dimanche 28 février 2010

Lark.........what lark?

Up with the lark for an early morning brocante..............Well actually up before the lark...into a lashing rain storm and a gale.....but when brocanting calls...rain, gales and larks just don`t count!

Found some gorgeous shabby chic treasures to list this week............want to keep it all for myself as usual......

Home to light a roaring log fire and watch the marsh slowly start to flood again. Quite a good feeling to be tucked inside and warm with the rain lashing against the windows. The deep cellar below this tiny old house is ankle deep in rain water....oh...bonus....indoor pool!!!! Perhaps the bathing beauty on that 19th century invoice above may call for a dip!

Today is the last official day of the hunting season on the marshes and I am delighted that now all the ducks can finally relax.Obviously that lark is so relaxed he stayed in bed!
So.............photographs to take....a 19th century sea chest to polish....a missing lark to find!
A la prochaine.............

samedi 27 février 2010

What lies behind the shabby shutters........................

I am so desperate to look inside this wonderful old house.............

It looks to me as though those fabulous doors and shutters have not been opened for years............

I wonder what crumbling vintage treasures lie inside? I wonder if I would be overwhelmed or disappointed...............perhaps it`s just better to carry on wondering!

vendredi 26 février 2010

Brocante & baguettes.............

Vendredi starts with a wander around our local market. It is never a quick affair with many greetings, hugs and kisses. Sometimes two kisses , sometimes four, I am never sure which I am going to get so usually hover about after the second just in case!!!

So much wonderful fresh produce to choose from..........

Followed by a truffle around our local brocante for treasures......

Then a large steaming chocolat chaud in the local cafe. A wonderful way to start the day.
I LOVE Fridays!!!!

jeudi 25 février 2010

I knew she would come back..............

A long time ago I sold a copy of this wonderful large 19th century French print to a client. The minute he left with her I regretted the sale. It has taken me 15 years to find another and I am delighted. She is definitely staying this time!

mercredi 24 février 2010

Everyone should have a Hercule....................

How I adore my old 1930s enamel range! When we moved here I knew that I had to find something very special to fit into the large fireplace in our cuisine. I heard that there was a wonderful old range for sale just outside Paris - so off we went to look at it.

We arrived at an old house which was about to be renovated, the owner explaining that this was the reason for wanting to replace the range. The cooker was in amazing condition for its age and it didn't seem to have been used very much either. I was so over the moon with it that I really didn`t care if it actually worked or not; my priority was to fill the original fireplace in our house with a nice decorative item which was in keeping with the original cuisine. We had hired a small van to transport it and, with help from a whole host of people who seemed to appear by magic from nowhere - and after a bit of typical French discussion (which seemed to get louder and louder as one person's idea was spurned by another) on how to move it - we eventually managed to get it loaded.

I did know that old ranges and agas can be temperamental at times and have little foibles of their own, and mine was no exception. After a number of test runs I eventually discovered the best positions to place all the openings to achieve a wonderful fire - but found myself talking to it as I did so! As a result, we decided that it should have a name. And as the range carries the name of its Belgian maker, who better than Hercule (after Poirot, the Beligian detective)

We managed to get Hercule home safely - only to discover that his weight prevented us lifting it up the stone steps into the house! So Hercule spent the night standing dejected and alone in the garden until the following morning, when our neighbouring farmer, hearing of our plight, turned up with his tractor and very carefully hoisted and positioned Hercule onto the top step, where we then able to man-handle him into his rightful place. Over coffee afterwards, the farmer told me to wait a moment as he thought he had an old stove pipe that would fit - and he was right. He duly returned with a chimney pipe which fitted perfectly. Hercule was filled with paper, wood and some coal -and off he went!

The oven looks as if it has always been in the house and is just divine! It works perfectly pushing the heat out - and we have found that the two ovens are wonderful for making bread, cooking casseroles - and for heating "mulled wine" around Christmas!! Temperamental or not, I now know Hercules's little quirks and can usually get him to perform perfectly!!

Hercule does share the kitchen with a modern cooker but when he is alight in the cold winter months it's just so easy to use the glowing red-hot ovens. Charles le Baron du Breuil (our kitten) is often found curled up in front of him too.

News travelled fast around the village about the English lady living at "the chateau" who had gone to such lengths to find and install something which their Grandmother's, it would appear, could not wait to discard and replace with "modern" electricity!

Outdated or not, everyone should have a Hercule!!

mardi 23 février 2010

Jackie "O" at the chateau!!!

I received a call from a lady whose mother had owned a dress and haberdashery store here in Normandie. When her mother retired in the 1960s she closed the shop and continued to live upstairs leaving all the stock below. Some 45 years later it was yours truly who had the joy of truffling through the boxes.
All of the pieces have their original labels and its been such fun opening those boxes!
Today has been spent dressing and undressing a mannequin to take the photographs for my Ebay listings for todays special Chateau Retro day!!

lundi 22 février 2010

Beautiful boudoirs................

As we speak the attic boudoir is being restored. The staircase up to the heavens is a tiny winding rickety wooden affair and I really don`t want to change it. I so want to keep this old place as original as possible. The beams that make the high tiny pointed roof are like a small chapel and whatever happens they have to stay on display. Its so serene and silent up there that I know the colours I use have to be pale and calm. But...is it going to be total boudoir chic with creamy lace, silks and pale pink roses or is it going to be cool Gustavian grey and white? So many choices!

dimanche 21 février 2010

Letter to myself..............

Dear Shirley,
Stick to brocanting and leave the cooking to the professionals........................
Love from Me.
The recipe said........Roasted Mediterranean Monkfish with Pesto Trapanes and this is what happened.......................
RECIPE- Lightly toast 125g sliced almonds
ME- put almonds in pan...burned them...threw them away. Roasted more and left to cool.
RECIPE- Finely chop 2 garlic cloves
ME- chopped garlic cloves, ate all of the almonds whilst I chopped. Roasted more almonds and immediately mixed them in with the raw chopped garlic to stop me eating them again.
RECIPE- Take 50g fresh basil leaves
ME- Go to basil plant on windowsill and discovered that Charles le Baron du Breuil had been there first and ravaged the plant. Just a few leaves left so I strip the remaining stalk and leave it alone and naked!
RECIPE- Put garlic, almonds, basil,1 tablespoon of sugar, salt & pepper and a good slurp of virgin olive oil into blender and blend till smooth.
ME- put all ingredients into the tall thin mixing container that comes with the hand blender. Took new mill of black pepper and try to season but nothing happens. Tried again but still no pepper. Turned mill over and realised the silver protective paper was still in place. Removed this and got showered with ground pepper. Put hand blender into the container, prop tall blender container on table and go to wash pepper from hands. Container falls over spilling contents so have to mop it all up then blend!
RECIPE- Add 3 large ripe chopped tomatoes and blend lightly.
ME- Blend all and it goes quite thick and very gloopy. Not sure if this is normal but continue anyway.
RECIPE- Roast 2 large red peppers.
ME- Put 2 red peppers in the old aga to roast.
RECIPE- Take 2 x 400g monkfish tails, put one on base, layer with roasted pepper and the pesto mix , place other tail on the top and tie with string to keep in place.
ME- have no fish so use chicken breasts to fill with the pesto. All fine until the tying of string and I tie too tight and all the filling pours out of the sides. Spent the next 5 mins trying to poke pesto back inside the chicken parcels as my knots are too tight to undo!
RECIPE- Place fish onto a bed of chopped vegetables, liberally sprinkle with oil, season and roast.
ME- Chop veg, {but missed and cut finger) Put on band aid plaster. As I have too much pesto mix pour it all over the chicken breasts. Roast.
What can I say? It was amazing, stunning, totally delicious! I am Madame Raymond Le Blanc, I am Madame Christoff Nouvelli, I am Madame Roux, I am Shirley Nigella Lawson in the pantry with a film crew in an uncreased black silk nightdress supposedly having just woke up in the middle of the night to have a snack even though I have full make up on and luscious lips!
Finish the meal with coffee.....................divine.
Smell burning! Go to kitchen but cannot locate source of burning. Got a little panicky. Followed my nose to the old range cooker – and found the roasted red peppers I forgot to put in the chcken burned to a crisp and on fire.
I am not Madame Le Blanc or Nouvelli or Roux. I am Nigella in the pantry in a creased nightie with bed-head hair, panda eyes due to last night’s mascara with my nightie tucked into the back of my pants.........
Perhaps this is why I chose to be a brocanteuse and not a chef!!!

samedi 20 février 2010

Who`s who at the chateau.......CHARLES LE BARON du BREUIL

Just a few months ago we found this tiny abandoned kitten in a pile of building rubble dumped in a deserted lane. He could only just manage to drag himself along and I was terrified to pick him up just in case I hurt him as we thought his back leg was broken. He clawed his way into my arms and purred all the way to the vets. Our wonderful Italian vet said it looked like an old injury and thought some heartless person has simply dumped him rather than pay a vets fee. A few weeks followed with the leg bandaged & supported but as the paw finally went black it became clear he would have to lose it. But, he is so amazing and a real tough cookie. Five months later you would never know he is a 3 legged cat and he is agile, hysterically funny and totally adorable. He is never far away from us and as I speak he is curled up right next to the laptop. He certainly rules the roost, adores Diggers ( not sure if that is a mutual feeling from long suffering Digs!) and is known as Charles.

Digbert Fanshaw Brownshaw..............

Digbert Fanshaw Brownshaw known as Diggers. My beloved Jack Russell has been my constant companion for over 5 years. Found looking very miserable in a rescue centre after having been abandoned he is currently in the middle of his thesis to obtain his PhD in canine sleep studies. Likes to tuck well under the duvet in winter and can be found toasting himself outdoors in summer until he turns pink and has to be forced indoors. Wears a red bow tie at chateau functions. Love me love my Russell...................how I adore that boy!!! A good friend said he had been sent from heaven so brought him some small white feather wings which he has been happy to wear on occasions!

Madame Edith Le Brun

Wonderful flumptious placid and adorable Madame Edith. An absolute gentle giant. She is a full Cob Normand which is the equivalent of an English Shire. She has the hugest derriere in Normandie but knows how to stand in a red carpet catwalk pose to hide what lies behind! She adores Mark with a passion and looks at him adoringly with sweeping lashes and Sophia Loren eyes. I might add that the feeling is mutual between Mark and Edith and I know that I come second! Has to tolerate bossy Docile and her whims and has no idea that she could simply sit on her and squash her when she starts! Has been known to get very girly and unnecessary with the visiting Tartlette!

The Lady Dowager Docile...............

My gorgeous old mare Docile ( pronounced Doe-seal). Born in Paris 19 years ago she certainly has that haughty Parisian air and is known to her friends as "The Dowager Lady Docile of Houtteville".
Aloof and a total diva she knows exactly how to ensure that everyone panders to her every whim and she lives a life of luxury. Spends her time bossing her companion around!

vendredi 19 février 2010

Fondant au chocolat and love letters..........

One of my latest shabby chic trouvailles are these wonderful old love letters dating from the early 1900s. One is dated 1902 and the others were 1916 where the young writer was heading off to war. As the love letters spanned 14 years I wonder if Mademoiselle finally married him and even more heart rendering a thought is did he return from the war for her to do so? I will be putting them up on my website for sale. Such unique and evocative old treasures.

As for the scrumptious tiny fondant au chocolat hot from the oven............it is cold and frosty here today and sometimes when its like that nothing else will do....soft chocolat sponge with decadent fondant centres. Vive la France!!!
Heavens! I have just realised that I already have for sale a wonderful monogrammed wedding invitation and didn`t link the names. Indeed Mademoiselle Voydie did marry Charles!
Ah right...10 minutes later and I am back!!! Charles began to woo (nice word!) Felicia in 1902, they married in 1905 and he was away at war when the 1916/17 letters were written. So now I wonder....did he ever come home? I do hope so because the letters are full of his affections and kisses for her.

jeudi 18 février 2010

Paris Lingerie and a little French frou frou................

A wonderful find this week are three 19th century textile sample books that date from the late 1800s. All have wonderful Haute Nouveaute labels and the pages are brimming with silk samples, passementerie braids and ribbons. I just can`t stop myself leafing through the delights inside!

I feel like the owner of a Paris Lingerie store this week! At a local brocante I truffled out a host of wonderful vintage old rose pink corsets and couture stockings all unused and still with their original labels intact. One corset was instantly laced on my favourite waspie waisted mannequin and she now looks so divine! Apparently they came from an old lady who had a lingerie shop in Paris in the 1960s and when the shop closed she simply kept all of the stock boxed and packed away.

The stockings are simply delicious and have the most amazing crown logo on their glossy tops. It makes you want to don a pair under a full pleated skirt, take the train to Paris and stand over a grille waiting for an up-draught!!!

mercredi 17 février 2010

Madame Pompadour & Brad...............

I went to the "coiffeuse" in our local village fairly early this morning for a cut and colour and, after the traditional "bonjours" and kisses with all the staff, one of the juniors began to wash my hair before the "coleuriste" took over. Whilst we waited she offered to give me a free "maquillage" (make up) but I declined as I still barely awake. I soon realised as my hair styling progressed that my refusal had definately been the right thing to do! Many ladies did accept her kind offer - and each of them left the salon looking like Madame Pompadour! All that was missing were rustling silk gowns and black beauty spots! I am certain that there will be many surprised husbands in the village tonight!

Having only recently returned from Venice it is now apparent that I have become something of a trend setter for the international 'A' listers! A story I read in the press today has revealed that none other than Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and their children are relocating to Venice for the summer. Was it perhaps that Angelina, having caught up with the news on my blogsite had decided that if it was good enough for Simply-chateau then it was good enough for her? Or was it perhaps Brad.....hoping to catch a glimpse of me in Caffe Florian?!!! We are hoping to return to Venice later in the year; perhaps they will paddle out on a gondola to meet us?!!!!

lundi 15 février 2010

Fixtures & Fittings....quel choix!!

We are gradually restoring our "petite chateau" here in Normandie. From the start we decided that we would try to incorporate as many period features as possible given that it was built in 1838 - and it is quite a grand little borgeoisie house. It is always such fun when we discover another treasure that we can use. But.....wouldn`t it be wonderful if we could go back in time and simply open this delicious Paris fittings catalogue from the early 1900s to order just what we need!

dimanche 14 février 2010

Valentines dreams of George.................

Woke up early this morning to hear the sounds of crashing and irate raised voices. Quickly gathering my long blond curls into a loose chignon and slipping on a 1920s silk gown I went to investigate. On opening the door I found both George Clooney and Johnny Depp in a heated scuffle, each trying to place their own huge Valentine's Day bouquets of pale pink roses for me at the door. I managed to calm them both down and, as I think anyone half-naked would do in the circumstances, invited them in for chocolat chaud and a freshly baked croissant armande!
Then, alas, the alarm went off. 5.45am. Yes - it was only a dream after all! I woke up, ran my hands through my short tousled mousy hair, threw on an old pair of jeans and loafers, grabbed the car keys and went off to see what I could truffle out at a local brocante market.
The reality was actually much better than the dream - and I returned home three hours later laden with some delicious shabby chic vintage French treasures. So who needs George & Johnny?!!!!

samedi 13 février 2010

So many divine distractions!

I have spent the day pottering about photographing and listing some of my latest shabby chic finds for sale. But some of the treasures I truffle out are just too divine to let go so quickly, so I live with them for a while before passing them on! I can always make some excuse for some delicious petite morceau to stay here!

This huge folder is one of three that I discovered a few weeks ago. Each folder is large and so heavy I can only lift one at a time! Dating from the early 1900s they are packed with the most wonderful large sepia photograph plates of the interior decorations at the Palais de Versailles. I am not sure if its the outer covers or the inner photographs I am more in love with!!!

And my excuse for keeping them..............................my pension fund......sounds convincing yes?

vendredi 12 février 2010

With love from Tartelette.............

One of my most cherished treasures is this collection of delicious shabby tole hearts. Dating from the 1930s, each heart opens to reveal a small heart-shaped notelet which, when opened out, reveals a tear-jerking prayer, handwritten in faded sepia ink.

A few years ago I sat having a chocolat chaud with my brocante addict American friend, "Tartelette", who was visiting. As we waited for her Paris train we flicked through a glossy interiors magazine that featured some of the unique treasures to be found around the Parisian brocantes. These delicious hearts caught both our eyes - and we agreed that we would simply die to own them! The next time I saw her she was clutching the hearts as a gift for me! She had managed to turn Paris inside out until she finally tracked them down! The shop owner didn`t want to part with them as they had been featured in the magazine, so heaven knows what 'Tartelette' did to persuade her to sell. I am SO glad that she did - and I know that, on her next visit, she will try to reposses them! Must hide them away soon!!!!

jeudi 11 février 2010


Yesterday I was convinced that Spring was on the way. The " marais" marshes that start at the bottom of the garden were beginning to look quite luscious and the first snowdrops have popped up under the trees in the garden.

Last night a tremendous gale started to lash around our tiny chateau and it sounded just like that old creaking house gripping onto a cliff edge in the film Lemony Snickett!

There is a wonderful 19th century zinc dragon girouette weather vane on our tiny pointed roof that we call George. Throughout the night I could hear poor old George twisting, turning and creaking as the gale really took hold. He has been up there since 1835 looking out over the marshes so I don`t suppose it was a new experience for him!

When I opened my eyes this morning the gale was still howling but floating up and down past the window riding the lashing wind were huge snow flakes. And so......there is a deep blanket of snow yet again and the lane to the chateau is once again impassable. I am SO ready for spring and the start of the village street brocantes and flea markets.

The kitchen is toasty warm as our 1920s enamel flower bedecked range churns out the heat, Digger my cherished Jack Russell is fast asleep in his basket in front of the range ( oh! quelle surprise!), Charles le Baron du Breuil our 3 legged rescue kitten is causing mayhem in a laundry basket, so all is well with the world.

There`s nothing left for me to do other than open my favourite armoire with all my old textile treasures and simply indulge.................................

mercredi 10 février 2010

Simply-chateau found slumped in 18th Century tearooms smothered in chocolate............

I`m not sure if that would have happened as it was £10.50 ($16) a cup! But heavens it was worth it just to sit in that enchanted cafe and savour the elegant surroundings. I discovered today that Caffe Florian was, in the 18th century, one of only a few cafes in Venice to allow women through their doors ...................so it`s no wonder it was frequented by Casanova! Other famous regulars in later years were Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens and now of course Simply-Chateau!

And would I have been seduced by the charms of Casanova had he flounced in and sat next to me that day?
He was described as being something of a dandy—tall and dark, his long hair powdered, scented, and elaborately curled. He dressed magnificently in silks and lace.Well, with my addiction for antique textiles that would be a......... YES

He was one of those womanisers your mother always told you to avoid - but I never listened to my mum when I was growing up so I won`t start now, so that`s another............ YES

He wrote candidly and in great detail about his 122 affairs...........that`s a definate NO then!

He said " I've never made love to a woman whose language I didn't speak because I like to enjoy myself in all my senses at once" Well if he could understand my cross between French and my local diallect of the Midlands then he deserves a medal - so another ..............YES

He told his friends that attentiveness and small favors should be employed to soften a womans heart......perhaps one of those small favors would be yet another hot chocolate in the Caffe Florian? So that`s yet another .............. YES

He adored voluptuous women......so after all those small favours of Caffe Florain hot chocolate that would have to be a YES as there must be 10 million calories per cup and I would be bursting from my crinoline; or, actually, my derriere would fill my crinoline fully making a hoop redundant!

He was a huge gambler......a definate NO

He caused scandal wherever he went..........another NO

He had endless nosebleeds....oh please.....NO

He amused himself by untying and casting adrift gondolas from private residences....what could be worse than dashing out to shop at the Venice Prada and Louis Vuitton to find your gondola missing? Another NO.

SO that makes 5 yes and 5 no. But then he might arrive to woo me ( cries of "woo me .....woo me.......... I want to be wooed") carrying hot chocolate from the Caffe Florian. I suppose that makes me a budding 18th century strumpet?

mardi 9 février 2010

A decadent way to see the sights.........................

Cherub bedecked, sumptuous damask silks & velvets........................a luscious and decadent way to see Venice!

lundi 8 février 2010

The most divine Caffe Florian

Chocolate & Casanova.......

We drank steaming hot, silky chocolate in the most romantic cafe in the world - Caffe Florian on Piazza Saint Marco. Opened in 1720 its interior has hardly changed since then when it was the place where the elite and the most fashionable met to gossip and to be seen. Casanova entertained his ladies there in the privacy of the intimate parlours - and who could not fail to be seduced in such an atmosphere!
I could have sat at that wonderful marble table all day watching the world go by. Sumptuous velvet benches, old gold gilded mirrors , cartouched framed portraits in oils - all divine in the twinkling soft lights of the murano glass chandeliers and wall sconces dripping with lustres.
The chocolate was so rich it came with a much needed tiny crested carafe of chilled water to refresh the palatte. The waiters, immaculate in crisp white jackets and cravattes, were attentive but unobtrusive and I SO wanted to take that tiny crested porcelain cup and saucer home!
Whilst enjoying our drinks three ladies swept in wearing hooped brocade silk crinolines and high curled wigs, obviously preparing early for the masked ball due to take place that night and they looked so much a part of the place that hardly anyone paid any attention. They sat chattering in a corner and simply added to the scene and delighted me. I desperately wanted to photograph them but couldn`t bear to interupt their conversation. I got to thinking that I should have taken some of those huge 19th century silk curtains I sold last year and fashioned a costume for that masked ball!

18th century marble tables for two.............

dimanche 7 février 2010

Silks, brocades,Coco Chanel & the meeting of angels.........

Silks, brocades, Coco Chanel and the meeting of angels................
We have just returned home having spent 3 delicious days simply wandering the streets of Venice. I was told that Venice captures the heart and mind and how true that is!
On the short plane trip from Paris we sat, by chance, next to a French girl who creates period costumes for the annual masked balls each February. We were engrossed for the whole flight talking about silks, lace, trims and buttons and exhanged numbers like old friends after landing. She said it was a meeting of the angels who had made her sit next to us!
We arrived in Venice about 10pm and caught the vaporetti (water) bus to our hotel that fronted onto one of the many small canals. I couldn`t bear to go bed immediately so, around midnight, we could be found wandering along the deserted streets, the only sound being the echo of our footsteps and the occasional lap of the water! The maze of tiny dimly lit narrow alleyways give the impression that time has stood still and - if someone had rushed past in a rustling silk and lace period dress it wouldn`t have seemed out of place.
Eventually we found a small trattoria that stayed open until 2am and had a nightcap with a small dish of tagliatelle arabiatta before wandering back to the hotel. Our room contained a 6 foot wide bed and a very decadent tinkling murano chandelier with gilded furniture and sweeping silk damask drapes. Fabulously decadent!!
We were delighted the next morning to be woken by shouts and laughter outside and threw open our shutters to see that our room looked directly over the canal, and a host of gondoliers were rowing into place to stert their days work. Their traditional striped shirts and ribbon-bedecked hats stood out brightly against the deep jade green water. Already, a long queue of highly coutured excited tourists, mainly from the Far East, had formed for a gondolier ride. Also,I noticed their handbags - and I have never seen so much Louis Vuitton in one small area!
One of the largest tourist attractions, St Marks Square, filled rapidly with large crowds -but- for me, I just longed to start exploring the smaller back streets away from the crowds.!
My second meeting of the angels happened later that day as we wandered into a museum to see a costume colection which was on show. After a minute or so wondering around, a tiny, old lady, elegant in a full length fur, swept over and introduced herself as the person who had actually put the collection together for display. She was spending the day at the museum with some of her family members, and was very keen and proud to be able to tell me about the costumes. So she walked with me to every dress and display giving me a history of each piece , opening glass cabinets en route for me to feel her mother's 1920s beaded wedding gown, show lace parasols donated by friends, divine shawls ,racy charleston dresses and even a stunning outfit worn by Coco Chanel herself. This chance meeting made my visit a treasured memory to say the least!
More to come............................

mardi 2 février 2010

A carpet of rabbits..........

The snow has finally melted and the luscious marshes that start at the bottom of our garden have flooded and we are again like a house at the side of a beautiful calm sea! It appears that every rabbit from the marsh has taken up residence around the house. Returning home late last night our headlights lit up the drive and there was a whole host of white derrieres scrambling for cover! It`s a good job we haven`t considered planting out the gardens until our renovations are over!!

My new blog is en route................................meanwhile please see my website www.simply-chateau.com