An Adieu to Berthouville by Charles Spada

by Alice White Walker
a view from the driveway of Berthouville

Renowned interior designer and antique specialist Charles Spada has nurtured a deep love of France since childhood. A long-time lover of vintage, architecture and design, Charles has scoured markets across Europe for over two decades to bring back the best and most unique 18th, 19th & 20th-century finds. He runs his own antiques showroom at the Boston Design Center, which specializes in an eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furniture, decorative accessories, lighting, fabrics and wallpapers. 

Charles’ trademark style can be defined by his use of a well-edited and refined color palette and usage fabrics that play with textures and subtlety. Since 1980, he’s provided his trusted and impeccable design services for both high-end residences and commercial projects.

For our May/June 2020 issue, MFCH was fortunate to have Charles contribute a personal and heart-felt piece that poetically shares his experience of the last night he spent at his former French home – the Manoir de Berthouville –  a Norman hunting lodge built in 1652 that he purchased and renovated.

Read on for a snippet of this truly touching piece.

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It is the end of a long and chilly winter night, the dark sky is giving way to timid light, and I am once again in this house of forgotten dreams.

The radiators hum and hiss, grumble and groan, and for all the fuss, they seem to give little warmth in this high-ceilinged room. I lie here, half awake and halfway to dreaming, wrapped in a cocoon of quilts, feeling that uncomfortable chill that comes with a winter’s dawn.

Looking past my window to the darkened park, I can see a thin, colorless thread of light, a ghostly fluorescence low on the horizon. Nothing stirs. Not the wind, not the flutter of a beating wing, not the frailest branch of the tallest tree. Nothing moves under the veil of night, not before the cock crows, not before the church bells chime seven. I shiver, rubbing my hands and feet for warmth, drawing in my naked shoulder beneath the blankets.

Yesterday I arrived at an empty house. We are not strangers, but somehow it seemed as though we had grown apart. A bit shy in this, our first reunion, to find that all was not as it used to be. I caressed the limestone that surrounds the door as I used to do, I kissed the familiar brick, the one next to the lock as I always did. But the house, my former home, did not respond.

a view from the garden of Berthouville manoir

Or was it me? I hesitated in the cold, gray, late January afternoon before I dared place the key in the rusted lock. I paused again, waiting for my heart to leap, to skip a beat, to sing as it always did when I came back to her. Nothing. It occurred to me that perhaps my affair with this house had come to an end.

Turning the key in the old lock with a familiar click, I nudged the heavy wooden door with my knee, paused, then quickly crossed the worn threshold. I felt the confusion that comes at the end of a long and complicated love affair. Should I stay or should I go?

On this dark night, I am a guest in this house. I am certain that this will be the last night that I will spend inside these hallowed walls.

I felt an odd sensation take hold of me as I stepped inside the darkened hall. The familiar, intoxicating scent of aged wood filled my nostrils. I climbed the ancient, winding stairs; the treads creaked and groaned underfoot as they always did; the handrail, finely waxed and polished, was smooth to the touch. On the landing, I turned and walked the few feet down the narrow hall where I ran my fingers lightly across the paneled walls to the door that led me to a series of high-ceilinged rooms. I moved inside the empty dining room, where I lightly trod the polished floor, and then, like a sleepwalker, I moved from empty room to empty room, lit only by a steely, winter light filtering through the tall windows.

At the far end is my bedroom, filled with nothing but a bed and a chair, on loan until the new owner “settles in”, as we agreed. The walls were bare, the windows undraped, the bookcase empty… but I only saw it as it was before.

***** Read the rest of the story on p58 of the May/June 2020 issue*****

a portrait of a man in a grey jumper

www.charlespada.com

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of
My French Country Home.

Text by Charles Spada

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