Chateau de Combemale

Shaun and Jo Kent wanted a lifetime restoration project. This abandoned chateau in the spa town of Bagnères de Luchon was a great match.
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The Kent family, the owners of Chateau de Combemale
Artiom Ganin is talking to Shaun Kent, the owner of Chateau de Combemale in Haute-Garonne, the Occitanie region in the southwest of France. Together with his wife Jo they decided to take a break in their careers and devote their time to restoring this beautiful 19th century chateau located next to the spa town of Bagnères de Luchon. The core of the restoration team is Shaun himself, his wife and their daughter Jade with her partner Fred. Shaun says the building had stood abandoned for years before the family bought it for some 300000 euros several years ago. The plan now is to bring the mansion - which was once visited by famous French novelist Octave Mirabeau and which allegedly inspired him to write his 'Twenty one days of neurasthenic – to former glory. And this is where Shaun's background of a construction manager does come in handy every single day.


Castles_and_Palaces (CnP): Why did you chose to buy and restore this very chateau?

Shaun Kent (SK): We spotted the advertisement for sale on the internet and thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime, almost too good to be true! We booked a weekend trip to view the Chateau and we instantly knew it was the one. We fell in love with the town, the local area and the we could see a huge potential in restoring the Chateau back to full life. So, I guess you can say, we chose the chateau at first for the town and location as the chateau is situated a short walk away from the centre of Luchon plus it's an incredibly curious and interesting building. The two hand in hand sealed the deal!
CnP: What was the state of the castle when you bought it?
SK: It was in an unloved state, very tired and deteriorating rapidly as it had been empty for a number of years. It's taking a lot of effort and a lot of imagination to start bringing it back to its former glory.

CnP: Who was the previous owner?
SK: The previous owners have a number of properties around the area, we understand it passed down in their family and they owned the chateau for a very long time before selling on to us.
CnP: Would you tell me a few words about yourself and your family – restoring a castle is definitely not an easy ride in terms of time and money!

SK: We wanted the project of a lifetime, a challenge and something we could restore and enjoy as a family. When we came across the Chateau and decided to go for it, we both then decided to take a break from our careers and put that time to restoring the Chateau. I, Shaun, am from a construction management background and my wife, Jo, is from a pharmaceutical background. The construction knowledge certainly comes in handy for a project of this scale. It's definitely a labour of love and expensive one at that! What we would say is that it's not for the faint hearted, you have to be prepared to work incredibly hard!
Shaun, Jo and Jade
CnP: The castle was built for Jacques Cartault, a lawyer and a member of the Archaeological Society of Tarn-et-Garonne. I am sure the man had a lot of stories to tell to his guests. Any legends about the chateau which you know and love?

SK: We are still trying to research about its history and we have been picking up pieces of information along the way. Whilst we don't know much, we understand that the Castle was primarily used for hosting guests (and occasionally prestigious ones according to one source!). We understand his father was a serious art collector, and Jacques inherited his collection which was utilised to furnish the Chateau - so hopefully we will find some treasure!
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CnP: Do you live in the chateau? Where exactly?

SK: Yes we do now, we have managed to restore the majority of the ground floor and a number of rooms over the 1st floor, in addition to refurbishing the basement which houses our kitchen - so it is now largely fully functional as a home whilst we continue to restore the rest! Although it certainly wasn't habitable when we received the keys, we have come a long way since then.
CnP: Do you remember you first night in the chateau? What did you feel?

SK: When you spend your first night in anywhere, often you want to sit and listen out for all of the noises, a creek or any sort of sound that a building can make. We expected the chateau to have its own set of noises given that its quite an old building, but oddly there are none! It felt quite strange being in such a big space, but quiet and very peaceful, quite majestic actually in the large rooms. Waking up in the chateau feels almost dream like!
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CnP: I can imagine! What's your strongest emotion linked with the chateau?
SK: Probably wonder and amazement - At the moment we are still processing the fact we live here, we pinch ourselves at the thought

CnP: Do you have your favourite place inside your beautiful castle?
SK: Yes, we do! Probably the 'secret room' in the tower just off of the main salon, it's incredibly quirky with its hidden door in the panelling - and once inside it's just beautiful and very peaceful, surrounded by windows, panelling and of course one of those magical ceilings, which were hidden from everybody for so many years. We've finally made them visible!
CnP: The spa town of Bagnères de Luchon offers a lot of recreational activities – will you open an all-year-round hotel?

SK: Luchon is a fabulous place, and although we haven't decided yet what our plans are, we certainly want it to be a place that is enjoyed. Luchon has the amazing balance of skiing and snow sports in the winter, and the amazing warm summers with lots of outdoor activities as well as the historic spas, so we feel very fortunate to be placed in the heart of it.
CnP: I know that the chateau is linked (just like many other French chateaux) with a writer, namely, Octave Mirabeau. Was it really Chateau de Combemale which inspired the novelist to create his 'Twenty One Days of Neurasthenic'?

SK: We don't know much about it other than that we understand that the author did stay at the Chateau - hopefully his stay was peaceful enough to be considered a writers retreat as its a beautiful spot for writing!
CnP: If I am not mistaken the price for the chateau was slightly over 300 000 euros. How much does the restoration cost?

SK: That's a good question and at the moment we are still restoring and spending – it's an ongoing count and in the very traditional fashion that comes with historical buildings, the more you uncover the more that needs attention!
CnP: Who is on your restoration team and what are the areas each of you is responsible for?

SK: The team is quite a small one! Me and my wife Jo, are doing the majority of the works. Our daughter Jade and partner Fred are chipping in to help where they can when they visit, and we have used an electrician and a small team of façade specialists for the external work. We have also recently enlisted the help of a landscaper and gardener to help with the felling of some damaged trees as maintaining a mountain side can be quite challenging.
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CnP: I know any repair works tend NOT to go as scheduled. For instance the owner of Chateau des Grotteaux told me they had almost finished the works when a deluge occurred which inflicted heavy damage on the restored chateau. So they hand to cough up 800000!!! euros more to finally complete the restoration. Any unexpected turns during the restoration works at your chateau?

SK: So far we have been quite lucky and most works have gone as planned. We knew it was a fairly full on project so had a good idea of what we were taking on - aside from a small leak in the basement, a few large bees nests and lots of replacement lintels in the basement we are relatively ticking along - touch wood!
CnP: Some people say the chateau is slightly haunted – have you experience anything supernatural inside?

SK: We haven't experienced anything at all really, it has a very nice calm feeling however my wife has commented on a really nice smell of scent in the 1st floor hallway!
CnP: Good for you! Tell me about the interiors – I've notice there are some nice paintings on the walls. Who are these people and what's their connection with the chateau?

SK: We understand that possibly they derive from Jacques inherited art collection. We understand one of the paintings is in the Manner of Frans Pourbus the Elder, but I am unaware of a connection with the chateau other than the paintings being used as part of the decor, and the exact subject ( we think he was son of king Christian of Denmark). Another one is possibly Gaspard de Colingny, admiral of France.
CnP: Could you give a piece of advice to those who would like to follow suit and embark on a similar restoration project?

SK: Be open minded of the highs and lows. It's hard work and not for the faint hearted but it's massively rewarding. Be prepared for the unexpected and go for it. You can then say you have done it.
We very much hope that you liked the interview with Shaun Kent, the owner of Chateau de Combemale in Southwestern France.
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Photo credits: Chateau de Combemale

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