When French watercolorist Céline Chollet and her husband, Olivier, decided to buy a home in Auxerre in the late 1990’s, they were looking for something peaceful but, most of all, uncommon. So it’s no surprise that the property they chose—a storybook 500-year-old residence near Burgundy’s scenic Yonne River—has character in spades, with a spacious garden where the couple could enjoy their shared passion for horticulture. “It’s very rare to find a proper garden in the center of town,” says Chollet, who comes from a family of illustrators and is known for her bucolic portraits of the grand châteaux and classic residences that make up France’s architectural heritage. Slowly, the couple molded the yard into a hideaway brimming with fig and pear trees, raspberry plants, rose bushes, and climbing jasmine vines. That meticulousness is also evident inside the 2,600-square-foot, four-bedroom house, a place that is as quaint and romantic as the paintings that have come to define Chollet’s artistic style.
Though she loved the old oak beams that appeared in walls and ceilings throughout the home, Chollet found them somewhat gloomy. Using her fine arts expertise, her first order of business was to paint nearly every room—joists and all—in the traditional timber-framed Maison à Colombage a combination of pastel greens, blues, grays, and beiges, giving the home a serene yet jovial atmosphere. “I love colors but I don’t like big contrasts,” Chollet says.
With the palette set, she turned her attention to interior details. Though it was in great shape structurally, some of the house’s original doors, windows, and floors were either removed by previous owners or distressed beyond repair. Wanting to restore the home to its original splendor, Chollet and her husband began searching for period materials at flea markets and brocantes (second-hand stores) throughout the region. Over time, they amassed a carefully curated collection of furnishings, including a 17th-century stone fireplace to replace a broken chimney in the living room, and a small door with a faded painting of a fountain, which may have led to secret chambers at an ancient château in the countryside. “We’ve been decorating this home for 15 years,” says Chollet. “We love buying antiques; they have a charme that modern things don’t have because there’s history behind them.”
Perhaps their greatest show of dedication is seen in the kitchen, where walls are covered in vintage white-and-blue tiles from northern France, Portugal, and the Netherlands. “We searched for these tiles for a long time and waited until we had enough,” she says of the pieces, which were bought separately at various bric-a-brac shops over the years. In fact, every space in the home has centuries of stories to tell. From weathered books to pheasant feathers, antique flags to worn copper pots, each piece imparts the patina of the past. In the dining room, a bas-relief panel was outfitted with an 18th-century Dutch-style painting, simulating a fresco. The Chollets are particularly fond of the tower that stands in one corner of the property, offering views of the city and the surrounding countryside. According to lore, the Tower of Snow, as it’s now known, once housed a cave that was used to store ice for the preservation of food. It isn’t hard to believe the rumor that Joan of Arc spent time here. “This home is rather special and a bit bizarre; you don’t find something like it very often,” says Chollet.