Designer and TV presenter Mark Selwood and his wife Nicky, Business Director and former fashion executive at TopShop, bought Chateau de la Couronne in Marthon, Charente, in July 2003 for a price that was ‘under £1 million’. At the time it was being used as a private college and so the thirty something couple spent two years transforming it into a luxury five-suite boutique hotel, finally opening their doors to guests in May this year.
This is Mark’s diary from a week during the summer…….
Today Joe Maguire and his girlfriend Hayley from Ealing arrive – and if all goes to plan, they will depart as Joe and his fiancée. When he booked Joe told Nicky he intended to propose to Hayley at the Chateau. We had planned a private, romantic candlelit setting in the garden, but it’s far too windy. Asking someone to share the rest of their life with you while grimly holding down the tablecloth and dodging sprays of molten candle wax is not the ambience we were hoping for. So instead we move to “Suite Two” where Nicky beautifully lights and dresses the balcony overlooking the grounds, puts champagne on ice and secretes the ring where Joe knows it will be. We wait like nervous parents for the couple to return from a local restaurant and adjourn to the suite. An hour later, Joe comes down with the good news. Tears of joy (from Nicky). Our first proposal.
As usual Nicky gets up at 6.30am to start preparing breakfast for our guests. Firmly believing that marriage is an equal partnership, I stumble into the kitchen sometime between 7 and 8 and fulfil my duties of wandering around in a catatonic state, yawning, bumping into things and generally causing havoc. Each morning we collect fresh bread, croissants and pastries from our local village baker, but for the past few weeks they’ve been closed for renovations, so this ten-minute sprint has turned into a 40 minute marathon as we drive to Montbron to collect supplies. And 40 minutes of driving when you aren’t awake enough to recall your own name, let alone complex directions, is quite a task.
By 11am, breakfast has been cleared away and we are getting on with our day. Today it means waiting around for two marquees to be collected. Last year, the Chateau was used as the main location for the film Nos Jours Heureux, so for three months we spent our days watching 80 crew and 60 cast work their socks off. Which was my kind of work. Earlier this week the premiere of the film was held in Marthon, after which we hosted a picnic in the grounds for the cast and crew. Shockingly, my emotionally challenging role of keeping our Great Dane, Hendrix, from barking during takes is not credited.
Looking after a chateau involves regular maintenance, and today is no exception. First the hot water pump failed, a panic station event. Nobody wants a luxurious hotel, with immense bathrooms with two baths, if there’s no hot water. Being a practical type, I took the matter into my own hands and spent an hour hitting the pump with every tool in my garage. Despite this expert attention, it failed to repair itself, so I embarked on Stage Two. A risky strategy that involved shouting until I turned purple in the face. When this had no effect, I called the plumber and went for a lie down.
The sink not draining properly in “Suite 4” was more the kind of problem I could apply my specific range of skills to. After scrabbling around, bending my fingers in ways that nature never intended and exfoliating several ounces of superfluous skin from my knuckles, I retrieved a plastic spoon that had been rammed down the waste pipe. Did I say we welcome children?
A visit from a German magazine journalist for a feature on the hotel. She brought her husband and 12 year-old son, Charles, with her. He had a whale of a time, becoming firm friends with Max, our 9 year old, to the extent that they have invited him to Germany next year. In the space of two days, Max learned more German than I did in three years studying it at school!
We’ve had a lot of attention from around the world and I think that’s because being the type of hotel we are – an eclectic blend of contemporary furniture, commissioned pieces and sixties and seventies design classics in an ancient chateau in the countryside of France – means to offer something very different. Later this year we’ll star in the book ‘Best Designed Honeymoon Hotels (Fusion Publishing). The power of the internet also means the world is your market. So far we’ve had guests from Australasia, Europe, America and the Middle East.
I am in the UK on a two-day visit to my current design project in Devon, and get an unusual phone call from Nicky. She has been collecting 1950s crystal glass for a couple of years, which she sells in the Chateau Boutique. This afternoon a lady phoned from the UK asking for photos – she had been told about it by a guest – and is talking about buying half the collection. Fifties originals are becoming extremely popular in the UK so it looks like Nicky will be off on more buying expeditions soon.
I take the opportunity to check with the boys on their nutrition, as Nicky hates cooking, and find out it is the normal “Mark Is Away” diet of pizza and fish fingers – occasionally at the same time. In the comforting knowledge that they only have to wait until tomorrow to eat something that doesn’t go “ping” when it’s ready, my family seem content.
I return home to find Max and Elliot (our 13 year old son) very, very excited about a new guest who is the image of Michael Owen. When they discover his name actually is Michael, they go off the scale. Our guest Michael, (not Owen), did turn out to be a good footballer and great fun. Having a little girl, he enjoyed himself immensely, spending hours with our boys riding bikes, playing footy and falling off skateboards.
Another picnic in the garden. This time, our local residents’ association is having their first Repas, setting up the barbecue and tables under the au-vent (open building) at the bottom of the grounds. After the first meal at lunchtime, with about 80 people all sitting down, eating, drinking and laughing, there was more chatting and fooling around, and a very competitive Boules games in the background, until it was time for a second at 7.30pm. We finished at midnight, with a warm feeling I couldn’t at first identify. Then I realised: it was the feeling you get when you feel like you are part of a community – something bigger than just you and your family.
Chateau de la Couronne;
00 33 (0)5 45 62 29 96