SIS­TER ACT

Sis­ters Kate and Ruth Guilor fell in love with a tra­di­tional Périg­ord prop­erty in Dor­dogne, trans­form­ing it into a re­lax­ing re­treat that com­bines con­tem­po­rary and clas­sic French style, says Gil­lian Har­vey

Living France - - Contents -

Read how sis­ters Kate and Ruth Guilor trans­formed a tra­di­tional Périg­ord prop­erty into a re­lax­ing re­treat

The lush land­scape of Dor­dogne, with its scat­ter­ing of châteaux, vine­yards and small coun­try towns has long been favoured by the Bri­tish – its olde-worlde charm thought by some to re­flect English life in a by­gone era. The ru­ral idyll of­fered by this well-known area is also an ideal back­drop for those want­ing a re­lax­ing break, or a quiet re­treat in which to tap into their cre­ative side.

How­ever, when Kate Guilor, 53, de­cided to sell her award-win­ning B&B in Dorset and pur­chase a prop­erty in France, with sis­ter Ruth, 56, it was Char­ente-Mar­itime that first caught their at­ten­tion. “We saw about six prop­er­ties in the area, but none of them seemed quite right,” ad­mits Kate.

It was then that the sis­ters de­cided to ex­plore new ar­eas. “After look­ing ex­ten­sively in Gironde and, again, find­ing noth­ing that suited our needs, we be­gan to feel as if we’d never find the right place,” ex­plains Kate. “Then, when we ex­tended our search to Dor­dogne, we hap­pened upon ‘La Ron­cière’. Hav­ing found the prop­erty on the in­ter­net, we quickly ar­ranged to have a view­ing.”

The move was prompted both by a shared love of France and the de­sire for a new chal­lenge. “I was run­ning a suc­cess­ful bou­tique bed and break­fast, but I didn’t feel that I was ful­filled; I wanted more of a chal­lenge,” ex­plains Kate. “At the same time, Ruth was in a very stress­ful job as a sales and mar­ket­ing man­ager for a large firm. We were both wor­ried that she’d make her­self ill if she con­tin­ued. It was def­i­nitely time for a change.”

Hav­ing lived to­gether for over 20 years, the sis­ters had no qualms about mak­ing the move to­gether. “We de­cided we

wanted to run cour­ses – art, pho­tog­ra­phy, French, for ex­am­ple, as well as to pro­vide some­where peo­ple can study, paint or sim­ply re­lax,” ex­plains Ruth. “So it was a new di­rec­tion for both of us.

“As we’ve both had stress­ful jobs in the past, we also wanted to of­fer a real es­cape from the pres­sures of ev­ery­day life,” adds Kate. “So the ac­com­mo­da­tion needed to be just right.”

THE RIGHT CHOICE

Driv­ing through the Dor­dogne coun­try­side, to­wards the com­mune of Lu­nas, the sis­ters knew in­stinc­tively they’d made the right choice. “It was just gor­geous; it’s dif­fi­cult to put into words,” says Kate. And when they were fi­nally in­tro­duced to what would prove to be their French home, they knew that they had found the right prop­erty. “The house was just beau­ti­ful,” con­tin­ues Kate. “Large enough for our needs, but not aus­tere. A typ­i­cal Périg­or­dian house, laid out around a pretty court­yard. It had a won­der­ful at­mos­phere – and it felt that the prop­erty was open­ing up its arms to us.”

Hav­ing ex­plored the area and fallen in love with nearby Berg­erac, the sis­ters de­cided to put in an of­fer. “We ne­go­ti­ated the price down a bit,” re­veals Ruth. “But we didn’t look at any other prop­er­ties in the area.”

The white walls and ex­posed beams pro­vided the ideal back­drop for Ruth and Kate’s ex­ist­ing fur­ni­ture and or­na­ments that they moved over from the UK and ac­quired over years of shop­ping in an­tiques out­lets and ex­plor­ing lo­cal sales. “Our tastes are quite dif­fer­ent,” ex­plains Kate. “I’m more into mod­ern items with clean lines and Ruth prefers more classical de­sign. But it just seems to work when we knit the two to­gether. We’ve never dis­agreed over any­thing and we feel our two styles com­ple­ment each other – we call it ‘con­tem­po­rary clas­sic’.”

The prop­erty it­self pro­vides a wealth of ac­com­mo­da­tion, in­clud­ing a ‘win­ter salon’ and ‘sum­mer salon’, geared to sea­sonal tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions and dec­o­rated ac­cord­ingly. “My favourite room is the sum­mer salon,” says Kate. “There is glass on three sides, and I love to sit look­ing over the gar­den and see­ing the deer and other wildlife that ex­plore our grounds.”

HOME FOR ALL SEA­SONS

In con­trast, the win­ter salon with its large stone fire­place, soft fur­nish­ings and wooden beams is the ideal nook for win­ter days, snug­gling up in front of a warm fire or curl­ing up with a book in a leather armchair, lit by an an­tique lamp.

With the prop­erty mainly laid out on one floor, bed­rooms ben­e­fit from large win­dows and plenty of light. Each re­flects slightly dif­fer­ent el­e­ments of Kate and Ruth’s taste, with the ex­posed stonework, large, orig­i­nal fire­place and solid wood fur­ni­ture of the main bed­room con­trast­ing de­light­fully with the bright white walls

The white walls and ex­posed beams pro­vided the ideal back­drop for Ruth and Kate’s ex­ist­ing fur­ni­ture and or­na­ments, moved over from the UK

and mod­ern, mir­rored fur­ni­ture in the third bed­room.

All bathrooms are con­tem­po­rary and lux­u­ri­ous, with three of the rooms ben­e­fit­ting from en suites, and two oth­ers shar­ing a bath­room.

The fifth bed­room, tucked up in the eaves and ac­cessed by its own stair­case, is a de­light­ful nook with slanted ceil­ings and a smat­ter­ing of ex­posed dark beams. By us­ing sim­ple fur­nish­ings, the sis­ters have made the most of the nat­u­ral beauty of this fea­ture, which con­trasts de­light­fully with the bright white walls and mod­ern print fab­rics.

Scat­tered through­out the prop­erty are pretty vin­tage lamps, jugs sourced at lo­cal vide-gre­niers, bowls brought over from Eng­land, with the dif­fer­ent styles blend­ing to­gether and, while eclec­tic, it is clear that each room has been care­fully thought out. “We’re still adding fur­ther fin­ish­ing touches,” adds Kate. “We love vis­it­ing an­tiques mar­kets and vide-gre­niers to see what we can find, and our col­lec­tion has built up over the years.”

Out­side, in the gen­er­ous 4.3 hectares of gar­den and wood­land, there is a beau­ti­ful swim­ming pool with an ad­join­ing pool house. “The pool can be heated, but we haven’t had to use the heat­ing so far, as it’s stayed a lovely 26 de­grees all sum­mer,” says Kate. “Guests have en­joyed re­lax­ing at the end of a long day; I think a pool is es­sen­tial with such hot sum­mers. Whereas in Eng­land we were near the sea, here we’re more in­land, so it’s lovely to be able to pro­vide some­where guests can cool off and un­wind.”

HID­DEN PAST

Other than a small court­yard area, the rest of the grounds are sim­ply laid to lawn – all main­tained by Kate and Ruth – with an ad­di­tional area of wood­land, where sev­eral an­cient oak trees give the prop­erty an es­tab­lished feel. A tree-lined walk­way high­lights the for­mer ac­cess to the prop­erty, which is too nar­row for use nowa­days, pro­vid­ing a lovely nod to the his­tory of the build­ing.

“We would love to know more about the build­ing – when it was built, how it’s been used over the years – but in France it’s very dif­fi­cult to find this in­for­ma­tion out,” says Kate. “It’s a real shame, as it’s a lovely tra­di­tional prop­erty and I’d re­ally en­joy know­ing more about its past.”

The prop­erty it­self com­prises 400m2 of liv­ing space, and has the added ben­e­fit of a small cot­tage of 60m2, which the sis­ters some­times move to when they let the house. “We run cour­ses in the spring and au­tumn, but it’s too hot dur­ing the sum­mer for peo­ple to study,” ex­plains Ruth. “This year we let the house for six weeks and moved to the lit­tle cot­tage to give guests plenty of space.”

Hav­ing hosted their first course,

‘Ad­vanced French’, in Oc­to­ber, the sis­ters plan to of­fer a wealth of dif­fer­ent choices for the 2017 sea­son. “We’ve al­ways been quite cre­ative,” ex­plains Ruth. “I went to art school, and we’ve both done bits and pieces over the years – pot­tery cour­ses and sewing for ex­am­ple. We’ve al­ways en­joyed learn­ing new skills, so de­cided to of­fer pro­fes­sion­ally run cour­ses for vis­i­tors.

“Hav­ing been in the bed and break­fast busi­ness for years in Dorset, we’ve got lots of con­nec­tions, and it’s been very ex­cit­ing ex­plor­ing dif­fer­ent op­tions,” adds Kate. “We’re also of­fer­ing fully in­clu­sive breaks along­side the cour­ses, so par­tic­i­pants don’t have to worry about any­thing.

“Peo­ple can come along and study, or ac­com­pany their part­ner or friend and just have a re­lax­ing break while the other at­tends a course,” ex­plains Kate. “We’re very flex­i­ble.”

While Ruth is the ded­i­cated chef at La Ron­cière, both sis­ters pitch in equally to make the breaks run as smoothly as pos­si­ble. “Ruth’s been cook­ing a lot of French dishes,” says Kate. “It’s lovely to of­fer guests some­thing tra­di­tional dur­ing their stay. She will cook the main, but I might pre­pare a starter, and I do all the front of house.”

Al­though it’s early days for the en­ter­prise, both sis­ters feel very set­tled in their new home. “Some­thing about be­ing here just seems right,” says Kate. “My French isn’t up to much yet, but I’m work­ing on it.

“Every­one has been so wel­com­ing – the lo­cals are pleased, I think, that there are per­ma­nent res­i­dents here, as be­fore the build­ing was used as a hol­i­day home. They like to see new per­ma­nent res­i­dents in the area.

“Com­ing here, it feels as if ev­ery­thing has fallen into place; we’re re­ally happy and ex­cited about the chal­lenges ahead.”

Open­ing pages: La Ron­cière’s cosy ‘win­ter salon’ with its stone fire­place These pages, clock­wise from main: The prop­erty’s fifth bed­room is tucked up in the eaves; La Ron­cière is in the tra­di­tional Périg­orid­ian style; the bed­rooms ben­e­fit from large win­dows which let in plenty of light

The warm sum­mers make this a re­lax­ing re­treat The bathrooms are dec­o­rated in a con­tem­po­rary style

Above: Kate and Ruth have fur­nished their home with pieces they brought with them from the UK, as well as new items pur­chased in an­tiques out­lets

The ‘sum­mer salon’ is a light, bright room; out­side liv­ing be­comes the norm dur­ing the warm months

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