Offering a highly-prestigious place to stay in the heart of touristic Burgundy, France, Château de Varennes combines the charm of a private historic mansion with the amenities of a modern luxury hotel. The property – having been in his family for 400 years – was inherited by Aymeric de Truchis de Varennes in 2009, who spent two years remodelling the property with architect and designer Fabrice Bejjani, whom Aymeric’s wife Sonia met through her previous job at a TV channel.
Giving the classical style of the historic property a contemporary twist was one of the key factors of the refurbishment. In this, Fabrice proved an ideal partner, as Aymeric explains: “Fabrice’s idea was to combine the historic features with ultra-luxury modern materials. Contrary to some other designers whom we interviewed and who wanted to get rid of our period furniture, Fabrice suggested to revamp them with luxury contemporary fabrics.
“We wanted to create a timeless look – people who will look at their wedding pictures in 15 years should not think that the house is looking out-fashioned. Fabrice convinced us to pay for premium features – like marble bathrooms and very costly design switchers – to give a wow factor and provide superior customer satisfaction.
“All of our clients have very high standards and they want everything to be perfect, even if they are staying in a historic building. The result was actually even better than our expectations because Fabrice managed to mix old and new features in a very unique way, while bringing all the modern convenience to our discerning guests.”
The merge of traditional and modern also extends to the aesthetics to cater for Aymeric and Sonia’s contrasting visions for the property, as Aymeric explains: “The idea of mixing vintage and contemporary inspirations was a compromise between my taste for antiques – with a predilection for the classical style of the French 18th century – and my wife’s preference for a more modern look.
“Also, Fabrice did not want a dusty museum look and he suggested to add some surprising modern pieces, like quirky pendant lights made of thousands of white goose feathers. The original lights were provided by the famous designer, Mat & Jewski, and Fabrice suggested to hang five giant balls of different sizes from the top ceiling to the ground level of the traditional wooden staircase.
“Most of the antique furniture belonged to my family for ages, but they were in a very poor condition. They were restored by a local cabinetmaker, and reupholstered with designers’ fabrics sourced at Dedar and Osborne & Little. A few modern additions were supplemented – such as the pink plastic chairs in the kitchen, because the vintage chairs we had were either too rustic to achieve a timeless look or too fragile to stand crash tests during children’s meals.”
Restoring a centuries-old property is no mean task, and one that is filled with possible challenges. “There are a lot of issues with remodelling an old place – for example, nothing is square, be it the walls or the floors,” Aymeric says.
“Luckily, the estate was built with very high-quality materials in the first instance, so we could keep many beautiful features like some original wooden floors or beams under the lofts. On the other hand, we had to pay attention to preserve some ancient features, so it was much more time consuming and costly than building a new construction.
“The problem with Varennes was that it is not only an old but a huge place. This leads to many technical issues that our architect had to solve. For example, installing a wireless internet access throughout all the house was a big challenge because standard wireless equipments are not made for such large spaces.”
Despite the refurbishment’s challenges, however, the hotel has become a design success story, combining centuries of regeneration to create a luxurious and timeless place to stay.
“Château de Varennes has been a family holiday resort for 400 years,” Aymeric explains, “and all the efforts made by 15 generations aiming to improve the property for all this time led to a magical place.
“While the estate is very big with luxury features, guests always feel comfortable because the decoration is cosy rather than pompous. All the rave reviews and the continuous support we receive from all our clients have helped us overcome the difficulties of the early stage, and we think it was worth the effort.”