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
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”