Words and Styling by Emily Wheeler
Photography by Ingrid Rasmussen, all rights reserved
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Manoir de la Foulquetiere is bursting with beautiful pieces of antique furniture, whimsical oddities and objets d’art collected by Rosemary Conquest over the years. The enormous collection is testament to a career as an antique dealer that has spanned more than thirty years and seen Rosemary run a successful antique shop in London, counting Ralph Lauren, Nicole Fahri, Katharine Hamnett and Liv Tyler among her regular clients before moving to France and embarking on two major house restoration projects.
It was the numerous outbuildings at the Manoir, which had so many possibilities for restoring and storing the French antiques that she loves, that attracted Rosemary and her husband Richard to the property. That and the sheer beauty and romanticism of the house, which has its own fourteenth century vaulted chapel, a protected historical building. “It’s a beautiful, peaceful place to be. All you can hear are the birds singing, the frogs in chorus on the lake in summer and the occasional rumble of a tractor,” Rosemary says. “When we first came to view it, our first impression of the tower at the gateway with the lake beside it was that it looked like a fairytale. It has a beautiful atmosphere inside and is surrounded by its own countryside so once you’ve come through the gates you are in its own little world.”
Rosemary and Richard bought the house in the spring of 2010 and worked continuously for a year to restore and redecorate the Manoir and its three gites. While parts of the property date from the fourteenth century and were on the medieval pilgrim’s trail to Spain, much of the Manoir owes its character to its eighteenth century reinvention when the owners were made Barons of Foulquetiere. “Because it is such a big property and the maintenance is huge, we couldn’t have gone forward unless all the basics were done to a good standard. The best stone masons in France had restored the fourteenth century chapel – the French equivalent of English Heritage – because the house is a ‘monument historique’, so all that was left to do was the interior of the house and gites.”
“We’ve got wonderful workshops for restoring antiques so that I can work without infringing on the house,” Rosemary says. “There’s also so much space in the house that we can enjoy a piece in situ before we decide to sell it. We’re creating a showroom here so that visitors can buy things or if guests like the furniture that is in the gite that they’re staying in, they can buy it and then I can replace it with another piece I have waiting.”
Rosemary has such a talent for interior design that the furniture and décor she has chosen look as though they might always have been there. This is quite an achievement given that the house and garden had been sadly neglected for a number of years before Rosemary and Richard bought it, other than the structural work that the previous owners had undertaken. When the couple moved in, there was still much restoration work to do and the interiors had not been decorated since the 1980s when the house was fitted with dark blue carpets and peach bathroom suites. Luckily, the house and outbuildings were in very good shape structurally and the panelled dining room and chateau stone salon are bathed in natural light that floods through the original windows overlooking the gardens.
“I love being in the salon, looking at the medieval window overlooking the garden and early in the morning when I’m in the kitchen and I can see the lake through the window,” Rosemary says. “In the summer we have all the doors open and the thick stone keeps the house cool, we keep the door to the garden open and have our meals by the side of the lake. It is very airy and light in the summer, but in the winter with the curtains closed and huge log fires in the amazing fireplaces it is quite cosy.” Indeed, each room in the house boasts its own original fireplace made from beautiful pale chateau stone, ensuring the cold winters are made a little less harsh and providing each space with a dramatic focal point.
It has been a huge project to decorate and furnish the Manoir and gites. Rosemary bought much of the furniture at the sprawling French antique fairs in the South of France, choosing pieces to complement the period and character of the house, adding flea market finds, family heirlooms and contemporary touches in the kitchens and bathrooms. Her style is classic French, very romantic, effortlessly chic and wonderfully theatrical all at once. The result is a beautiful family home for her children and grandchildren when they visit and a stunning holiday destination for the guests who are lucky enough to stay in the self catering accommodation.
Rosemary developed a passion for interior design while she was training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London in the 1970s, where she designed and made sets for numerous operas. “Even as a student I used to potter around Portobello and buy antiques and vintage clothes and I loved set design when I was studying at the Guildhall. It’s about trying to evoke an atmosphere or a feeling,” she says. “I don’t like very formal things. I’ve never liked antiques because of their value, but because they appeal aesthetically and I’ve always liked romantic things and thought about where you could place something to juxtapose it against an interesting texture like a crystal wall light against stone or an interesting textile.”
Richard’s influence can be seen throughout the house too with numerous abstract paintings adorning the walls, a bust of his musical hero Beethoven overseeing proceedings on the console table in the salon and a reproduction of Beethoven’s death mask lending a sobering feel to the study. Indeed artwork is of huge importance to the couple who also have a collection of contemporary ceramics and vases on display in the entrance hall.
The main house runs along one side of the courtyard and leads from a dramatic panelled dining room through to the salon, which was complete with its original fireplace and medieval stained glass window. A collection of fifteenth century candlesticks and carved ornaments sit atop the large French sideboard in the salon while a Swedish bench sofa and clock are reminders of Rosemary’s days dealing French and Swedish antiques from her shop in London. Comfortable seating and plenty of cushions make this a relaxed and informal space while crystal wall lights and a beautiful mirror add glamour. Doors on either side of the house lead either to the courtyard or onto the couple’s private garden at the back of the house, which overlooks a lake complete with rowing boat and waterlilies. Also on the ground floor of the main house is a smaller salon, which the couple use as a study and music room and which doubles as an annexe to the master bedroom.
With an eye for the subtle and muted tones associated with French style, Rosemary has chosen pieces throughout that sit harmoniously next to each other, the effect being peaceful and relaxing. Her use of luxurious textiles next to faded paintwork or chalky stone keep it from feeling too precious to relax in, while crystal wall lights and beautiful mirrors hinting at the distressed mercury behind their glass add drama and allude to the aristocratic history of the property. Remarkably, the same care and attention to detail has been taken in all of the guest accommodation, which is also furnished with French antiques and Rosemary’s inimitable luxurious yet comfortable style.
The couple have three gites for paying guests to stay in. While the largest gite will happily sleep six adults, the smaller gites have been cleverly converted from an eighteenth century pigeonniere (a large dovecote, which the French aristocracy built to display their wealth) and a small guest house. Both are very romantic with only enough space for a couple to stay in and have been hugely popular. Rosemary has decorated all of the guest accommodation in the same romantic French style as her own house and each gite has antique chandeliers, mirrors and armoirs while the bathrooms and kitchens have been sensitively modernised to provide modern comfort in a chic, contemporary style. ‘Each one was different because some of the bathrooms could be easily updated by replacing taps and tiles or by adding panelling and wooden floors, which we painted. In the blue bedroom, which we thought was so romantic, we decided to put a reproduction slipper bath in the bedroom and convert a smaller joining room into a loo. We added a large gilded mirror and antique crystal chandelier so that when you open the door it looks like a box of jewels. The other bathroom is very clean, white and contemporary.’
‘In the kitchen, there were very old carved dark wooden cupboards, which had a great shape and look and I thought it would be a shame to remove them so we painted all the cupboards white and tore out all the old tiles and replaced them with new ones and a new worktop. We put in the latest appliances and it became a cosy place to prepare meals and sit at the table and chat to friends or family.’
Despite the extensive renovations and decorating work that Rosemary has undertaken, it is probably the Manoir’s extensive gardens that are her biggest challenge. The Manoir sits in ten hectares (25 acres) of grounds, which include a forest, lake and a large walled garden. The grounds are home to a forest of ancient trees and there are numerous old rose bushes, whilst in the spring the grounds are covered in wild snow drops and cyclamen. The gardens had been sadly neglected for a number of years and Rosemary has valiantly set about restoring them to their former beauty by sewing new lawns and planting more roses and flowering shrubs. She has great plans for the walled garden, taking inspiration from some of the historical gardens that can be seen at nearby chateaux, and plans to introduce antique statues, a small pool with a fountain and a rose covered gazebo. Over the past year she has also created an extensive vegetable garden and this, combined with the ancient orchard and fruit trees, has provided organic produce for family and guests throughout the year.
With her plans for the future including a thriving antique business, the renovation of two more outbuildings into gites and the restoration of the Manoir’s gardens, Manoir de la Foulquetiere is sure to keep Rosemary busy for many years to come.
For enquiries visit www.manoirfoulquetiere.com.