When French antique dealer Samuel Roger and his wife first drove down the long, tree-lined drive of Château de Marcellus – an imposing château in Lot-et-Garonne built between 1590 and 1775 on the ruins of a 14th-century fortress – they knew they had found a place to call home. “As we moved through each room, we discovered that everything was intact – the timber panels, the fireplace mantels, the flooring… nothing had been changed since it was completed in 1775,” recalls Roger. “It was beautiful.”
Roger grew up in Houdan, a small town located 45-minute from Paris by train, and it was here that he established his company Origines, which has become known as the leading French provider of period materials and architectural antiques. Moving his life from Houdan to the centuries-old château was the fulfilment of a long-held dream, one that allowed him to fully immerse himself in the magical world of antiquities that had fascinated him since his youth by living in a piece of history. “I have always loved old architecture and objects,” he says. “There is a big pleasure when you discover something with a history. It’s like hunting for treasure.”
There is a big pleasure when you discover something with a history. It’s like hunting for treasure – Samuel Roger, founder of Origines
Roger’s passion for the objects of the past was ignited by his father. His childhood home was an old mansion that the family restored and renovated before they moved to a large, early-19th-century mill house. His father would take a young Roger to visit garage sales and antiques markets, and he founded his own architectural salvage company in 1981. In 1988, after three years in Paris studying art and history, a 20-year-old Roger decided to join his father’s company. When Roger’s father decided to step back from the business in 1992, he offered his son the position of CEO. Roger, however, wanted to define his own vision, and Origines was born.
Since founding Origines almost three decades ago, the company has become known as one of France’s most celebrated sources for architectural salvage and is an Aladdin’s cave of architecturally important antiquities. Roger’s previous premises in Houdan, in a reclaimed tile factory and grain farm, overflowed with fireplace mantels in marble, timber and stone, ranging from the 15th to 20th century, ornately sculpted garden ornaments and fountains, gilded mirrors, and all manner of original flooring. He specialises in antique fireplace mantels – and has even written a book, Cheminées Françaises, on the subject.
“Fireplace mantels are the star of any living space and I’m fascinated by them,” says Roger. “While most of my inventory comes from the 18th and 19th centuries, I have had fireplaces from the 15th century Gothic period through to the Art Deco period. My favourite fireplaces, though, are from the 17th century – I love the style and the scale.”
Before the move to Château de Marcellus, Roger held an auction, selling off as much of his impressive inventory as possible. He then transported the rest of the antiquities to his new home and showroom 700 kilometres away in 45 enormous trucks; with another nine transporting his and his wife’s personal belongings.
The couple are now in the process of setting up both home and showroom in the château and its expansive grounds, which filled with Roger’s collection of garden ornaments feels like a grand sculpture park. Roger and his wife have also started to host guests in seven rooms and suites, and are transforming the stables and wine cellar into a wedding venue.
With the move to Château de Marcellus and the extra space it affords, Roger plans on extending his offering with Origines to include 18th- and 19th-century oil paintings, small sculptures, objets d’art, and furniture. “This new direction is due to the fact that I’m in this fantastic château, and began to buy bronze figures and marble and timber sculptures to display in the different rooms,” says Roger. “The château is not only our home, but many of the ground-floor rooms are also my showroom where I can bring clients.”
Origines clients are split 50-50 between professionals, such as architects, interior designers and landscapers, and private collectors and homeowners renovating a property themselves. “I’m open by appointment only,” says Roger. “I take the time to show clients my current inventory – both indoor and outdoor – and can also search for specific pieces they are looking for.”
It’s a process that can take hours, or even days, as Roger has thousands of pieces in his inventory at any one time, including hundreds of fireplaces. He most often uncovers the pieces he sells with the assistance of “pickers”, who track down historic homes undergoing renovations, but he also frequents auction houses both in person and online.
The pieces he discovers have ended up in projects scattered across the globe, from Russia to the United States – and each one offers a glimpse into the past. A bedroom in Moscow features a white Carrara marble Louis XVI-style fireplace dating from 1880, decorated with rosettes, oak leaves and intertwined ribbons; an entry foyer in Valençay is paved with 18th-century terracotta tiles; and a private residence in Colorado boasts a stone fireplace from Jura that dates back to 1550.
At the end of May, Roger is hosting his first major auction at Château de Marcellus, offering his clients the opportunity to bid on his most recent acquisitions. Up for sale are 400 lots – including 55 fireplace mantels, more than 300 sculptures, garden ornaments, mirrors, antique flooring materials, and various objets d’art. The highlights include a pair of monumental three-metre-high 18th-century stone fire urns, and an ornate Louis XIII-style limestone fireplace that dates back to 1652 and is expected to sell for between €200,000 and €350,000. And, there is no better place to view these precious antiquities than Château de Marcellus.
“If you love art, architecture and history, living in a château is the goal,” says Roger. “To be able to realise that dream is amazing. I am putting my knowledge at the service of Château de Marcellus to restore it and keep it alive – but I’m not the owner. I am just a guardian, in charge of leaving it to the next generations.”
Effect Magazine is brought to you by The Bruno Effect