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Festive fancies at La Demeure des Roses

Festive fancies at La Demeure des Roses

What was once a rather drab post office has been transformed into a must-visit boutique filled with beautiful things. And as Sandie George discovers, it’s all down to the vision of one woman…  

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Sparkling lights draped around the rose garden and reflected in the waters of the River Charente do not prepare you for the wonderland inside La Demeure des Roses. Glass balls, white and silver garlands and chandelier drops glitter in the light, a magnificent table centerpiece glows beneath a gorgeous chandelier and the scent of perfumed candles fills the air. Walk through the door of the boutique in Verteuil-sur-Charente in the Charente and you enter a world of sugar and spice and all things nice.

If you’re feeling a bit Scrooge-ish at the moment (and really, who could blame you given economic crises etc?) then take yourself off to La Demeure des Roses for an injection of the Christmas spirit. This festive season is the boutique’s first and its owner Virginie Stefani is determined to celebrate. ‘I adore Christmas,’ says Virginie. ‘I love to decorate for Christmas and I know that English people also enjoy this festive season. I have spent Christmasses in England and I love their decorations, the food on Christmas Day and the excitement. It is starting to happen a little more in France but the French don't cook at Christmas and they only put up one bauble or perhaps two.’

Virginie is new to Verteuil. Although she spent her childhood in Paris, more recently she lived in the south of France. Deciding she and her husband Benoît wanted to do something different with their lives – she was a painter while Benoît was the director of four Peugeot garages – the thirtysomething couple chose Verteuil after visiting it to see Virginie’s father. ‘It is a little paradise,’ says Virginie, who has two children Theo and Amber. ‘Here, the children can see their grandparents and we can be more of a family.’    
They decided on a shop such as this thanks to Virginie’s decorating skills on their former home. ‘Benoit promised that when we moved he would buy me a shop,’ says Virginie.

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Finding the right property was difficult but a friend told Virginie that the village post office was being closed down. She and Benoît only had nine minutes in which to view it (it was almost lunchtime!) but they made an offer just one hour later.  ‘I told the estate agent I wanted it,’ says Virginie. ‘I could see that the building was large and unloved but it was beside the river.’ However, it took six months of government red tape and complicated paperwork before it was hers. And then the hard work of transforming it began. Upstairs is the family home while downstairs is given over to the shop.

‘We took possession of it on 19 December 2010,’ she says. ‘There was work to be done on the roof but we spent our first night there on the 23rd and froze. We had no electricity, heating or water but it was all a great adventure. There was even a celebration when a new toilet was installed!’
Getting rid of the detritus from the post office also took some time – and some strong-arm tactics. ‘I could not get the government immobilière to remove the desk and rubbish they left behind but I found a drawer full of confidential papers,’ says Virginie. ‘So I telephoned and said if you do not come and clean out the building within 48 hours I will make sure the newspapers know about these papers.  They came and cleaned up straight away!  When they had gone, I put my arms across the wall to hug the house and said, “you will love what I am going to do to you"’.

She has filled it with lovely things for the home, as well as some fashion, and every last surface is covered with something that catches the eye. With no experience in retail she began by contacting the makers of the products she used to decorate her home in the Riviera and everything in La Demeure des Roses is chosen by her or Benoît. ‘And we buy with passion,’ she says. ‘ I try to buy from local artisans but the furniture mostly comes from Belgium where they make stylish items.’

verteuil-charente-boutique-shoppingPrices for her Christmas goodies range between €4-€29. Our favourites include Yankee Candles, beautifully presented in the traditional-style pharmacy bottles. She also stocks a range of fragrances and we fell for ‘Fluffy Towel’ that does smell just like a towel, still warm, that’s been pulled out of the drier with conditioner on it.

Virginie has great plans for Verteuil. With two existing galleries, she wants the village to be known as an arts centre and Benoît is currently renovating a small house that will offer residential art courses as well as being a gîte. Virginie started painting with oils when just eight years old and although she has no formal art education, she has been exhibiting and selling paintings since she was 16 years old. ‘I already have 11 students and I left 18 students behind in the south, but they are coming to visit for a week in April for more tuition,’ she says.

She has already organized an ‘English Christmas’ in the village. ‘I have persuaded the shops and restaurants to decorate their windows, so that is a start,’ she says. ‘Verteuil is such a lovely small town, it lends itself to celebrations.’ And with Virginie there, we’re sure they’ll be plenty of them!

  

La Demeure des Roses, 1 rue du Temple, 16510, Verteuil-sur-Charente; tel 05 45 30 13 97

PHOTOS: PIERRE DELAUNAY

Published by Living Poitou-Charentes in December 2011 © All Rights Reserved