Interview: Isabelle Dubois-Dumée opts for simple natural style in this idyllic French chateau renovation

Peeling paint on large wooden doors at a French chateau

A quick glance at the images here and you’ll see that stylist and photographer Isabelle Dubois-Dumée has an impeccable eye for interiors. After a successful career in publishing, Isabelle moved from Paris to the country with her family, drawn to a French chateau renovation that would allow her to craft beautiful spaces with a chic modern bohemian style.

Decor inspiration for a French chateau renovation

The project became an extension to her business Les Petites Emplettes, an online store and lifestyle brand founded in 2005, with the chateau now rented out for events, workshops, weddings and photo shoots.

Chateau de Dirac

Cháteau de Dirac is situated in the Charente region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France. The property sits on 20 acres, with a guest cottage, caravan and barn in the grounds.

Modern bohemian interior decor

The French chateau renovation feels modern, yet works in harmony with the ancient history of the building (two towers were built in the 12th and 15th century). The last major renovation was in the 1940s. Time worn exposed walls and patina form part of its aesthetic appeal, brought to life with natural materials, vintage decor accents and lots of plants.

simple home decor for a French chateau renovation

Modular furniture made from wooden shipping boxes is another theme running through the interior, used for seating and storage. The boxes are made in France from sustainably sourced wood and sold at Les Petites Emplettes.

Natural decor for a child's bedroom

Isabelle’s style goes further than just decorating, it’s about creating moments, experiences and atmosphere. There’s a sense of effortless elegance throughout – a je ne sais quoi that only stylists know how to do so well (and something many of us would love to achieve).

Portrait of Hubert Bettan

I spoke to Isabelle about life at the renovated chateau home which she shares with her husband Hubert Bettan and her three daughters Augustine, Lilou and Pimprenette.

Tell me about your creative background

I have a master’s degree from the Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris. I specialised in arts, language and the analysis of the different signs all around you. Afterwards I studied for a year at the Parisian art school École Estienne to study drawing, design, typography and the process of design and making a book. At the same time I worked at the publisher Gallimard for travel guides, the Air France magazine, new collections and documentaries for children.

cosy living room in a French chateau

I was graphic designer and artistic director for 7 years and then went on to found my own business, Les Petites Emplettes in 2005. I style my own collection, I work for private clients and also do styling for other brands.

Decor ideas for a French chateau renovation

In 2013, we moved from Paris to the castle and I decided to work only for my brand and the castle. The days are too short!

French chateau bedroom

How would you describe your interior style and where do you draw inspiration?

Our interiors are natural, simple. I try to find a certain harmony with everyday ingredients and natural materials, to find beauty with the very simple things – the things you use, that you eat.

Plant filled French kitchen

From where do you draw inspiration?

I find inspiration all the time in the small details of nature, a sentence in a book, an image in a film etc. Everything inspires me. My job is just to feel beauty, to show it and to share it, because beauty is a source of well-being.

Plants and decor made from natural materials

Describe a typical day for you at the moment

We start the day around 6am because I think with a long day I can get more work done! It seems important to me, the feeling of having time – time flies too quickly. We work all the time, everywhere. All the jobs nourish each other, design, styling, photography, cooking. 

Cosy kitchen in a renovated French chateau

I begin with a good breakfast. For me this is typically french baguette and butter and lots of good coffee but not too strong. During breakfast I read or send e-mails to my manufacturers or I process photos.

Wooden storage in a rustic kitchen

We take care of our animals – dogs, cats, goats, chickens and ducks, checking they’re ok and have enough food. A little sport or cleaning. During both I think about my daily list!

A French chateau renovation with decor made from natural materials

I check customer requests, or requests in general – always too many for only one person! I prepare shipments and listen to a podcast. I set up proposals for wooden crates (one of our best sellers). Tidy up my workshop, eat, take pictures, draw or write down ideas. listen to a lot of music and on a perfect day I start making dinner before 6pm. I eat all the time?!!

Do you have any favourite vintage items?

I’m not very comfortable with favourite things but maybe a wooden piece of furniture found on the street after a dance lesson one evening. It might have been school furniture. It has some small wheels and was painted blue. I removed it to get the natural wood. I like very basic vintage furniture but actually prefer to design furniture with my wooden boxes.

What are you working on currently?

My lists! And the concept of ‘The Castle of the Petites Emplettes’ – a mix between our design and our art of living. I try to find ways to divide our time between all our activities and bring wellbeing to our objects, photos, decoration and our place here. We do a little with a lot of things, something we call in France touche-à-tout – Jack-of-all-trades!

If you’ve fallen for this plant filled French chateau renovation, take a look at this Victorian home in London with its high ceilings, curated vintage and lots of greenery.

Author: Antonia Edwards

Antonia is the founding editor of Upcyclist. Based in the UK, she is the author of two books: 'Upcyclist: Reclaimed and Remade Furniture, Lighting and Interiors' (Prestel 2015) and 'Renovate Innovate: Reclaimed and Upcycled Homes' (Prestel 2017).