ANYONE who has seen Angel Strawbridge on Escape To The Château knows she’s a grafter. It’s 11am when she sits down with a cuppa to do our interview. But she’s already worked eight hours — and the day won’t end till midnight. Incredibly, she is full of beans.
We joined her in 2016, near the start of their journey to renovate her home. Revisiting the property now, the results are stunning. ‘I don’t want a medal,’ she giggles with her trademark east London accent, ‘but I’ve been up since 3am doing the admin. We’re still filming the end of a new series, and no one wants to see the admin on the telly.’
As well as filming, Angel and husband Dick have a dozen vintage weddings to organise over the next year as well as their new glamping business to get off the ground. Then there’s the preparations for the forthcoming TV Christmas special. And let’s not forget they have two small children, Arthur, five, and four-year-old Dorothy, to add to the merry mix. ‘It’s a bit bonkers here, but in a really good way,’ laughs Angel, 47. ‘Both Dick and I have a lot of energy and drive. It works and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
‘The kids haven’t got a clue what mummy and daddy do because they are in bed before the show comes on telly.
‘When we go back to the UK and strangers tell Arthur he’s grown up, he asks them: “How do you know me?”’
The couple bought the dilapidated 19th-century Château de la Motte Husson for just £280,000 after trading in their two-bed flat in Essex to start a new life in France three years ago.
‘We moved in the middle of winter and there was no running water, heating or electricity and the only sanitation was the moat that surrounded the property,’ recalls Angel. Viewers watched as the couple painstakingly transformed it into a fabulous family home — and a thriving business, after a loving restoration and an injection of £200,000.
While former engineer Dick, 58, looks after the building work and maintenance, vintage expert and stylist Angel takes care of the décor and applies the finishing touches that have turned this imposing building into a welcoming homestay.
Arthur and Dorothy’s playroom — complete with a vintage indoor helter-skelter — is shared with visiting children. ‘It’s an open house and we love sharing it with our guests,’ Angel says. The beautiful bespoke tiles in the rustic kitchen are hand-painted by her. Her collections of knick-knacks are everywhere: vintage tureens, art décor platters, brass hooks and Dick’s old copper pans.
‘We buy our amazing china and glasses at French brocantes [second-hand shops] for pennies. Nothing matches and that’s part of the charm,’ she says.
Angel makes and sews all the home furnishings herself: ‘I love a cushion!’ And she’s passionate about her taxidermy, which adorns almost every room of the house.
One of her favourite spaces is the honeymoon suite, which she meticulously decorated with scraps of antique wallpaper they found hidden away in the attic.
‘The wallpaper is over 100 years old and it looks stunning. I never get bored of looking at it.
‘I also love my butterflies — they’re so colourful and they look stunning displayed on the walls on the staircase.’
The five-storey château has 45 rooms, as well as outbuildings and an annexe they converted for Angel’s mum and dad, who help out with the business and the kids.
But Angel reckons they are fast running of space.
‘We’ve filled every room. The brocantes and flea markets in France are incredible for linens, china, glasses, taxidermy. I just can’t stop buying beautiful items and Dick is the same. When we met, eight years ago, our first dates consisted of getting up at 5am to visit car boot sales. And we still do that here.
‘We don’t like throwing anything away. We love recycling old things instead of buying everything new.
‘We don’t have local convenience stores so we’re always good for an emergency! I even managed to rustle up some of our old nappies for a guest’s baby.
‘We hold on to everything — that’s why we are tight on space.’
And what will be top of Angel’s wish list for Christmas? ‘I’m going to ask Dick for an extension,’ she laughs.
Something tells me she’s not joking.
Embrace Angel’s vintage look
AFTERNOON tea is not complete without mismatched china cups, cake stands and fancy glassware. Here’s Angel’s thrifting top tips from her new book The Vintage Tea Party, to help you source the right bits at the right price.
Where to buy
There are plenty of places where you can find vintage items such as in antique shops, auction houses, car boot or garage sales, charity shops and internet selling platforms. But the best bargains can often be obtained when vintage items are offered outside a ‘vintage’ context, and thus get a bit lost among the other items.
There’s no point buying vintage porcelain or glass if you have to spend twice the purchase price to have it restored. Watch out for cracks and previous repairs. If you discover the item has been previously damaged, just don’t buy it.
Where original furniture from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s might be very expensive to purchase, do consider buying later updated editions, as these can prove to be far less pricey. And when they have acquired a bit of wear and tear, they can have as much impact as the originals.
There are many places where you can buy vintage clothes, ranging from wearable evening dresses to designer togs at attractive prices. Mix and match to create your unique look. If you buy well-known vintage fashion labels, they might also be worthwhile investments.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, porcelain tea services were frequently given to young couples as wedding presents but as they were kept in display cabinets, or only used on special occasions, they are often in very good condition. The market is currently flooded with them because they are not very fashionable, so now is definitely the right time to buy and enjoy them.
Electroplated silver is very expensive when new, but in a secondary market it can be very good value and is extremely decorative when in good condition. Again it is a good time to buy silver as it can be seen as old-fashioned and needs cleaning.
■ The new series of Escape To The Château is on Sundays at 8.30pm on Channel 4