I am very excited to introduce you this week to some very dear French friends of ours who live in the south west of France. They have renovated not one, but two old farmhouses in succession for their family to live in.
It’s a common myth, certainly amongst the English, that the French don’t renovate old houses; rather, they keep the land and the old buildings, and then build a new, easily maintained modern house right next door. Then over the years, the original ancient building slowly falls into an increasingly ruinous state.
However, the longer I live in France the more I realise that this is just that, a myth; the French do indeed renovate their old houses and what’s more, they do it rather well.
Which brings me back to our friends.
In 2008 they bought an extremely run-down Bearnaise farmhouse equally distanced between Biarritz and Pau. It was uninhabitable at the time and they rented an apartment in a nearby town with their two children who at the time were 8 and 6. Together they took on the arduous task of restoring the house while pursuing respective careers. They moved in in July 2009, although it was far from finished, and indeed the final touches were only put in place in 2011.
Today’s post is all about photos, and the ones below need little description as they show both the ‘before’, and ‘after’, and illustrate very well just how projects can turn out with the application of love, much hard work, vision and sympathy.
The first house was no ordinary renovation though, as they wanted to use traditional building methods. This included many coats of chanvre, which is illustrated below before before it was put onto the walls. This is basically a mix of chaux (the traditional French render) and hemp fibres, which introduce good thermic insulation to the mixture.
First coat of chaux chanvre
Second coat of chaux chanvre
After the second coat one can re-cover the chanvre with a chaux/sable (sand) surface for finishing. At this stage you can add any number of natural pigments for colour, from deep reds and purples to pale pinks seen here.
The area in the first house where they intended to put the kitchen was a real mess
The whole house was finished in a spectacular country style:
In 2013 they decided they were not ideally located for their active lifestyle, which includes a need for mountains and skiing, and the beach for the summer months. So they sold the first Béarnaise farmhouse and moved further south-west, into Basque Country. Their new purchase was actually an old but well maintained holiday-home with some Basque details, and with its low-slung eaves and a long low sloping roofline it was in complete contrast to their previous house. Not only did it need plenty of modernising but it also had to be enlarged if it was to become a permanent home for a family of four. The view is utterly spectacular looking south over the Pyrenees and it is easy to see why they were so captivated by their find.
Their previous house was in a village and they were surrounded by other houses; but this time around they wanted to live in an isolated environment and they’ve definitely found what they wanted, where their only neighbours are sheep and vultures. But, thanks to a couple of good country roads, they’re just fifteen minutes from the Basque town of Hasparren; this has a population of 5000 inhabitants and all the benefits that this brings make life extremely easy.
This is what the holiday home looked like when they purchased the property.
The major part of the renovation this time around was an extension, into which they put the new kitchen. A mixture of modern and traditional methods were used.
The old kitchen was narrow small and dark. However by building an entirely new kitchen in the extension they have added much needed space for everyday living and created the perfect balance between a modern functional light filled kitchen with traditional stone features and wooden beams.
The old dining area was transformed into a new hallway
In the interests of efficiency, the old stone fireplace had to go. Winters up here close to the mountains are harsh and much wood is burned!
Finally they built a swimming pool, like everything else it was all done by hand, no shortcuts, attention to detail once again the key factor and with views like that who wouldn’t swim and relax on the terrace for hours on end?
I really hope you have enjoyed looking at these fantastic renovations and meeting our dear French Friends. If you are in the south-west Basque area and are looking for a traditional artisan with full qualifications and an eye for authenticity then do email them on firstname.lastname@example.org