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Steward of the Manoir: How Boston designer Charles Spada rescued a 17th century Norman manse

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The restored country house looks straight from the pages of a fairytale.

With the ease of a host pouring the port after a relaxed dinner party with friends, Charles Spada told the bittersweet tale of his house fantasy come to life. Sweet because, the usual pitfalls of a major renovation notwithstanding, this was his dream come true writ large. Bitter because with the realities of life, i.e. an aging parent and a caretaker taken ill, morning came. There was a collective sigh from his audience, Historic New England’s Ogden Codman Design Group, when he revealed he sold the Manior du Berthouville, the 1652 one-time relais de chasse, or hunting lodge in the French Norman countryside, he bought in the mid 1990s and then devotedly restored over a three-year period.

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The house had been long neglected when Charles Spada first set eyes on it. All the windows were replaced and the stonework underwent extensive restoration.

Lovers of great old houses, as most in the audience were, know the fantasy well: Find a neglected, but grand, house in some romantic setting, restore it to its former glory, furnish it with things you love, live well in it. Spada, Boston’s unequivocal doyen of design, did just that and lucky for the roomful of envious designers who gathered at Hampshire House on Boston’s Beacon Hill to hear the tale Wednesday night, he beautifully documented the experience.
The house appears in the January/February issue of Veranda magazine for which Spada wrote the text. “Though a bit unkempt, the old girl had lost none of her grandeur,” he writes about his first visit to the house. “She was, and remains, as elegant and timeless as a Givenchy gown.”
Indeed, but she needed more than a good cleaning and some accessories to get her ready for the ball. It took Spada’s stewardship, and an army of contractors and artisans, to breathe life into the manior, which can again take its rightfully proud place in the annals of architecture and design.

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The segmental pediment above front door is engraved with the year the house was built, 1652.

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Modern chaises complement the classic style and timeless beauty of the house. More photos of Manior du Berthouville can be viewed here.

And then, the chaumiere
The house restoration complete, Charles Spada turned his energy toward the chaumiere, a barnlike cottage on the property that had been used for many purposes over the centuries, including for blacksmithing in the early 1900s. Its façade now restored and a new thatched roof in place, it adds to the romance of the setting. The two pillars in middle of the lawn are what’s left of what was a garden wall.

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A local artisan works in shorts and shirtsleeves on the installation of the new thatched roof. Tradition has it that irises are planted along the peak to help absorb moisture.

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Charles Spada, the Boston designer and self-avowed Francophile, says he hopes to someday purchase another, perhaps smaller, house in Normandy. We hope so, too!

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