At her family’s bolthole in rural Burgundy, fabric designer Susan Deliss combines the richest textiles from around the world with the best of traditional local style
On a sun-baked, dusty street in rural Burgundy, a white wrought-iron gate in an ivy-covered stone wall opens with a push, to reveal a lush garden inside. Pink roses trail the walls, lavender bushes are fat with bees, and a fig tree shades a snoozing black lurcher.
This is the idyllic French country retreat of fabric dealer and designer Susan Deliss and her husband Max, a conservator who restores old-master paintings. From the garden, wide stone steps lead down to the Serein river, which flows towards the wine-growing region of Chablis. A small blue boat belonging to their sons, Al, 15, and Gus, 13, bobs gently on the water.
The couple fell in love with the area, not far from Dijon, after visiting a friend who lives nearby. ‘I wanted to buy a house,’ says Deliss, ‘and I liked the idea of having a bunker in France where we could get away from it all.’
In 2002, they were tipped off that a maison bourgeoise, or ‘comfortable house’, was for sale. The property, which is listed, was built in the 18th century, with the drawing room added in the 19th, and had previously belonged to only two families.
‘When I walked into the garden, I immediately got good vibes,’ Deliss recalls. ‘It was overgrown, but the position on the river was lovely. Inside, I loved the way the light from the river reflected on the ceilings. It needed a lot of work, but its bones, the proportions of rooms, windows and light, were very good.’
In France, house owners are required by law to leave one light bulb behind when they move, which is precisely what the previous owners did, stripping the place of everything else, including roses from the garden.
The Delisses spent holidays working on the property, enlisting trusted builders and tradespeople from the UK, who camped out in the house and replaced the roof; rewired, replumbed and replastered throughout; and installed a new boiler.
The front door, crowned with wisteria, opens up into a cool, dark hall. The floors here, which were once broken slabs of concrete, have been replaced with local antique terracotta tiles. The hall leads to the dining room and kitchen, furnished with unfitted cabinets and appliances typical of the regional style, including a beautiful stone sink, along with a table made by Max.
Deliss experimented with 80 paint samples from Paint & Paper Library before settling on a soft apricot orange for the kitchen and delicate pale blues in the drawing and dining rooms.
Every window has wooden shutters and the original glass panes. ‘Antique glass is uneven, which I love,’ says Deliss. ‘The shutters protect the house from the heat in summer and the cold in winter. When we first arrived in the village, it looked as if nothing had been changed for a century, and I wanted the house to have that feel.’
This inspired the way she decorated the rest of the house, which she describes as dans son jus; literally ‘in its own juice’. ‘The design evolved gradually,’ she explains. ‘We didn’t want it to look new or overdone, but to have a gentle, benign beauty.’
Deliss is a former lawyer, but fabrics have always been her passion: while working abroad in Cairo, Iran and Ghana she would spend countless hours seeking out antique suzani textiles and hand-embroidered silk cloths. In 2011, she turned this passion into her profession, becoming an antique-textile dealer; she now also designs her own fabrics, and works as an interior designer.
She uses textiles to beautiful effect in the house: as wall hangings, tablecloths, bedspreads, cushions and upholstery, their rich tones complement the tiles, white shutters and wooden flooring.
This home in France provides the family with something they find almost impossible to pin down in London: time. Life in rural Burgundy is spent taking the time to shop, cook and linger over meals and conversations. What better way to while away a long, hot summer than by the river, under the dappled shade of trees, with good food and good friends? The good life indeed.