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Project Chateau – Building a life in the countryside | Leaving the city SPECIAL

Géza, Eszter, Gergő, and Dóri are a little shy, but seven-month-old Samu looks curiously into the lens when the camera clicks. The two black puli dogs—a distinctly Hungarian breed—Mono and Robicouldn’t care less about their looks in front of the crew. The house behind them was built by the town’s notary, and the four friends decided to join forces and bring it back to life. We’re in Városlőd, 140 kilometers from the Hungarian capital, Budapest. This article was published in print in Hype&Hyper 2021/2.

It was a sunny August afternoon when we arrived at Városlőd, a small town of only 1300 residents, where we made our way to the telling Plage Valley Street. Here, being next-door neighbors to the forests of the Bakony mountains is where Gergő Fábián—who operates several cult bars and restaurants in Budapest—, his wife Dóri Molnár and their son Samu, togetherwith photographer Géza Talabér and his wife Eszter Glaser—expecting their first child—are taking refuge during the hot summer months. The air is clean and the weather pleasant, due to the climate and favorable location of the town nestled in a valley of hills. Back in the day, the mayor of the town also took advantage of the wonderful features of Városlőd: in 1933, a small water park was opened in the valley—and it’s where the name of the street comes from—with a pool filled with water from the nearby Kálvária stream.

It was Gergő who came across Városlőd and the chateau built in 1939 while browsing through real estate ads online. For a while—together with his wife Dóri— they had been hunting for a smaller house somewhere in the countryside. Városlőd had never been an option, let alone a manor like this, but on a rainy day in the fall, driven by curiosity, they hopped into their car and traveled to Városlőd to view the property. Straight away, they realized that the place was too big for the two of them, but they didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity—so they called Géza and Eszter to ask if they wanted to join in—and this was how “Project Chateau” was born.

Today, the chateau’s surroundings are mostly known among hikers—for being part of the Hungarian National Blue Trail—many of whom stay at Iglauer Park, home to the breathtakingly beautiful Iglauer Villa. The forest chateau made mostly of wood was built by the chair and wooden furniture maker Iglauer István in the 1920s, and was later used as a summer camp for Young Pioneers.

Géza and Gergő go back a long way with many adventures behind them, some of which are business-related—they used to run a home restaurant together and are now busy coming up with creative content for Budapest Bagel. “Project Chateau” is a business and more: they plan to kill two birds with one stone and create an intimate countryside home for their families and a unique accommodation for smaller groups of friends and weary hikers looking for a picturesque place to rest after a long day of exploring. For those who want to wake up in the shade of lush trees, two smaller cabins and a sauna will be built not far from the main building on the hillside. The 17-square meter, minimalistic houses will serve as a true refuge for the guests.

Originally, the chateau was built by the town’s notary in 1939 and the first floor was completed in 1941. The last few decades were hard on the building: there’s plenty to refurbish and modernize to fit the requirements of today. It was obvious that the wonderful tile stove stays—Gergő and the others agreed to keep the building’s character as much as possible so they repair, rather than rebuild. The only wall they got rid of was in the old library room to make space for a spacious living and dining room/kitchen on the ground floor. Dóri spends most of her time with Samu, but also helps out with the design process and enrolled in an online interior design course too.

The guys do everything by themselves, only asking for professional help for the most complex of tasks. They rewired, painted, and removed walls and also plan to replace the roof in a few years. No handymen are buzzing from morning to night here—Géza and Gergő are their own general contractors. Naturally, this also means that the pace of the refurbishment is slower than usual, but they don’t mind it at all—this is what makes “Project Chateau” so special.

If everything goes according to plan, besides the spacious living and dining room/kitchen overflowing with light—two guest rooms will be built on the ground floor. The house has two doors so the guest rooms will each have their own entrances. The families will keep the first floor to themselves, although a few rooms will be available to the guests as well. While right now the ground floor looks like a war zone, the first floor feels very cozy already: the walls are painted white except for Géza and Eszter’s living room where she wished for the dusty pink border to be kept above the windows that perfectly complements the place’s lovely eclectic atmosphere.

You’ll barely find any new furniture here as most of the accessories are sourced by Eszter—the master of finding unique pieces—from flea markets and dump days. Just like in the case of their apartment in Buda, she is the one responsible for the unique setup of the place. A retro flower stand, a trestle table with rustic ikebana pottery, a map of the Bakony mountains on the wall, an old bookshelf with a porcelain tiger—but no one would bat an eye to find the latest issue of the UFO Magazine in one of the drawers here either. Their apartment in Buda is full of dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes, but they also have a miniature Terminator action figure carefully placed in a flower box.

Eszter’s decision to decorate the chateau with pottery is not a coincidence. She also creates fun, colorful clay objects under the name Kokomo, and has recently launched her new business—Kirakós Budapest—with two of her friends Anna Katalin Lovrity and Regina Papp, selling the artworks of Hungarian creatives in the form of 300-piece jigsaw puzzles. We’re sure these games have already saved many rainy days in this house, too.

Treasures are abundant in Gergő and Dóri’s residence as well: rustic wooden boxes; an old file bench repurposed as a desk; comfortable, Middle-Eastern ottomans; soft fabrics; and memories brought home from adventurous travels in foreign countries. Even the least important room bears the girls’ touch—the puritan yet cozy restroom offers royal comfort and plenty of entertainment with books and magazines for the guests.

They plan to utilize most of the outbuildings as well. The shed and the garage will be used for their original purpose, the meat smoker will smoke meat once again, while the wine cellar is to be rebuilt as a summer kitchen.

The guys take regular trips to the forest not only for construction purposes: when they acquired the estate, they had to get rid of a forest hideout full of junk made by local teenagers. Sometimes, they substitute hiking boots with slippers, but they feel most in their element when they can roam the land behind the steering wheel of their SUV. While there, the gang showed us Kálvária Hill located right next to the lot. The tiny chapel and fifteen stations of the cross were consecrated in 1860. In the 1970’s, the murals painted on tin were swapped for reliefs, and besides the usual fourteen stations, another cabin was constructed at the bottom of the hill depicting the Last Supper.

Városlőd, with its rolling hills, is a lovely place to be. Its charm is yet untouched by the tourist craze witnessed in the Balaton Uplands. During the summer, half of Budapest flocks to the Provence-style small towns surrounding Lake Balaton, unintentionally altering the image of these settlements. So far it seems that the forests and small towns of the Bakony mountains—Városlőd included—with their Swabian charm will remain the refuge of nature lovers to the local’s greatest delight.

Our series is about professionals from the creative sector who moved to the countryside—for a while or permanently—in search of a new life away from the hustle and bustle of the capital. Going behind the scenes, we’ll show you how they’ve settled into their new homes—close to Budapest or on the other side of the country in a familiar or entirely new place. We’re looking to answer the question: “is life in the countryside really as wonderful as we imagine?”

Photos: Balázs Mohai

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