiday, so it’ll be lovely to be have a baby in that environment. I would love to send our child to school there and become really immersed in the language,” enthuses Clio, who says she would love to experience living at Manoir la Croix de la Jugie. “It’s not practical for us at the moment, but we’d both like to spend a year or two in Limousin in the next five years and then after that we’ll see how it goes.”