Interiors & Design

Royal Style: The Designer Secrets Behind 5 Modern Castles

From French châteaux to Scottish fortresses, top interior designers and castle owners share how they’ve transformed ancient marvels into thoroughly modern masterpieces

At the heart of any castle’s modernization, says Alex Kravetz—an award-winning architect and interior artist who’s transformed many historically important properties into exquisite modern homes—is the desire to “turn fantasy into reality.”

“The exterior of a fortress is already a work of art. We enhance it by creating highly individual spaces for a family’s interests,” he explains. “We’ll add anything from home theaters and auditoriums to bowling alleys, swimming pools, bars, and expansive dining areas. Of course, it’s imperative to respect the building’s past and to work with the heritage bodies that aim to preserve original architecture. We choreograph around all that.”

Here, designers and owners give us an inside look at how they’ve refurbished ancient castles and brought their modern fairytale fantasy to life.

1. Celebrate Legacy

When the Tollman family added Ashford Castle, in County Mayo, Ireland, to their Red Carnations Hotels portfolio in 2013, director of design and projects, Toni Tollman, embarked on a year-long refurbishment. “She had a very clear concept in mind, which was ‘time and place.’ Context was everything,” says general manager, Niall Rochford. “The design had to work with the castle’s 800-year past and its location, overlooking Lough Corrib. So our designers and architects focused on combining its legacy with modern innovations. For example, in the Great Hall (pictured in the header image above), vibrant curtains with gold detailing and a Belgian Val Saint Lambert chandelier create drama and complement the historical wood paneling.”

2. Enhance History

“This is a place for people who love history, who want a building that speaks,” says Michel Alard of Château du Hénan, his 15th-century castle in Brittany, France. Before undertaking its seven-year, stone-by-stone refurbishment, Alard explains, “I listened to what the property needed. I had seven stonemasons who created a granite quarry on site to provide more stone. I also took time to find the right architect—Serge Carnus—and we were forensic in our research. We preserved the chapel, a monk’s tower, belfry, and a monumental spiral staircase made of granite. But, of course, we also wanted to create an elegant, comfortable home, so we added a glass roof to bring in light, geothermal under-floor heating, and furniture that provided color and texture.”

3. Strike the Right Balance

“Refurbishing castles should be about preserving the property’s ancient soul, while giving it new life as a luxurious, modern family residence,” says Katharine Pooley, founder of Katharine Pooley Design Studio, who updated the interiors of Forter, a 16th-century castle in Perthshire, Scotland. “Baronial architecture demands opulence, a home demands comfort. The key is to balance the two. So, at Forter, I offset the coldness of the stone walls with large tapestries, warm chocolate leathers, rich woods, and a spectacular ceiling mural by artist Jenny Merredew. Guests, who visit the castle through the private members traveling club Stay One Degree, remark how inviting they find it—which tells me I did my job well.”

4. Go Flamboyant on Fantasy

Overlooking the breathtaking UNESCO-protected Langhe countryside, in Piedmont, Italy, the 19th-century Neo-Gothic Castello Barolo is situated on a site once inhabited by a medieval castle. “In the 1960s, my husband’s family refurbished the castle and turned it into a hotel,” says its current owner Manuela Chiuminatti, noting that its most recent renovation took place in 2016. “I love its flamboyance, its crenelated towers, frescoed halls, and stone staircases and the secret door that leads to the top of the tower. To me it is a castle of the imagination.”

5. Create a Sustainable Sanctuary

“Nothing can compare to the opulence, heritage, and historical appeal of calling an ancient castle your home,” says Zenaide Giunta-Tremi, owner of Le Torri di Bagnara Castles in Umbria, Italy, part of which is available to rent through private members’ travel club, Stay One Degree. The magnificent property, comprising five medieval castles, a tower, and a private nature reserve, has been in Giunta-Tremi’s family for more than a century. “For us, sustainability is key, and our intention was always to create an eco-friendly luxury residence,” she explains. “We don’t allow hunting on our reserve; our energy comes from solar panels; we collect rainwater for irrigation and grow much of our own food. We’ve created a sanctuary for nature, for animals and, of course, for humans.”

Banner image: The great hall at Ashford Castle in Ireland