Charles Spada has filled his rural Normandy bolt-hole with his favourite collections, from gilt frames and faience porcelain to leather-bound tomes.
France — and all things French — has always had a strong hold on Boston-based interior designer Charles Spada. He studied fashion design in Paris in his early twenties and eventually bought a small apartment in the city where he’d stay on his regular antique buying trips over the years. So when, 18 years ago, he decided it was time to have some peace and quiet in his life, France seemed like a natural choice. «I wanted a calm, countryside retreat and Normandy is perfect as it’s just a couple of hours from Paris, so I can still easily visit friends and attend auctions,» he says.
His search wasn’t a straightforward affair: over the course of five years he viewed over 50 properties dotted across the region. «Eventually, some friends recommended an estate agent that I hadn’t yet contacted,» says Charles. «He picked me up from the train station and told me that he had three houses to show me. This was the first on the list and as far as I was concerned it was the last. It was perfect.»
The 17th-century former hunting lodge had been owned by a local farming family for many years and almost nothing had been done to modernise it, something which Charles considered part of its charm. «The building was basically sound and the fireplaces and original panelling in the principal rooms were still in situ. What more could I ask for?» The piece de resistance of the house, though, has to be the main salon, which, thanks to its two sets of French doors (one opening on to the garden, the other on to the drive) is almost constantly bathed in sunlight.
SIMPLE, SUBTLE AND COSY
To bring it up to date, new plumbing, wiring and heating were fitted and the kitchen and bathrooms were thoroughly made over. And then came the decor — which Charles was well-placed to transform. «Along with my peaceful, quiet country life I wanted warmth and comfort,» he says. While simplicity and subtlety are important to his signature style, he is no fan of cool, minimalist interiors. To add the requisite character and personality, he’s displayed his collection of French Creil pottery on the walls of the dining room, while pictures are hung in clusters throughout. «I’ve been adding to my collection of carved and gilded Louis XIII frames for years,» he says. «I like to keep the frames empty so as not to detract from the craftsmanship that went into making them 300 years ago.» Leather-bound books are another passion and add to the enveloping cosiness in his bedroom. «I think of books as works of art in their own right — they make a room. I have around a thousand, some readable, some not but they are all lovely to look at.»
And as for that glorious salon, Charles admits that he put comfort first and the aesthetics second. «Curiously enough though, everything looks as if it were made for where it was placed,» he says. We couldn’t agree more.