Art & Décoration – September 2017

Weekend at La Maison & l’Atelier


After their children had grown up, Clare Howarth and Carlos Alarcon Rojas transformed their family home into a guesthouse for travelers who love the finer things in life.

Reported by Audrey Cosson. Photos Emanuela Cinq.

“After just an hour’s drive from Paris, it’s hard to believe we’re already in the countryside.

The gate to La Maison & l’Atelier opens in the small rural village of Crouy-en-Thelle, revealing through the trees an elegant 18th-century Picardy-style house.

Clare Howarth opens the door and we enter into a superb cement-tiled entrance. She invites us to join her in the kitchen next door.

With its large convivial table and central location, we quickly understand that this is the soul of the house. Clare spends most of her time here, concocting delicious meals or snacks for her guests, which she often shares with them.

We see the large open-plan living room, with its elegant, harmonious colors and materials, designer furniture and works of art. “My husband Carlos and I arrived in 1999, and the house has been under constant restoration ever since*,” smiles Clare.

This is where they started their family, renovating the house and garden themselves over the years. Carlos created much of the furniture, such as the large dining table, the bedroom consoles and the waxed concrete showers, while Clare designed and placed every plant in the garden herself.

For these two design and art enthusiasts, their interiors have always been a privileged terrain of expression that they are happy to share with family, friends and visitors. They have preserved the building’s finest features, such as its original marble, terrazzo and cement tile floors, and its magnificent mid-century fireplace, and combined them with vintage furniture, works by their favorite contemporary artists and handicrafts.

The whole, with its crazy allure, reveals the expert eye of its owners. Originally from England, Clare’s career as a fashion designer has taken her all over the world.

“After thirty-five years in fashion, I felt I’d had enough, and wanted to turn to a more human experience,” Clare tells us.

Once the children had left home, she and her husband decided to renovate the bedrooms and bathrooms to accommodate travelers from all over the world. They inaugurated the guest house in 2016 and are currently renovating the workshop, located in the garden, into a large loft that will welcome visitors from next year.

We take the beautiful old staircase to discover our rooms, located upstairs. We spend a peaceful night in modern comfort, with a mix of vintage fabrics and furniture made by the owners themselves.

When we wake up, it’s the scent of granola that draws us into the kitchen where Clare is waiting. She prepared a French-English breakfast of freshly ground coffee, tea, homemade jams and breads, and avocado toast, which was a delight.

She composes her recipes according to the seasons and her mood, offering her guests a highly personal cuisine. The table is decorated with large flowers and grasses from the garden that Clare picked that very morning. Inspired by Piet Oudolf and his waves of grasses and perennials, she transformed this former horse paddock into a landscaped garden.

After a day spent exploring the surrounding area, such as the Château de Chantilly or a walk in the ancestral forests nearby, we’re happy to return to the calm of the bucolic garden.

Under the enveloping golden light, we relax with an English tea and homemade minicakes while chatting with Clare. It’s when the late-day sunlight filters through its tall perennial flowers that the garden is at its most unsettling, we say to ourselves as we help ourselves to a muffin, one more, the last, I promise.”

1. The 1900 cement tiles in the entrance echo the walls painted by Clare herself. From here, the staircase leads to the upstairs bedrooms. 20th-century industrial suspension lamp.

2. In the dining room, which opens onto the living room, pieces from the 1950s are mixed with furniture designed by Carlos, such as the wooden table. Leather chairs, Pierre Guariche design. Rattan chairs, design by GianFranco Legler. Tom Dixon paper star. Wool flannel curtains, Marché Saint-Pierre, Paris, designed by Clare.

3. Clare designed the headboard of the king-size bed in room Z66. Bedding The Conran Shop and Merci, Plaid Habitat Lampe Caravane.

4. Bedroom bathrooms feature Italian-style waxed-concrete showers made by Marius Aurenti and installed by Carlos.

5. We can’t get enough of Clare’s apple and seed minicakes.

Nicolas Vabe small wooden board.

Caravane washed linen towel.

Fabrics, Moline sourced by Clare in Paris.