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Painting chateau shutters helped owners integrate into French village

Felling a diseased tree sealed their acceptance by villagers after years of renovation and isolation - the Martinesz-Pugh family share their experience of moving to France

Martinesz-Pugh family and chateau

‘White shutters gave the chateau a cold look, the new colour is much warmer’ says British owner Kay Martinesz Pic: Kay Martinesz

A British couple say that painting the shutters and railings of their village centre chateau finally helped them to feel welcomed into the local community.

Kay Martinesz and David Pugh did not see anyone in the Dordogne village of Bourdeilles when they first set eyes on the Château des Sénéchaux, built in the 1500s, one dark and rainy February day in 2011.

Nevertheless, the run-down chateau won their hearts, and they quickly decided to buy it.

‘Village thought we were Parisians - much worse than British’

At the time, they were living in Thailand, spoke little French, and had four young children, but they had set their hearts on finding a dream home in France.

“We were going through a list of eight possible houses drawn up beforehand, but after we saw this one we cancelled the other visits,” said Kay.

“The next day, we met an English chap in the road who gave us a bit of background to the place, and we visited the neighbouring chateau [Bourdeilles has two, close together in the centre of the village], where we were given some more history.

“At the guest house where we were staying, they could see we were interested in purchasing.  

“The next time we stayed there, the whole village knew we were the people who were buying the chateau, but they thought we were Parisians, which for many was worse than being Brits.

“When they found out we were British, as the previous owners had been, people settled down with a cautious, wait-and-see attitude.”

Kept gates shut

At first, the family lived in the chateau together for six months of the year, with David, an engineer, working mainly in Asia and the US for Saint-Gobain for the rest of the time.

Kay and the children, now aged between 13 and 19,  accompanied David on some of his work placements but otherwise were at the chateau. 

“With young children, I shut the gates to keep them in and was occupied with the family and with the work we were doing,” said Kay. “Similarly, when David was here, there was so much to do. 

“We shut the gates and just got on with it. People in the village knew who we were and that we lived in the chateau, and that David worked away a lot, and that was it.”

Turned a corner with warm shutter paint

Extensive renovation was needed on the property, with David and Kay doing a lot of it themselves.

It was when the major indoor work had been done and they started painting the white shutters and railings a warm olive grey instead that they found people in the village began to open up.

“The white gave the chateau a cold look, while the new colour was much warmer,” said Kay. “People began to approach us and say how much they appreciated what we were doing on the building. It was quite a task – there are 76 shutters in all.”

Applause at tree felling

Another turning point was when they decided to chop down a huge, diseased old pine tree, which dominated the view and made it difficult to get good photos of the historic buildings in town.

“We put up notices and invited people to contact us if they had concerns about this. A couple of people did, saying they were very much in favour.

“When the tree surgeon got to work, we were surprised to find nearly the whole village came to watch. When he finished, he got a round of applause.

“The difference in the views of the village was incredible and people appreciated that very much.” 

Gates now open

David retired in 2019 and the couple started renting out three self-contained holiday homes in the complex before things ground to a halt with the Covid pandemic.

Now the children are older, the gates of the chateau are no longer shut, and high panels have been lowered so people in the street can look in. 

They receive many visitors interested in the building and have learned a lot of its history in this way.

Accepted at last

Last year they took part in the local Chateaux en Fête event for the first time, offering guided tours of the building, and they did the same this year.

“Most of the visitors were from the Bordeaux/Limoges/ Bergerac triangle and many had stories to tell of growing up in the village,” said Kay.

“But we also had many friends from the village who were curious about what we had done.

“Our days of working behind closed gates are gone. We try to be welcoming, and if tourists drop by unannounced, sometimes give them tours if we are not too busy. 

Above all, we now feel part of the village, and that is something special.”

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