ArtSpace Gîtes : Fontaine-daniel

The ArtSpace Gîtes project is the brainchild of author Ursula Benjamin and are located at the heart of Fontaine-Daniel in the Pays-de-la-Loire, close to Mayenne.


Fontaine-Daniel is home to Toiles de Mayenne, the historic fabric manufacturer and has been inhabited for around 800 years. Initially home to a Cistercian Abbey, many of the buildings still in use around the village date from that period. After the Revolution the buildings and land were bought by the founders of Toiles de Mayenne, and espousing a philosophy of social housing that was similar to that of  Saltaire and Bournville in the UK, subsequent generations of the founding family built homes, a church and a school for its workforce.


The village now looks to the future with its ecological credentials hosting the annual fête de la Terre each September.


Artspace Gîtes in Fontaine-Daniel combine the best in design, location and local knowledge to ensure a unique experience for your stay. the two gites occupy the ground floor of a building at the heart of the village.


The Gîtes are designed for individuals or couples and it's unique village location is unparalleled. You will get a welcome hamper on arrival as well as a private guided tour of the village.


Why ArtSpace?


The two Gîtes are available throughout the year for guests and also for Professional artists, film-makers, writers and creatives who wish to come to Fontaine-Daniel for inspiration. Your stay at the Gîte helps to fund the Artist residencies, which in turn enriches the cultural experience of the village.


More information on artist residencies can be found here.


Discounts on ArtSpace Gîtes are also available for members of The Society of Authors and The Federation of British Artists.


Come and be inspired!


ArtSpace Gîtes are currently displaying paintings by local artist Marc Girard (see blog). Artwork displayed in the gîtes are available for purchase.

www.  Nature morte 22
www. Nature morte 22

toiles de mayenne

Fontaine-Daniel was originally a Cistercian abbey and many of the medieval buildings are still in use.

The village of Fontaine-Daniel itself was created by the founding family of Toiles de Mayenne as a social enterprise to house its workforce.

Toiles de Mayenne is a cultural heritage label and still a family business. You can discover the beautiful fabric here for yourself.

around and about

There is so much to do here for the art, design and nature lover.


Visit the medieval town of Sainte Suzanne, the extraordinary Robert Tatin Museum, Roman Jublains or just walk or cycle along the many miles of nature reserves in the area and be inspired.


... and of course there are many wonderful restaurants to discover, as well as brocantes and vide-gernier throughout summer.

For more information on the village of Fontaine-Daniel including a calendar of events, go to:

history of the village

In 1806 - The Birth of Manufacturing.

In July 1806, Two textile pioneers from Paris arrive in Fontaine-Daniel, a hamlet situated 5 kilometers from Mayenne and install themselves in the Cistercian Abbey which had been left deserted since the Revolution.

War is raging in Europe. Napoleon Bonaparte proclaims a blockade against the English. These pioneers set up their first spinning mill and then their first weaving workshop.

Success comes quickly. In 1809, 325 flying shuttle looms are at work. By 1814 there are 40 employees in the spinning mill, 430 in the weaving workshop and 450 home-based weavers.


From 1814 to 1862 - Sensitive Armfield - La Pasionaria

In 1814, Sensitive Armfield, a 21 year old Englishwoman, marries one of the two founders and together they run the business.

In 1828 she becomes a widow and alone takes over the running of the company for almost 40 years. In 1832 she recruits Martin Denis, her nephew by marriage and an engineer by profession. He is the first of the Denis line, whom six generations later still run Toiles de Mayenne. Sensitive Armfield is a fighter. For several decades, armed with two pistols in her belt, she crosses each week through open fields the five kilometers which separate her from the town of Mayenne where the bank is located in order to pay her 500 or so workmen and workwomen.


From 1862 to 1925 Gustave Denis – The Innovator

Sensitive Armfield passes the reigns of the company directly to Gustave Denis, the son of Martin.

Gustave graduates from the Central School in 1854 and leaves to train himself in a cotton mill near Montargis. In 1862 he is called to Fontaine-Daniel to modernise the weaving processes. Two hundred new weaving looms are installed. He becomes president of the General Council of Mayenne (1883 – 1925), where he establishes the Republican Party, and then senator (1906-1925), during which period he develops child labour legislation.


From 1925 to 1970 The Construction of Fontaine-Daniel

In 1832, the first communal building is erected to accommodate the workers and their families. Others will follow up until 1920. Successive leaders of the company take an avid interest in architecture and realise their projects. It is the company’s own workers, stonemasons, roofers, carpenters and electricians, who build the buildings themselves.

Fontaine-Daniel is today considered one of the most beautiful villages in the region of the Pays de la Loire.

Jean-Denis, director from 1920 to 1968 used the ‘golden ratio’ (evident in the work of architects Bauhaus and Corbusier) for the measurement proportions applied to the workers’ homes and the manufacturing buildings, as well as in the Saint-Michel chapel which was constructed in 1939 and can be found next to the lake.


In 1945 Jean and Bertrand Denis – Humanistic Pragmatism

Jean Denis is a pragmatic engineer, trained at the Central School of Paris. Like his grandfather Gustave he is also passionate about social issues. He runs the company with his brother Bertrand, his deputy from 1958 to 1978.

Shortly after taking over the company in 1924, he asks the family shareholders to forgo their dividends. He argues that the company’s profits should be put to the use of the common good: through industrial investments and the development of the village, where workers and their families need to live with dignity. His fellow shareholders will agree.

In a political pamphlet published in 1945, Jean Denis also expresses his interest in ecology and bio-dynamics: “A nation is only healthy if it is built on a vigorous peasantry and this peasantry will only remain strong if, living in close proximity to nature, it does not pollute itself through chemicals and industrial processes. It must know how to respect and love the rhythms of nature.”


From 1961 - Tailoring Workshop

Throughout the 60’s, Toiles de Mayenne continues its metamorphosis. Its clothing fabrics become decorating fabrics. For two decades, and up until the opening of its first shop, the company sells its productions via mail order to the four corners of the country. The idea of offering custom made products becomes a reality in 1961.

Toiles de Mayenne hires seamstresses who develop curtain forms, bedspreads, valances, cushions and net curtains. In 1970 the workshop consists of forty people.


In 1968 – Opening of the First Shop

In 1968 the first Toile de Mayenne store is officially opened in Montfort-l’Amaury in the department of Yvelines. After custom made products, advice in interior design is added to the services of Toiles de Mayenne. In 2016 the company has 15 shops of its own in France. Its fabrics are also available in 40 multi-brand shops in France and 30 multi-brand shops throughout Europe and the world.

Our interior designers welcome our clients in our shops or by home appointment.


Since 2004 - The ‘Festival of the Earth’ at Fontaine-Daniel

Since 2004 the Festival of the Earth is organised each year in Fontaine-Daniel by the local association.

For three days, at the beginning of September, anthropologists, artists, philosophers, artisans, writers and economists, of national and international repute, gather to discuss and debate their ways of inhabiting the earth. According to the participants, this village, set as it is in a woodland clearing with its architecture preserved, dominated by century-old trees, is ideally placed for reflection on our world as it is.


In 2006 - “TissuTopique” and the Bicentennial

On the 26th of June 2006, the bicentennial of the birth of textile activities in Fontaine-Daniel is celebrated. The publisher Gallimard publishes a book entitled “TissuTopique” which traces two hundred years of a French, industrial, social and architectural adventure. A team of historians, writers and artists, brought together by Toiles de Mayenne and Gallimard, are given carte blanche to create this unusual book.


In 2016 - Toiles de Mayenne,

French “Enterprise du Patrimoine Vivant” (cultural heritage label) celebrates its 210 years

The majority of the company’s equity is held by those involved in the company including its leaders, the seventh generation of the same family.

115 people are employed by the company.

Toiles de Mayenne also works with stylists and designers to permanently renew its collections. Close to 25,000 custom made items leave the workshops each year: curtains, blinds, net curtains, sofas, and cushions.