Chateau translates directly as castle, but in France the word describes any house or estate in the country of any substance, other than fortified castles – these are chateau fort. In English language and understanding Chateaux are the manor houses, stately homes, and palaces, the country residences of the local gentry, of nobility and of Royalty.
The vast and extravagant Chateau de Versailles and the large royal chateaux along the Loire are well known and open to the public. They cost vast amounts of money to build and to keep up and are largely unfurnished now. Smaller chateau such as that belonging to Josephine de Beauharnais ( Napoleans wife) in Rueil -Malmaison are grand and elegant but manageable houses, much more approachable in terms of scale and ideas for contemporary decorating.
In decorating terms chateau usually means the French style from an era of elegance and refinement ( Louis X1v- XV1 ) when these chateaux were lived in. It also suggests a slightly worn and faded grandeur, and as furnishing styles and decorating techniques have barely changed, and many textiles designs are still being printed it is very possible to achieve.
In the wine making business many of the famous estates do have serious chateaux, but many other ‘chateau’ somethings have no more than a snappy pre-fix.