The September 2009 issue of Architectural Digest has an amazing article and photo spread of a chateau in the Loire Valley in France that was recently purchased and renovated by an American. Built in the 1760s with 26 acres of formal gardens, the building had been used to hide paintings from the Louvre during WW2, as well as a hospital for the British during that war. It had been owned by the French government ever since, and contained no kitchen or bathroom when the American bought it. What is interesting is not just the jaw-dropping photos of historical splendor, but the details of restoring such a monument. (If you think historical committees are tough here in the States, they are soft in comparison.) For one thing, the new owner is not allowed to alter any walls, which meant that when he put in a kitchen, it was attached to new walls that stood in front of the original walls. The local board also made him replace some fruit trees he planted, because they were not of a type that existed in 1760. They are wise to be so strict, though, because a place this old and storied is a treasure, and once you lose part of it, you can’t really get it back.

Jean-Michel told me that in Poitiers, where he is from, during the 1960s the fashion was to tear down old stone buildings if they were in the way of a proposed development, or to stucco over them to make them look modern. Today people are painstakingly removing the stucco to try to get back the old stonework. When I think about how excited people get over 1950s pastel bath fixtures here in the States, or old light fixtures (we have some Deco-period hanging lights in our home)–just imagine living with Roman aquaducts in town! Some people complain about how America (in particular, the west coast) has so little history compared to Europe–well, we’ll never get there if we keep tearing things down.

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