If you’re a Francophile like me, then it’s likely you have a fascination with the storybook French château. Temples of symmetry and opulence, they spoon-feed the imagination with glamorous images of a bygone era, when every part of aristocratic life was guided by aesthetic beauty above all else—no wonder the revolutionaries were so incensed.
Case in point is the 17th-century Château de Villette outside Paris, one of France’s most stately properties, which has recently been restored and is the subject of a new coffee-table tome, Château de Villette: The Splendor of French Decor (Flammarion).
Originally designed by architect François Mansart and finished by his great-nephew Jules-Haroduin Mansart, who oversaw the work at Versailles for Louis XIV, the Château de Villette was once the country estate of the Marquis and Marquise of Condorcet. The couple were leading intellectuals of the 18th century who hosted the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine in their cosmopolitan Paris salon.
It was the latter epoch—considered the heyday of the estate—that served as a touchstone for the new owners, Sergei and Irina Bogdanov. A Luxembourg-based Russian couple with a passion for restoration projects, they chose to refurbish the house exclusively with 18th-century art and antiques.
“Either you make it modern, and then you have to change it every 10 to 15 years because it becomes outdated, or you follow the style from 200 years ago and then you can keep it for another 200,” says Sergei. The Bogdanovs have revived a number of estates in Europe, among them the Villa Astor in Sorrento and the Villa Balbiano on Lake Como, with the same art de vivre. All of them, including the Château de Villette, can be rented.
For this project, which took six years and cost $41 million, the couple recruited Parisian interior designer Jacques Garcia, a known connoisseur of 17th- and 18th-century decorative arts whose artistic flair is behind the luxe interiors of the Hôtel Costes and La Réserve hotel in Paris, as well as significant restoration work at Versailles. Garcia worked alongside architects from the Monuments Historiques, the organization that safeguards heritage sites. “We wanted to revive the château using our knowledge of historical interiors,” he says, adding: “The color palette is from the era of Louis XV.”
With its highly decorative legacy, the château’s original frescoes and boiserie, with their pastoral and chinoiserie motifs (as was the fashion), have been refurbished. These are most striking on the ground floor, in the oak-paneled library, and in what is perhaps the most significant room of the château: the dining room.
Records have it that this is one of the earliest examples of a dining room in Europe (previously the aristocracy had taken meals in their private quarters). Painted bleu céleste—the original hue took much trial and error to reproduce—the room has Rococo flourishes in the paneling, stonework, and cartouches. Today, everything looks set for a decadent dinner party: from the Saint-Louis crystal laid out on the Louis XVI mahogany dining table to the decorative Imari porcelain lining the walls.
After delving into the archives of the Monuments Historiques, Garcia also reverted the château to its original, more spacious floor plan, reducing the 11 bedrooms on the first floor to six. The restoration of the parterre gardens, ponds, and cascading water features was also guided by the original plans by André Le Nôtre, the man behind the gardens at Versailles.
For the interiors, Garcia referred to archived correspondence that described the furnishings in the rooms. Upstairs, each of the bedrooms has its own vibrant color palette; the antique sofas and bed canopies have been refurbished in rich floral damasks by Prelle, a textile manufacturer founded in Lyon in 1752. The most striking of all, the master suite is decked out in floor-to-ceiling plush crimson velvet and has a spacious bathroom lined with 18th-century coromandel screens. “My wife is a big fan of the Coco Chanel suite in the Ritz, which has chinoiserie screens,” says Sergei.
The room’s giant tub, carved from a single block of onyx, was once owned by the 19th-century courtesan known as La Païva, who rose to prominence via successive and scandalous marriages. Another historical acquisition—a chest of drawers from the Versailles collection, crafted for the Countess of Provence, the sister-in-law of Louis XVI—sits in one of the guest bedrooms down the hall. “Everyone believed the French government would buy it,” says Sergei, “but it was election season, and no one could take the responsibility of signing for it.”
Grand as it is, with its sweeping staircase, candelabras, and antiques, the château feels remarkably livable. “You don’t feel lost here,” says Sergei. “We’ve made sure it’s very comfortable as well. Every room has a fireplace.” He has also installed all the necessary amenities for the present day: an enormous, modern kitchen; a gym; a pool; and Wi-Fi. There’s one thing missing: “We don’t have a TV,” says Sergei. “I’m not a fan.” From $24,400.