An Interview with Timothy Corrigan, the Man Behind Château du Grand-Lucé
Timothy Corrigan has been named one of the world’s top 100 interior designers by Architectural Digest and one of the world’s Top 40 Designers by The Robb Report. One is his finer projects includes the resurrection of an 18th-Century French neoclassical chateau in the Loire Valley, an estimable project whose eye-popping visuals you can check out in the gallery below.
Creating miles of expansive orchards and manicured gardens, all of which spills out into a forest filled with oak trees, “The story begins, like so many things Gallic, with a love affair…the clean lines, the gracious symmetry, the lightness that so elegantly counterbalances the grandeur,” Corrigan writes in the introduction to his book, An Invitation to Chateau du Grand-Lucé. “I don’t feel more at peace, or at home, anywhere else on earth.”
Drawing inspiration from the gracious manner in which he decorated his french country home, Garden Collage sat down with Corrigan to discuss the role that a private garden that opens it’s doors to the public should play in people’s lives.
Garden Collage: What is your first memory of gardening and the outdoors?
TC: As a child we had a gardener who taught me about grafting, and I thought it was the coolest thing. It led me to take a course on botany in the eighth grade and I have been a lover of gardens ever since!
GC: How has the botanical world impacted other areas of your life? How does it influence your design aesthetic?
TC: When I was developing my new collection of fabrics and carpets for Schumacher and Patterson Flynn Martin, I very consciously introduced more organic and lyrical shapes/forms from nature as a deliberate contrast to the very harsh geometrics that have been in style for the last several years. Stylized vines are imposed on stripes, intricate lace-like florals are hidden in random zig-zags, small geometric patterns create larger floral and vine designs in one of the damasks. Likewise, my strong use of colors from nature contrasts sharply to the world of gray and beige that has been in fashion in home design over the last several years. When design rejects nature, I feel that it becomes cold and somehow soul-less.
GC: Let’s talk about your home and its amazing gardens. How did you come across Château du Grand-Lucé?
TC: I already owned a 15th century chateau in the Loire Valley, but when I heard that the French government was going to sell Château du Grand-Lucé, I submitted a request to be considered to buy it. Because it is considered to be one of the finest examples of neo-classical architecture in France, I already knew about it. The decision was not based on price but on what the new owner was going to do to the property; of all of the applicants, I was the only one who was going to restore it as a private home.
GC: What was the renovation process like? Did you have a clear vision of how you wanted to transform the landscape?
TC: The biggest changes that I made to the plans were to bring more green (in the form of extended grass sections, clipped boxwood, and Yew cones) as well as an update to the most formal parterre garden closest to the main château building. I felt that the softening brought by the “green” would make the area immediately around the chateau a little less austere.
I also added a number of sculptures to the maze of “green rooms” to add some visual contrast to all of the green. As in all design, contrasting of materials allows one to appreciate individual objects more.
GC: The French government required you to account for every tree planted on the estate. How many are there, and what kind of trees are they? Did taking stock of these garden elements make the project more personal for you?
TC: There were 122,156 trees on the property when we first had to do the inventory for the French Government, but there are more now, as I love trees and have continued to plant “approved” varieties of trees on the property. Every tree that is planted has to have been the kind of tree that was in France in 1764, and all would have been the kind of tree that would have been planted in the park of a château. That kind of restriction can be frustrating at times, but it is also what has kept the purity of patrimony alive in France today.
GC: What mid-eighteenth century plants are in your Exotic Garden?
TC: Many of the plant types that are there now don’t seem very exotic by today’s standards, but plants like Fuschia and Brugmansia were very exotic back then! When I first bought the property, there were still two palm trees from the 18th century left in the Exotic Garden, but unfortunately they died out.
GC: How do you incorporate the apples, pears, vegetables, and aromatic herbs from the Kitchen Garden into your food and lifestyle?
TC: Over time we have started planting fewer fruits and vegetables in the kitchen garden because there are not enough people on the property to eat all that was harvested! We produce our own honey (roughly 870 pounds a year,) so I like to keep a wide variety of flowers and plants on the property to create unusual honey that can otherwise not be found in the region.
GC: How do you divide your time between LA and the Chateau? Do you have a garden in LA?
TC: In LA I have a garden that only has white and a sprinkling of pink flowers. The entire front yard is all topiary hedges: boxwood, privet, and star jasmine (which surprisingly can be cut into a very neat low hedge). I spend one week each month in LA and France…the rest of the time is spent on the road working on our projects around the world.
GC: What is your favorite plant or flower?
TC: That is like asking someone about their favorite child… I love so many! But here goes:
- Favorite flower: Anemone
- Favorite plant: Boxwood
- Favorite tree: Horse Chestnut
GC: On a personal note, is it odd to have people visit the garden from May-September? What role should public/private garden’s play in people’s lives?
TC: In addition to being open on some Sundays throughout the summer, we host a huge Bastille Day fireworks, one of the oldest horse-jumping competitions in France, and a number of private tours throughout the year.
Gardens are meant to be enjoyed, and since I cannot be there all the time it is a great pleasure to know that they are appreciated by others. One of my favorite events each year is when the local nursery school comes to the garden for a field trip; the wonder on their small faces is magical to see.