Fash­ion de­signer Clare Howarth and her hus­band Car­los have turned their el­e­gant home into a chic guest house in the Pi­cardy coun­try­side. A blend of com­fort and style, it is prov­ing a hit with their guests, as Deb­o­rah Cur­tis dis­cov­ers

Living France - - À LA MAISON -

Her two chil­dren grow­ing up and start­ing their own lives was the push Clare Howarth needed to turn her much-loved fam­ily home into a lux­ury guest house in the heart of the Pi­cardy coun­try­side.

She and her Chilean hus­band, Car­los, spot­ted the po­ten­tial of La Mai­son et l’Ate­lier as soon as they saw it, but it was 20 years un­til they had time to bring those early plans to fruition.

“Our first thought on see­ing the house was: ‘This would make a great guest house’,” says Clare, who opened for busi­ness last Septem­ber. “We were just too busy and it took us un­til now to get around to it!”

The property in Crouy-en-Thelle is built in the tra­di­tional brick and stone that is typ­i­cal of the Pi­cardy re­gion, and dates back to the 19th cen­tury. Bor­dered by fields and only 27 miles north of Paris, it over­looks the an­cient forests of Sen­lis and Chan­tilly.

So far, Clare and Car­los have cre­ated two guests rooms in the house but have plans to make two more on the up­per floor of the ate­lier in the grounds where, in the fu­ture, they also in­tend to run work­shops in cook­ing, wine-tast­ing, paint­ing and cab­i­net-making, and in how to pro­duce pol­ished con­crete.

“I just want to take things slowly to see how things de­velop,” says Clare. “I only started do­ing this a few months ago and I’m lov­ing it, but you need to see how things work be­fore you can de­cide what to do next.”

Turn­ing the house into a guest house has been a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion in the labour of love, which Clare and Car­los have put in to cre­at­ing a beau­ti­ful fam­ily home for them­selves and their son and daugh­ter: Hip­polyte and In­dia.

Clare’s back­ground in art, de­sign and fash­ion has been in­stru­men­tal in the re­al­i­sa­tion of the stylish interiors while Car­los, who is a crafts­man by trade, has a deep affin­ity with wood, and this has led to the cre­ation of some stun­ning and unique pieces of fur­ni­ture.

“Al­most all of the fur­ni­ture is vin­tage or made by Car­los pre­cisely to our needs,” says Clare. “He made the ta­ble in the kitchen from a sin­gle solid plateau of trop­i­cal hard­wood; you can imag­ine the size of the tree. They are, of course, pro­tected now and the grain of the wood is so beau­ti­ful.”

Clare’s 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, which have their mer­its and give a truer idea of what those 200 years have looked like.”

The interiors she has cre­ated are light and airy with an eclec­tic mix of the fur­ni­ture, fab­rics, art­work and arte­facts that she loves. “Noth­ing much here is new, but it doesn’t stop it from feel­ing res­o­lutely mod­ern and at the same time time­less. 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.”

One of her favourite rooms is her laun­dry room. Here rows of white cup­boards stand against a dark-red wall. Items which Clare has col­lected over the years of­fer a dis­tinct con­trast, such as the wo­ven bas­kets from the Ivory Coast, which soften the strong lines of the func­tional stor­age space, and her hand­made brushes and clean­ing uten­sils, which are dis­played like a piece of sculp­ture on the wall by the French doors to the gar­den.

“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.”

This is cer­tainly true of the two Fal­con chairs, which are a re­cent ac­qui­si­tion, by Nor­we­gian fur­ni­ture de­signer Sig­urd Re­sell, and now take pride of place in the liv­ing room. De­signed in the 1970s, Clare tracked them down in the UK. “I went chas­ing them all the way to Mar­gate where two Dan­ish broth­ers im­port them from all over Scan­di­navia,” she says. “They are so com­fort­able.”

The beau­ti­ful hard­wood kitchen has

“Noth­ing much here is new, but it doesn’t stop it from feel­ing res­o­lutely mod­ern and at the same time time­less”

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