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
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.”
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