Today we travel to Normandy and the harbor town of Gonneville sur Honfleur where Anna and her husband Philipp have renovated Le Fleur Guest House. Le Fleur also known as Château Gonneville sur Honfleur opened to guests from around the world this past June.
Anna is well versed in the design world, having worked for the well known fashion house, Balmain for 10 years before venturing into chateau restoration. She also hosted a photoshoot for the fashion house’s 2021 Resort Collection, inspiring her to hold weddings and other special events at Le Fleur in future.
In this interview, we get an inside look at the chateau, it’s restoration and what Anna’s hopes are for the future of Le Fleur.
When did you and your husband first decide to buy a chateau?
It was during my maternity leave with my second daughter that Philipp had the epiphany, I’d been looking for a change in my career and both of us wanted to leave the city and bring up our girls in the countryside. Philipp has always dreamed of owning a chateau and would try to convince me that we should sell our small town house in the suburbs of Paris and buy a chateau. I always joked that he was crazy, but in the summer of 2018 just before going back to work I realized that actually it was a perfect idea. We love renovating and this would enable us to run our own business and live in the countryside.
Was the Château Gonneville sur Honfleur the first chateau that you visited or were there several chateaux that you looked at previously?
This chateau was only the second chateau we visited. The first weekend after we came back from our holidays and I’d started back at work we went to visit a chateau, it was stunning but the location wasn’t right. A week later we came to visit this chateau, Its 5 minutes from the charming harbor town of Honfleur and the sea in a rural little village. I fell in love straight away, I was always worried that living in a chateau I would feel lost and it wouldn’t feel homey, but this chateau had an amazing feeling and I could just imagine us living here.
You first got the keys in May of last year and you moved with your husband and two children to Normandy. What was the most exciting part about moving from Paris to Normandy?
We got the keys to the chateau in May, but I didn’t finish work until July so to begin with Philipp moved to the chateau to begin work and we travelled every weekend to be with him. We’d been renting a small apartment having sold our house and so when the big day finally arrived for us to move, we couldn’t wait to finally have all our things and to have the space for the girls to run around.
You worked for over 10 years at Balmain in Paris, and your husband Philipp is a filmmaker from South Tyrol, Italy. What was the best part about working for Balmain and how did your experience in design influence the decor you chose for the Chateau?
I had an amazing 10 years working for Balmain and I was lucky that I was able to be very creative. Both of us have always been very inspired by design, architecture and renovation so buying the chateau was a dream project. It was important for us to keep the integrity of the 18th/19th details but figure out how to make the rooms function for our guest house, so we spoke with our friend Anna from AMV Studio who helped us figure out the layouts for the rooms so that we could make all the rooms en-suite.
We renovated the chateau on a small budget which meant we had to learn to do a lot ourselves and become very creative. I’ve always used a lot with color and print in my work so this was something we wanted to bring into the interiors and I had the idea to create bespoke wallpaper using linoprint. For the decor we love to mix modern pieces, pieces we re-upholster with antique finds to create a unique feel.
What were some of the first rooms that you restored?
We began by renovating our private apartment on the second floor which would have been the servants quarters. Whilst we renovated those rooms we lived in the first floor guest rooms and once we had finished our rooms we moved up to the second floor and began renovating the guest rooms.
Where are some of the places in and around the chateau that you enjoy spending time in (especially during the lockdown earlier this year)?
We have a 15 acres of parkland and fields which was a blessing during lockdown so the girls were able to explore the woods and my mother-in-law created a potager (vegetable garden). My mother-in-law has been living with us since day one so we were really lucky as she was able to help us look after the girls and Philipp and I were able to continue renovating during that time so in a way we felt like we were in a little bubble and in the evening we would eat outside all together.
Now that the chateau is open to guests, what do you look forward to the most about opening your beautiful home to visitors from around the world?
I think one thing we realized whilst living here is that the chateau is at its best when it’s full of people. It’s such a pleasure to finally be able to welcome guests and share it and we love meeting new people from around the world.
Out of the three rooms available to guests (pink, blue and green rooms) which one seems to be the most requested by guests?
All of the rooms have a very different feel and I think its interesting to see that there is not one room that is a favorite at the moment.
This past spring you were featured on Escape to the Chateau DIY, what did you enjoy the most about giving viewers an inside look at Le Fleur?
We had a lot of fun filming for Escape to the Chateau DIY, unfortunately our episodes were postponed due to the lockdown so we’re excited for our episodes to air soon hopefully. I think it will be funny to look back and see how far we’ve come.
You also hosted a photoshoot for the Balmain 2021 Resort Collection on the Chateau grounds. What was the best part about the experience?
It was honor that Balmain wanted to use the chateau for their photoshoot and it was so lovely to welcome back all my old colleagues who over the years became like family. We realized that we really enjoyed catering and hosting and it definitely inspired us to do more events and even weddings in the future.
What is your greatest hope for the future of Le Fleur?
We have so many ideas for Le Fleur, this winter we hope to renovate a further 3 guest rooms on the 1st floor and we also hope to start working on one of the out buildings to convert it into a wedding venue. In the next few years we would also like to renovate the 2 longère (Traditional Normandy Long houses) into gites for holiday rentals so I think we have plenty to keep us busy.
Nancy LaPonzina says
Love this travel story about the Le Fleur Guest House and interview with Anna. We follow them weekly on YouTube and are patrons. Anna and Philipp are an amazingly talented couple whose work restoring the Chateau has resulted in a serene, beautiful, and sophisticated, elegant guest house. Keeping up with Anna’s fine design sensitivities and Philipp ‘s smart and dry sense of humor is a joy.
So glad you enjoyed it, Nancy!
Delya Nichols says
I have watched you both in your wonderful restoration of the Chateau and careful planning to keep it as authentic as possible I love France and all the different Chateau’s in the different regions and is it so great that people like you want to put their time, energy and money bringing them back to their true historical era.
It seems you have spent such a long time in painting due to using a brush. I just wondered why you have not tried using a roller which actually does a better job than a brush and is easier and oh so much quicker. I have noticed that people in uk and Europe seem to do their decorating with a brush and wonder whether rollers are available. I also have gleaned a lot of experience over the years in saving time and energy on projects and the thought of painting only with a brush would be nothing but frustration to me
I was also amazed at your beautiful wallpaper and the amount of work and expertise needed to achieve such results well done. You are both very talented in what you have achieved.
Keep doing your podcasts they are very informative, instructive and interesting. Lots of luck for your future endeavors. I look forward to the new shows!