Angela Sara West talks to Candia Lutyens, granddaughter of renowned architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, about her Alpine home and following in his design footsteps
The granddaughter of the distinguished architect shows us round her château
In 2002, Candia Lutyens, the granddaughter of British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, quit the rat race for a new life in the foothills of the Alps. She and her architect husband Paul experimented with investment properties before buying a magnificent 16th-century château, built from the rubble of a nearby manor house razed by Swiss invaders and a former home to princes, dukes and cardinals.
She spoke to me about her unique home in the historic ski village of Samoëns, nestled in the Giffre valley in the Haute-savoie department. She has filled it with original Lutyens furniture and drawings, showcasing her famous grandfather’s work alongside reproduction pieces from her own interiors companies, Lutyens Furniture & Lighting and Lutyens Contemporary.
Tell me a little about your time as a city broker While at Oxford University, I supported myself by selling pictures door-to-door, and realised I had a talent for sales and an easy way of interacting with people. I decided that I should either go into advertising or stockbroking, and the latter seemed more interesting. I started my career with prominent City firm, Robert Fleming, where I was put on the Japanese equity sales desk. Over the course of nearly 20 years, I worked my way up, via a few different firms, to become Head of Japanese Equity Sales outside of Japan for the Dutch bank ABM Amro, running a team in Bahrain, New York and throughout Europe.
What drove you to move to France, and why did you choose the Alps? When I had finally had enough of working in the City, we felt we needed to get out of London entirely. My husband, who was American, wasn’t fond of the English countryside, and we loved the mountains and the outdoor lifestyle. As a family, we all loved to ski, and our son was racing as a junior and training near Chamonix. We also loved the summer in the mountains and, as we chose to live in the part of the Alps closest to Geneva, we could commute very easily to anywhere we needed to be.
You first bought and restored a 200-year-old farmhouse, in the nearby ski resort of Les Gets in Portes du Soleil... Yes, we experimented for a year to see what it was like to run a catered chalet, more to establish whether it was worth investing in properties for this purpose than because we wanted to do it. We decided after just one year that catered chalets were a bad economic model – fine for those who wanted the lifestyle, but not for those building a property business. You then invested in a seven-bedroom apartment in Morillon... Yes, that was a disaster though as the developer went bust and cost us a large amount of money. It was sold several years ago.
You purchased your property in Samoëns in 2006. Tell me about it and the renovation work you have carried out The building is an old stone château in the centre of Samoëns, built around 1550 next to buildings of a similar age, such as the church and mairie. The interior had not been touched since 1972 and it was badly arranged with very few – but enormous – bedrooms and only two bathrooms. We converted it to an eightbedroom home, all with ensuites. There is not a single space in the interior that we didn’t have a hand in altering.
Does your home boast a scenic panorama? Its aspect is due south and it is raised a bit above the village floor, so we have lovely views over the local mountains. Our terrace is south-facing and becomes another room in summer, though it is rare when we can’t eat lunch outside, even in the middle of winter. You have decorated your property and mixed Sir Edwin’s original pieces with your own contemporary versions. How have you furnished the rooms to showcase his iconic style? The house is quite sparsely decorated, in keeping with my grandfather’s taste. Natural grey granite features throughout, especially framing the windows and doors, and we have kept fabrics and curtains to a minimum to show off the stone. The house is furnished with heirloom pieces and our own furniture and lighting products. Our lighting is largely decorative and we use it against a backdrop of modern spot lighting. Interspersed with this, we have some modern bookcases and storage from a well-known Swedish store which my husband painted and aged to look in keeping with the house. The old chapel has nice natural light and is muraled with portraits of our children in an imaginary landscape. It’s really just a curiosity room, which I now use to store printed materials and my photography gear (I’m a keen amateur photographer).
As it serves as a perfect exhibition space for your grandfather’s designs, you occasionally invite clients to stay at the house to experience living among the furniture. Can you tell me about the busts you have of your grandfather wearing his topee, the sun hat which influenced one of his visual puns? We have copies of my grandfather’s bust inside and out. The one inside is a copy of
The house is quite sparsely decorated, in keeping with my grandfather’s taste – natural grey granite features throughout, and we have kept fabrics and curtains to a minimum to show off the stone
the original and is made of plaster; we then got it copied in bronze for the outside. The original was made for him in Delhi by the workers on the Viceroy’s House. He had used the visual pun of his hat in his subsidiary domes on the building and, in turn, they caricatured him in the bust with his solar topee looking like one of his domes.
You run Lutyens Furniture & Lighting, making reproductions of your grandfather’s designs, from your French home and recently launched Lutyens Contemporary, which adapts your grandfather’s classic designs for the contemporary consumer… Yes. In the mid-80s, my soon-to-be husband and I wanted a Napoleon chair for our new home as my mother had sold hers years earlier. An aunt had just given hers to the Victoria and Albert Museum but the museum allowed us to copy it. Having done so, we thought there may be a business in it and my husband, who was then practising architecture, started to research other furniture designs so that we could put together a portfolio. At the time, only one of us could give up the day job and it was decided that it should be him as my earnings trajectory was greater, and he was the trained designer. I was involved every step of the way, though, fronting the business and helping him with the admin in the evenings and at weekends.
How do you go about adapting your grandfather’s classic designs to the 21st century and giving them a modern twist? With a lot of careful thought and a lot of input from our great designer, who has been with us since the beginning.
You work with London-based design fabricators, Zone Creations, one of the leading companies in its field and a holder of a Royal Warrant from the Queen. How often do you fly back to the UK for business and how do you find the commute? I go when necessary and I can make plans quickly. My nearest airport is Geneva, an hour away, and I usually fly into Gatwick. It’s an easy journey. Did you experience any problems purchasing your French properties? Buying is always easier than selling, particularly after President Hollande’s wealth tax and, more recently, the strength of the euro. Do you have any tips for readers thinking about purchasing property in France? Make sure you are fully aware of the hidden costs of owning a property in France. For example, expenses – tax, tax and more tax. You don’t realise just how much until you get the bills. Also, water is very expensive.
How’s your French? Good, but not fluent. I can do most of what I need to do.
Do you feel fully integrated? Do you get involved in local fêtes/customs? There is a large Anglophone community in Samoëns and we tend to stick together. I am friendly with my French neighbours but we don’t socialise. I enjoy local fêtes. We have a large Nepali community and every year we do a benefit dinner for rebuilding after the earthquake. July 4th sees the US Independence Day celebration, where the village turns ‘American’ with stars and stripes everywhere, a western market for cowboy boots and hats, line dancing in the square, a rodeo and a procession of US cars and Harley-davidsons.
What are your thoughts on the local gastronomy? Do you visit food markets and enjoy cooking? I think Savoyard food is possibly the worst cuisine in France! If I never ate another tartiflette I would be happy. The local market is large and very good for farm vegetables; however, it is expensive for local produce, most of which I can buy for half the price at the supermarket. I love to cook and watch cooking programmes on TV. My collection of cookbooks is bigger than I can store and I have to cull it on a regular basis.
Any favourite eateries? The best restaurant in Samoëns is Le Monde à L’envers and I eat there at least once a week. It is unusual for its fusion food, which is a mixture of Asian, Caribbean, French and Scandinavian influences.
Samoëns is, of course, a playground for skiers in winter. Do you ski often and enjoy a sporty, outdoor lifestyle? Which are your favourite ski resorts? I love to ski but didn’t last winter as I had surgery on my feet in 2016 and wasn’t sufficiently recovered. Samoëns is my favourite ski resort. I don’t often have the time to drive to other ski areas when it is on my doorstep, but I do go to Praz de Lys most years and I like it for its small size and quietness.
And what about the summer, what do you like to do in the warmer months? I much prefer the summers to the winters. I walk and sunbathe, but I have to work, too. It is a joyful area to live in because of its beauty. I love to walk with my four dogs during the summer and winter.
Do you visit other areas of France? I travel extensively through France, mainly by car. I recently drove to Seville in Spain – a 4,000km round trip. I have also recently discovered Lyon, which I would like to return to. The old town is wonderful.
Tell me about your 2014 trip to northern France, taking in the series of war cemeteries built by Sir Edwin? It must have been a very moving experience. The cemeteries and memorials built by him and others in the Amiens area are fantastic pieces of architecture. The cemeteries are moving and deserve great respect but, for me, the architecture of them is the great draw. We also visited his only major house in France in Varangeville-sur-mer, in Seine-maritime. Les Bois des Moutiers is, I think, his finest house of his Arts and Crafts period. The wonderful gardens are open to the public.
What would be your perfect day in France? Walk the dogs early, work at my desk, maybe a quick ski session in the winter and a good lunch with friends.
Finally, what do you love most about France? The countryside and the climate. I have been very happy living here!
View of the mountains over Samoëns The château’s quirky interior Dining in style The château dates back to the 16th century
Atmospheric lighting inside Fun family murals were added Period features were restored
The château enjoys a beautiful Alpine setting Candia Lutyens A mix of old and new furniture was used Murals in the chapel