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The Maison aux Assiettes: the work of a real character

A ceramic house

Everyone knows one or two stories about people who’ve devoted their whole lives to a particular passion, like building a fantasy home. I often find these slightly crazy projects rather endearing. A while back I heard about a very odd building covered in ceramics in Lot-et-Garonne, France. As it’s not a long way from Bordeaux, I decided to go and take a look for myself. The 150 km round trip was fine but the satnav certainly proved handy for the last bit.

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A complete work of art to preserve

Ceramics are one of my areas of expertise and I’ve waited far too long to visit the Château de Senelles, in the town of Bias. I was met by Xavier Llopis, who has taken it upon himself to protect this breathtaking creation. He has managed to get it listed by the Regional Directorate for Cultural Affairs and is trying to drive away looters by getting a fence put up. The Maison aux Assiettes de Senelles is so unusual that passers-by can’t help but marvel at the collections of ceramics adorning all of its walls.

A learned eccentric

A native of Senelles, Louis-Léon de Brondeau (1820-1906) was a doctor who studied medicine at the University of Montpellier and the University of Giessen, Germany. But he never actually practised as a doctor, preferring to devote his time to agriculture, devising ingenious devices, and indulging in his passion for collections. This proved such an all-consuming passion that, around 1880, inundated with pottery, he came up with the idea of displaying it not on the inside but on the outside of his house, a renovated former 17th-century château. He set about embedding plates, tiles and platters in the walls of his home. The result is incredible.

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A 19th-century open-air museum

The walls are fully decorated with a diverse array of ceramics that sparkle as soon as the sun hits them. Louis-Léon de Brondeau succeeded in creating a coherent collection despite having juxtaposed some 650 different pieces. And as well as enjoying the decorative, creative side of this amazing house, ceramics fans will find a full-on encyclopaedia of factories and ceramicists: Vieillard, Sarreguemines, Martres-Tolosane, Creil-et-Montereau, Gien, Porquier-Beau, Henriot, Desvres, Lunéville, Nevers, Veuve Perrin and Saint-Clément in France, as well as Minton and Adams&Bromley in England, Rörstrand in Sweden, and even artists such as Théodore Deck. The etchings he put up in the stairwell also show de Brondeau’s impertinence and free spirit. I also stopped by the nearby church of Notre-Dame, which is painted red, blue and green and features the Stations of the Cross by François Peltier, a contemporary artist.

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Location: Bias (view on Google)

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