Inside the historic château that’s been transformed into a cosy family home

Deep in the Charente countryside of Southwest France, artist, interiors stylist and photographer Isabelle Dubois-Dumée and her family have swapped a Parisian lifestyle for a fairytale existence in their 12th-century château.

In 2013, Dubois-Dumée, her husband Hubert Bettan and their three young daughters spent a family holiday near the town of Angoulême in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region. ‘We were happily settled in Paris, but something stirred inside us that summer: a sense of freedom, a desire for new experiences, the lure of the untamed countryside,’ says Dubois-Dumée.

Interested in local history and property, they took a spontaneous trip to a castle, which happened to be for sale. The visit turned out to be life-defining. The family fell in love with the idea of having an adventure, living at a slower pace in tune with nature, while bringing the run-down Château de Dirac back to life as their new home.

The château was built using white limestone typical of the region and was originally constructed as a defensive fortress with four towers, a moat and a drawbridge. When Dubois-Dumée and her family arrived, the towers were uninhabitable, the main building dilapidated and the roof in a state of total disrepair.

‘It was incredibly exciting and utterly overwhelming,’ says Dubois-Dumée. ‘We had so many ideas, but a limited budget and lots of things that needed attention.’

Today, the couple are concentrating on enjoying the restoration process, making the place habitable room by room. They have embraced its imperfections and championed a simple, natural interior in contrast to the imposing architecture. 

‘Nature is my guiding thread, my signature. I use wood, rattan, ceramics, linens and stone to create interiors that blend with the landscape beyond,’ says Dubois-Dumée.

Make do and dazzle

Large rattan pendant lights make an impact in the kitchen. With so much of their budget needing to be spent on costly projects such as restoring the roof, the couple have made many pieces of furniture themselves.

The dining table was created with trestles and wood found on site, the chairs are secondhand finds.

Laidback layering

Different materials have been used to create a cosy living room. The homemade wooden coffee table sits on a large jute rug. Woven pouffes provide informal seating and a large corner sofa, made using crates and wooden planks, is topped with an array of cushions.

Great estate

The 12th-century Château de Dirac is built from limestone and set in 20 acres of meadow and woodland. Isabelle and Hubert are rewilding the castle meadows and have created a large vegetable garden where they grow their own food.

Stack hack

Another trademark of Isabelle’s style is the bespoke storage she makes from stacked wooden crates.

A softer touch

Lighting a large house can be expensive, so Isabelle has strung rows of affordable rattan fairy lights across this room. The bedlinen is vintage French

Va-va verdant

Isabelle has used her signature green paint throughout to highlight the architraves and skirting boards. ‘I love to use green in my interiors – it is a constant reminder of the way the countryside bursts with a thousand shades.’ The original floor tiles help to keep the house cool in summer

Your own French fancy 

Here’s our pick of the chateaux for sale right now 

Uzerche, Southwest France

With its wooden floors and range kitchen, this 14-bed château is as country-house comfortable as it is spacious. Around £2,506,970

Tournon- Saint-Pierre, Loire Valley

Rebuilt in the 18th century, this comes with 11 bedrooms, a park with a lake and a swimming pool. Around £1,432,555

Jazeneuil, Southeast France

Think grand salons, eight bedrooms and extensive grounds set in lush countryside. Around £1,151,160

 The properties are available through hamptons-international.com

This is an edited extract from A Home for all Seasons by Kay Prestney and Becca Cherry (Ryland Peters & Small, £25. To order a copy for £21.25 until 7 July, go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937. free UK delivery on orders over £25

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