IT IS CLEAR only a few pages into Cordelia de Castellane’s delightfully chic “Life in a French Country House” that the author’s eclectic but elegant aesthetic has been decades in the making. Descended from a long line of idiosyncratic European aristocrats and creatives — her mother was a decorator, her great uncle was celebrated architect Emilio Terry, and the list goes on — De Castellane’s career in fashion began in her teenage years. It was then that she decamped from her home in Switzerland to Paris to hang out with her uncle, Gilles Dufour, right-hand man of Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. She also worked in the studio of French fashion icon Emanuel Ungaro. De Castellane went on to found childrenswear line CdeC with a cousin before being tapped by Dior in 2012 to design children’s fashion. She has since made a name for herself as artistic director for Dior Maison and Baby Dior while raising her own four children.
Throughout her career, de Castellane and family have retreated to their country home north of Paris to relax and recharge. For de Castellane, that means cooking and decorating in accordance with the rhythms of the seasons. In this exuberant, colorful book, she shares her wisdom on how to maximize each seasonal shift. It includes intimate meditations on lighting, textiles, furniture, and food, sparked by a love of the “true changes” throughout the year.
“Each transformation leads to a new ambience,” she writes, from the mood set by the temperature outside to the local produce on offer at the market. And though the interior of de Castellane’s home forms a whimsical pastiche of overlapping textures and patterns, natural beauty is the star at this property. “Christian Dior said that after women, flowers are the most beautiful creation,” she writes in her chapter on “Spring’s Smile,” sharing ways to brighten the home while welcoming this tender season, from dyeing or painting light-colored tablecloths to showcasing bud-filled vases of different heights to create an “ethereal aspect.”
In “Summer’s Song,” de Castellane writes about breaking out antique bed sheets, hanging Korean watercolors, and celebrating the season with picnics in the nearby forest, where she enjoys setting up a makeshift outdoor tableau complete with rugs and coffee tables. “I am easily bored,” she writes, “so turning places into a fantasy for a few hours amuses me to no end, in my work and in my life.” The result, like the house itself, is like something from a fairy tale: a scene that reflects ease and whimsy but still looks lovingly curated and entirely inviting. De Castellane also marks the waning summer season by making jam and picking vegetables to preserve for the coming cold months.
In a chapter on “Fall’s Legends,” we read about autumn, when de Castellane ratchets up the coziness factor: “I gather the last of my figs and gradually match the colors of the house to nature’s beautiful palette.” Comforted by the fog and the golden leaves, which she says are never really the same shade twice, de Castellane prepares to plant in the garden, arranging pumpkins, squash, pine cones, wickerwork place mats, and candles on her table.
In “A Beautiful Winter’s Eve,” de Castellane greets the end of the year, a time when she gives herself over to “grandmother activities,” mostly staying indoors to embroider or work on other domestic projects by the fireplace. “I let the land rest,” she writes. “It is time for it to meditate and prepare for the growth it will soon need to support.” She appreciates the “indirect and easy” light that falls on the bedspreads and assorted cushions on her children’s beds. She puts out “perfume, flowers, and chocolates” and begins to think about decorating for the holidays.
In addition to photographs of de Castellane’s majestic property and her home’s warm, eclectic interiors, “Life in a French Country House” is also punctuated by seasonal family recipes for treasured dishes: a pillowy Russian Brioche in spring; a delicate Lime Basil Tart in summer; sumptuous Crème Caramel in fall; and hearty Potato Rösti with Salmon in winter. Feeding family, like creating playful and comforting interiors, is at the center of de Castellane’s life. “My biggest stroke of luck is being surrounded by people who inspire me,” she writes, and her love for them comes through in this book.
So too does her reverence for nature, from the explosion of floral prints and artisanal ceramics that embellish the rooms of her home to the lush grounds that surround it. As de Castellane writes, “The beauty of what Mother Nature gives us surpasses all imagination.”
Nina Renata Aron Writer
Nina Renata Aron is a senior editor of Departures based in Oakland, California. She is the author of "Good Morning, Destroyer of Men's Souls." Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, the New Republic, Elle, Eater, and Jezebel.
Matthieu Salvaing Photographer
Matthieu Salvaing is a French photographer and contributor to Architectural Digest, Condé Nast Traveler, World of Interiors, Holiday Magazine, Departures, and international editions of Architectural Digest. He recently authored "Interior Voyages" (Rizzoli).