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Living with Château Chic

Francophiles to the core, a design-minded couple built their own New York château after years of traveling to 17th- and 18th-century estates in France. Here, a look at their style and the buys that can help anyone get that château look.

Sometimes Amy Hase wonders if her husband, Manhattan-based furniture designer Todd Hase, was a French king in a former life. "He can sniff out châteaus like nobody else," she says. "We'll be driving through Normandy, and way off in the distance he'll see a suspiciously straight stand of trees. Next thing you know, we've veered off the road and are pulling up to yet another château."

The Hases travel to France frequently for business, and over the years they've visited dozens of estates, such as Château de Cany, completed in 1646 and attributed to François Mansart (great-uncle of the builder of Versailles). When they first thought about building a house on 11 acres in Bridgehampton, on Long Island, they envisioned something similar to the châteaus they'd admired, complete with a large lower-level kitchen connected by dumbwaiter to a dining room upstairs.

French château kitchens are often the oldest part of the building and were frequently left intact long after other rooms were modernized. To replicate this clash of eras, the Hases' mahogany-paneled dining room is 18th century in style, though decorated with Todd's clean-lined modernist furniture; in contrast, the kitchen has a rustic, nearly medieval feel, with stucco walls, cobbled limestone floors and open shelves. "We wanted the kitchen to look workmanlike and lived-in, not slick," says Amy, a former assistant chef. Because kitchens in past centuries were usually outfitted with movable furniture, Todd designed cabinets that are raised off the floor on ball feet. The over-mounted drawers and carved wood detailing were brush-painted by hand to create an intentionally imperfect look.

The maple countertops are 39 inches high, three inches taller than usual, to match the height of a pair of 18th-century French work tables that function as islands, retrofitted with electricity and plumbing. There are two weathered copper sinks: an apron-front next to the stove and another for prep on one of the islands. "When you drop lemon juice in the copper sink, it leaves a shiny streak," Amy says, "but that doesn't bother us. It gets oxidized again pretty quickly from minerals in the water and food and wine stains." The faucets, overhead light fixtures and wall sconces are made of unlacquered brass, to ensure they'll quickly develop a patina. The Hases even had all the brass doorknobs in the house chemically treated to remove their shiny protective finish. "Hardware companies think people want everything gleaming and glaring like a gold ring," Amy says. "Well, we don't."

Amy originally wanted a custom French La Cornue range, with its distinctive porcelain-enamel finish, but instead chose a more modestly priced 60-inch Viking with six burners, a griddle, a grill and two ovens. (Its black finish and brass trim rather convincingly mimic the French stove.) She did, however, splurge on two 36-inch black Viking refrigerators with brass trim, installed side-by-side; she uses the second one to store cut flowers and provisions for parties.

The Hases clearly designed their kitchen with functionality as well as style in mind. Amy puts the kitchen through its paces as she prepares popovers with some help from her daughters—Chloe, 7, and Ava, 5—then gives a quick tour of her growing collection of vintage copper pots and other quirky culinary accoutrements, such as an antique mesh-sided cheese cage and a guillotine-sharp baguette slicer, purchased from flea markets and auctions in France.

"Though it looks like there might be teams of servants and scullery maids busily working away down here..." Amy says.

"...in actuality, those servants are us," Todd interrupts.

He pages through a favorite book about French kitchens, 1998's Le Livre de la Cuisine, by Anthony Rowley, and talks about the insights he and Amy gleaned from their research. For instance, they learned that in châteaus built of stone, barrel vaults in a lower-level ceiling act as a buttress to support the building's immense weight. (The vaulted ceiling in their new kitchen, on the other hand, hides air-conditioning ducts.) Such historical knowledge also informed the Hases' work on a château they bought recently near Rouen, France: "It's a 19th-century renovation of a 17th-century structure," Amy explains.

Almost every weekend, the Hases hold dinner parties for a dozen people, with cocktails before and dancing afterward in the ballroom. (Todd bought Amy professional DJ equipment one year for Christmas.) A typical menu begins with a composed salad, transported from the kitchen to the dining room in the electric dumbwaiter, which is large enough to hold all the salad plates in one trip. Then Amy might slip away from the dining room to the kitchen to ready a leg of lamb rubbed with rosemary and garlic or put the last touches on a squid-ink paella.

"It's like having a split personality," Amy says about her shuttling between floors—and centuries. "I leave my high heels at the top of the stairs when I rush down to the kitchen to check something. Then, when I come back upstairs, I'll say to myself, 'Now, where was I in that conversation?'"

Stephen Henderson, a freelance writer based in New York City, is a frequent contributor to Town & Country, House Beautiful and the New York Times.

Published March 2006
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