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
40 thoughts on “A Very French Renovation”
Wow! Both houses are absolutely fantastic! The detail and old charm is gorgeous! Love the pool and the views – just stunning! Thanks so much, Susan, for sharing your friend’s beautiful pictures!
Hi Pat, thank you, it was such fun to write this post, just because the two renovations are so lovely, I got lost in the photos, even though I have seen it in real life so many times, I still marvel at these properties! Have a very happy Easter weekend, Susan x
Wow ! So wonderful ! Thank you, and please thank them for allowing us to enjoy their journey ! All the best to you all !
Hi Jacqueline, I will indeed, both properties are so stunning, they are an inspiration to us all! Have a very happy Easter Weekend, Susan x
Holy cow! Those are fantastic renovations! Your friends, no doubt, have the gift of patience and endurance in living through TWO such big jobs.
Hi Rita, I agree with that, having lived through several renovations I know how incredibly tough it is, but I have never done it back to back like this, I admire than immensely. Have a wonderful Easter weekend, Susan x
How did their marriage survive two such massive jobs? Must be love.
Hi Nadia, they are probably one of the happiest couples I know! One renovation is hard, but two and back to back is seriously impressive, with children as well. But the results are an inspiration to us all, which is why I just had to share them. Have a lovely Easter weekend, Susan x
Happy Easter to you and your family too!
The blend of the old original property and the new light-filled extension is inspirational in the second house. The French seem to have a knack for this, tres chic. Thank you for letting us have a peek😃
Hi Julie, I totally agree with you, they have a wonderful way of combining modern features whilst retaining the traditional elements needed to keep the character, the result is truly inspirational. Have a lovely Easter Weekend, Susan x
The water view is nice, but I have to admit, I love the first house the most. Both are beautiful! Blessings to France during this recent tragedy.
Hi Deborah, each is different, I suppose it really depends if you want a village setting or a rural isolated setting as much as anything. I love both of them. The world is suffering at the moment but we must all stand strong together. Have a very happy Easter weekend. Susan x
Thanks for the tour of two contrasting renovations. Both are fascinating and so much fun to see and contemplate. Great results in both cases. As a largely armchair renovator, my hat is off to this family for their patience, perseverance, and vision.
Hi Bettye, so glad you enjoyed looking at both of these homes, sometimes being an armchair renovator is the best place to be, all the fun without the hard work! Have a lovely Easter weekend, Susan x
Amazing and stunningly beautiful…both of them. Here in the states…we don’t find architecture like that…
They are an amazing family for sure…to go through a reno, both times…to do such a fantastic job.
Hi Nancy, I do agree, they are an inspiration to us all, to do this twice, back to back, but the results speak for themselves and proof of what can be achieved with a huge amount of hard work! Have a lovely Easter Weekend, Susan x
Thank you…..my fantasy realized. Now if I could only use a hammer….
Hi Ali, being able to use a hammer might be a good starting point!!! Hope you have a wonderful Easter Weekend, Susan x
Fantastic renovation, love the rustic modern twist very nice
Hi, yes me too, just my style, a perfect mixture of the two. Have a lovely Easter Weekend, Susan x
You certainly put some lovely photos in our Easter baskets! What a breathtaking view of Basque country. One could indeed sit for hours under those trees. I love the incredible mix of materials they used in both renovations…some new to me (chaux chanvre). And I can see why they had to be practical about installing a wood stove over the old fireplace in their mountain home. Fireplaces that open are fine if you sit right next to them, but do nothing to keep you warm if you need to take two steps away. It is great to see homes that are so unique and lovingly restored and not cookie-cutter representations of what some developer thinks people want to live in these days. Thanks for showing the before and after photos of the renovations. Your friends did a terrific job on both homes. Have a Happy Easter.
Hi Mary, I so totally agree with all you say, so much individual style in both these houses and I thought it would be some inspiration for Easter for everyone! Much though I love open fires, they simply cannot compete with woodburners for pure warmth. I hope you have a lovely Easter Weekend, Susan x
Beautiful houses, thank you and your friends for sharing. I am particularly impressed with their taking on the first one — lack of a roof makes it a major, major project.
And the kitchen in the new addition is lovely, all that light and space.
Hi Emm, the first house was indeed such a major undertaking, I think most of all I admire them for selling it and doing the whole thing all over again although on a smaller scale. A true inspiration to us all and it just shows what can be achieved with hard work and patience. I love spacious kitchens with plenty of natural light, nowadays the kitchen tends to be such a multi functional room, it has to perform on so many levels. Hope you have a lovely Easter weekend Susan X
They are both so lovely, but that first one… Wow! That first one is quintessential French ❤️ Thank you for sharing, merci Mille fois!
Hi Amanda, I love the way the French are so very good at keeping the traditional and adding modern elements and juxtaposing the two, I have seen this many times here and the results are always fantastic. Hope you all have a very happy Easter weekend, Susan x
Just lovely. I specially love the second house. Thank you for your wonderful blog.
Hi Peta, it’s funny, I love living right in the heart of a village, but when I look at their second house there is something terribly tempting about the thought of living at one with nature in the middle of nowhere with wild sheep wandering into the garden and yet within the walls of such a sophisticated home! Hope you have a lovely Easter Weekend, Susan X
Wow, wow and then wow yet again. Just a wee bit jealous, but very admiring, of how much your friends have achieved.
Hi Catherine, I know that feeling because both houses are gorgeous, but if you met them you just couldn’t possibly be jealous because they are the nicest family imaginable. I just have to admire all their hard work, a true inspiration to us all! Have you got any further with your travel plans? Have a lovely Easter Weekend, Susan x
Oh wow, they did a great job on both! I especially love the second.
I agree, very inspirational to us all, happy Easter, Susan x
What vision they had! The patience and determination to get to the wonderful finished home are admirable. Both homes are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Hi Cheryl, I totally agree with you, and to do it not once, but twice in succession, I admire them hugely and both homes are fantastic, just as gorgeous in real life as the photos. Thank you for taking the time to comment, have a lovely week, Susan x
How truly inspiring. I admire their vision and dedication to see not one but two projects through to the end. Love the photos and can picture the type of serene life they lead in their new surroundings.
Hi Iris, I totally agree, such dedication and now as a result of their hard work they have a very peaceful, extremely special home which they truly deserve. Thank you for taking the time to comment, I love this interaction with my readers. Have a lovely week, Susan x
This is so inspiring to see and it’s a good myth to dispel. I will show these lovely pics to my husband (esp. kitchen before and after) to ‘prove’ that I am not yet certifiable in my choice of French house!
I am quite sure you are not certifiable, although I know many people would question the sanity of many of us in the houses we choose and the renovations we take on! Been there and done that and two years later we are still “doing things to the house” on a permanent basis, I guess it will never actually end! Interesting, our 16 year old just wrote a guest blog post for me today, she talked about the house we bought and indeed says she thought we were mad! But it all turned out OK in the end!!! Susan x