The Summer Kitchen Revisited

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This time last year I chatted about our summer kitchen and I asked your advice about what to do with the ugly, falling down, insulated ceiling. You can read the post here if you missed it. You may also remember I promised you an update in a couple of months time.

Those of you who have followed me for a while now will remember the drama with Roddy’s foot and the dreaded septicaemia saga which also happened at this time last year. Naturally the summer kitchen renovations were put on hold along with everything else, and by the time he recovered and was able to return to the front-line in the garden there were other jobs with a higher priority rating to attend to; alas, the summer kitchen slipped down the list and was put on the back burner as summer progressed.

Over the past few months we’ve been busy little bees, further renovations here and there, and we also returned to the summer kitchen; as a result I thought I would finally bring you the much promised update, even if it is 13 months down the line!

To start with though, let me tell you what else we have done this winter. We started with the walled courtyard garden, which is predominantly ruled by the giant fig tree, still fruiting prolifically after a couple of centuries of sunshine. There is also a lovely grapevine along the west-facing wall but the little piece of lawn was scrubby and poor due to the vast dark canopy of the tree, and it always felt a bit of a mess. First we pruned the fig heavily; I suspect it had been left to its own devices for decades and when Roddy went up onto the garage roof to free the building from the tree’s embrace he found evidence of neglect in all directions. We then put the poor piece of lawn out of its misery and covered it in weed-matting followed by seven tonnes of traditional Charante calcaire gravel. We kept the original stone flower beds and Roddy artfully used some old paving stones to make some new ones in the gravel itself. I can’t wait until the virginia creeper is fully back in leaf around the open doorway and the fig tree and vine slide into full summer regalia. I think when the hollyhocks are in flower and the ferns have doubled in size it will look so pretty and be a much better place to lounge around in. A slew of shade-loving plants are on the cards for the north-facing wall and we’ll also be able to better see all fallen fruit and get rid of it, hopefully alleviating the asian hornets that always come to visit in September.

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Another major job was the guest house bathroom. Although functional it really was stuck in the 1970’s and in dire need of a more modern look! We decided to retain the plumbing,  stone shower base and sanitary wear as it was all still perfectly useable and had a certain charm, but the tiles on the wall and floor HAD to go. I love the juxtapostion of old and new and we tried hard to retain some of the original features. One steps out of the french doors straight into the courtyard garden, which means in summer it is a wonderfully sun-lit little bathroom.

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I also made use of the mirror I found in our attic a few weeks ago. Millie spent a day cleverly restoring it and it seems to have fallen into place like it had been waiting for a new life after all those dusty decades it spent crying in a corner.

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But back to the summer kitchen; we thought long and hard about how to cover the insulation. There was much discussion about tongue and groove planking initially, which seemed to be the most popular solution. In the end though, we decided we would simply take out the insulation entirely as it was very old, and also falling down in so many places – it was always going to be a mess no matter what we tried to do. As Roddy and Jack took it down though, it revealed all sorts of interesting information. It had certainly been home to several families of mice (and I hate to say it, rats too) over the years, and there was plenty of evidence left behind which led Roddy to search hastily for gloves, masks and long-handled devices of various sorts! He did say that he thought they had long since departed the roof (perhaps thanks to Clara and Rory’s appearance when we moved in) but there were also huge amounts of cobwebs, and plenty of spiders, both dead and alive. It even appeared as if a squirrel had at one point made a home up there judging by the amount of walnuts we found. All in all I think it’s a very good thing it all came down; it was really rather unpleasant and extremely smelly. This autumn, we may install new modern insulation or we may leave it as it is; that’s something we can discuss over the summer. But for the time being it’s clean, and rodent/spider/bug free! Jack was really the star of the show; we turned it into his project and he worked like a demon up on the ladders peeling away the old stuff, even if there was the odd squeal as a spider landed on him! This is the remaining detritus, which is basically the loose mouse bedding!

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Amongst the cobwebs and spiders  stacked on the ledge behind the insulation we also found these old tiles. We know absolutely nothing about them except they are over half an inch thick and each one is stamped with the maker’s mark on the back and a handwritten number. It seems as though they are part of a series or a large panel – I sense a little research is needed!

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Just to give you a little reminder, this is what the summer kitchen looked liked before we removed the insulation, and this was a good part!

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The final crowning moment which I was most excited about was when we hung the chandelier I bought at a brocante during the spring last year, specifically with this location in mind.

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In addition to the interior work we also built a covered terrace at the front so we can leave the doors open. On the one side we have an old passion-fruit vine which I am training across under the roof, and on the other I have planted a climbing-rose which I am hoping will come across under the roof from the other direction and provide some lovely additional colour. The two lemon trees produced lots and lots of fruit last year, and it would appear they love the situation they’re in with full sun all day long, but with protection from cold winds and frost in the winter.

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We’ve had so much fun in here already but now it is no longer home to the world’s largest collection of cobwebs and spiders I think we will use it even more; we’ve loaded up the basket with all the cuttings from the grapevines as they are perfect for using on the fire where we love to cook on warm evenings, and all the wood from the pruned fig-tree is also stacked away drying for next year – apparently it is excellent for smoking too.

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When it all gets too crowded there’s still the old iron table and chairs around the corner under the white wisteria on the south-facing wall of the summer kitchen, and this is still one of my favourite spots in the garden! It’s sunny and warm at the moment, but in a month’s time when it gets much hotter, the leaves will be out on the overhanging ash tree and together with the wisteria it will provide a seasonal parasol of shade for thirsty gardeners!

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Still lots and lots more jobs to do, but slowly bit by bit we’re getting there and restoring our little 200 year-old corner of Charente Maritime history; it’s a project well worth taking our time over and I am loving sharing it with you. I think the wine may be finished when you come to visit though…

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58 thoughts on “The Summer Kitchen Revisited

  • The plafond of the outside kitchen area looks gorgeous without insulation. The beams are lovely. You have been very busy and it shows. Well done!

    • Hi Nadia, thank you, you know just what it is like living in these old French properties, there is always something to be done, when I think we are finished, I’ll come up with another suggestion and another plan is formed and off we go again! However, it is very rewarding and great fun! Susan x

  • Your entire outdoor living area looks stunning and it is so versatile – just what is needed to take advantage of the Charentaise weather. Is the passionfruit vine an ornamental one or does it bear edible fruit? Friends of ours had a thriving ornamental one and I have always wondered if a “Granadilla” would grow there as well.

    • Hi Gill, thank you so much, it is indeed the perfect place for the weather here and we’ve made use of it this week, it’s been so gorgeous. The passionfruit vine is an ornamental one unfortunately. Like most things here it is very old but it had been badly neglected and so I am bringing it back to life. I believe the edible variety does grow very well here, maybe that will be my next challenge! Susan x

  • Oh my goodness! What great work you’ve done! I love that ceiling in the summer kitchen, and the tiles are like a gift left behind. The bath is simply outstanding! And the courtyard looks quintessentially French with the clean up efforts – wonderful!

    • Hi Rita, thank you so much, it’s all been hard work but so very rewarding to see the results at the end. I love the look of the tiles with the old wood beams in the summer kitchen. I think we shall hang the hand painted tiles we found on the wall in there as a reminder of where we found them. Susan x

    • Thanks so much Kathy, it has become the most wonderful outdoor space. We love cooking in the summer kitchen and the children play table football in there and so it’s a very convivial place, so happy to have renovated it now! Susan x

  • What a beautiful read this morning; Although I have to go back to work, I am doing so in a much more peaceful frame of mind.

    • Hi Cyndi, thank you so much, that makes all my work worthwhile, to make someone’s day a little happier, I could wish for nothing more. I hope you are having a truly lovely day and end to the week. Susan x

  • Thank you for sharing all of your incredible labours! Love the photos, love what you’ve done in every space, and so meaningful when it’s a family affair as well!
    Thanks for this fabulous post. I love the ceiling of the summer kitchen , love the chandelier, love the gite updates – and the walled courtyard – divine!!!

    • Hi, thank you so much, it’s all be a lot of hard work but great fun as the results are so rewarding that it makes it all worthwhile and as you say, it’s always so much better when everyone is involved. The children really do love to help, they will do whatever they can and they appreciate everything we do here which is so encouraging, this is a family home in every sense of the word! Susan x

  • Lovely post, Susan. May I ask if you make jam with the excess figs ? I just love fig jam with a bit of crumbly cheese, especially cheddar (sorry to say). Lovely weather has arrived today on the Kent coastline. Spring is blooming for sure…..

    • Hi Phil, Thank you so much Phil, I do indeed make fig jam, it is fantastic with cheese, I quite agree and I have to admit we buy cheddar here, our cheese stand at our local market sells a very good British cheddar even though I have never seen another English person there, ever! But, I do see French buying it and we have converted our French neighbours to the taste of English cheddar, they love it! Spring is blooming here too, so glad the UK has sunshine, our daughter at Uni on the south coast said everyone was in shorts there today! Susan x

      • Now that sounds delicious, a French preserve with an English twist and I can imagine it would be a great thing to add a teaspoon to recipes here and there, you can imagine Roddy and Adrian having a fine time in the kitchen! Susan x

  • So charming! I love the new shower. The ceiling is gorgeous in the summer kitchen and the chandelier looks wonderful. I think the stones in that corner where the hammock is are a nice solution! You all are doing justice to the property! Good work Roddy and Jack!!

    • Hi Nancy, thanks so much, everywhere really does look so much better, it’s been a long slog pulling it all back together slowly but it is so worthwhile, couldn’t do it without Roddy of course and the children, Jack for the summer kitchen and the others are all so enthusiastic on every project, it’s very much a family affair as always! Susan x

    • Hi Sydney, thank you so much, even when it is raining there is a very special feel to this home, it always feels warm and welcoming which is what drew it to us in the first place. Hope you have a lovely end to the week, Susan x

    • Hi, thank you so much. The tiles do indeed have a very Portuguese feel to them. I am going to take them down the road to the local Terracotta tile maker, we know him well and ask him if he can shed any light on them for us. It does make me wonder if we will find some more somewhere, it’s a bit like a treasure hunt around here! Susan x

    • Hi Ali, I’ll make sure there is some fig jam, everything else is ready and waiting! Hope you have had a wonderful week and continued good weather for gardening! It’s been utterly fantastic here, which means along with everything else the weeds are growing at an alarming rate! Susan x

  • It’s like a birthday present when I find your blogs! Thank you so much for sharing your life with those of us who would love to try restoring but know it isn’t possible… Maybe one day my travels will carry me to your door!

    • Hi Julie, thank you so much, if you can’t actually do something then the next best thing is following someone who can and I am more than happy to share. You would be very welcome if your travels bring you here, there is always a glass of wine on offer, a comfy bed and plenty of little people to keep everyone amused, but I warn you it’s not quiet, there is constant chatter! Susan x

  • Imagine how much fun it will be to put together the tiles and recreate their original pattern. Your renovations are truly inspirational.

    • Hi Judy, I totally agree, but there seem to be a great many missing, I cannot imagine whoever bought them only bought those as it doesn’t make sense, so I am wondering if somewhere we will find some more, but I don’t think there is anywhere else left to look, I have just one more thought, in the barn, but I don’t hold out much hope, I am sure they are only old garden tiles in there. I think we shall hang the ones we have found in the summer kitchen, or use them in there in some way as a reminder of where we found them, another project! Susan x

  • Completely in love with those tiles, I had a similar pattern above a kitchen sink once upon a time and it just brightened up the room so nicely. You bathroom renovation is absolutely stunning Susan, your true calling in life it seems!

    • Hi Lily, aren’t they gorgeous, I think we have to do something with them in the summer kitchen, I am not sure what yet, but they need to feature in there some how! The bathroom was down to the hard work of the tiler, I had the easy part, I just had to go and buy the tiles and tell him what to do but it was great fun seeing it all come together. Susan x

  • Ah the summer kitchen, such a lovely space to share drinks and food with family and friends I imagine! It fits in so beautifully with your garden due to that lovely grey and your maintenance of the original features.

    • Hi Helen, thank you so much, it is indeed the perfect summer entertaining space, and when we are not in there the children are as it also houses the table football, so it can all get rather noisy, but it’s great fun in the winter too with a roaring fire, roasting marshmallows and everyone being very competitive – it has a dual purpose! Susan x

  • Well done, to the whole family! So many nice things in this entry, the guest bath (such an interesting shower door), those gorgeous tiles (agree with francetaste, they look like azulejos), and oh, for a garden walled like that. Oh my.

    • Hi Emm, thank you so much, it’s all been much hard work but terribly rewarding. The tiles do look Portuguese, I am going to take them to our local tile maker who we know well and see if he can shed any light on them. Failing that I shall send some photos to friends in Portugal, we have many friends there, and see if they can do some research for me, I always like to have answers! Our entire property is walled on 3.5 sides, it was what drew us to it in the first place, the little courtyard is a tiny walled garden within the much larger garden, it is indeed one of my favourite places, totally sheltered from all winds in all directions and a real sun trap, and in the summer months if you feel a little peckish you can just pick some grapes or figs and have a snack, what more could one ask for! Susan x

    • Hi, totally agree, all very rewarding and so worthwhile. It’s France, there’s always another bottle to open, just knock on the door, you’ll be guaranteed a warm welcome! Susan x

  • It always feel so good when a project, no matter how small, comes to fruition. The summer kitchen will be so much part of your home in the warmer months you will wonder how you ever had a summer here without it! I love the light and think it adds a touch of decadence – you have had some amazing ‘brocante’ finds and put life back into pieces that might otherwise have been left in a corner somewhere unloved and unseen. Somehow I think that its these little touches that makes the finished result even more rewarding. Can’t wait to see it all in the flesh!!!.

    • I know, it’s that sense of achievement Penny! And I totally agree about the little touches, I was pleased with the roof, but most of all I just couldn’t wait to hang the chandelier! I’ve waited a whole year to do so. As you know only too well some Brocantes are fabulous and a real treasure trove and others are disappointing, but that’s what makes it all the more fun, if every one was incredible then I think it would take away the excitement when one does find something really fantastic. Susan x

  • Wow! The Courtyard looks fabulous!
    What a great job, looks so much bigger! Bathroom looks great too, can’t wait to see it in September!

    • Hi Yvonne, thanks so much, the courtyard does look double the size, partly because we pruned the fig tree so you can actually walk underneath it (just!) and partly because you see everything so much better, I remember standing and discussing this with you last September and I am so glad we did it. So looking forward to seeing you in September, Susan x

    • Hi Catherine, alas no, and we’ve been into the attic to look at roof leaks, all we find are old tiles, cobwebs and spiders! But what a find that was, can you imagine! I’ll pass your comment on to Jack, it will be sure to put a big smile on his face! Susan x

  • Votre maison devient de plus en plus splendide ! La cour intérieure est joliment aménagée avec son mur en pierre imposant et protecteur, son figuier faisant de l’ ombre au hamac, le gravier qui ressemble à une plage de galet et son petit coin pour siroter une boisson fraîche ! L’ endroit parfait pour se relaxer et faire une sieste par temps de canicule. Votre cuisine d’ été est aussi un MUST. Bravo à Jack pour son gros travail de nettoyage. Vraiment un bel endroit pour se détendre en famille, lire un livre, manger des grillades maintenant que le printemps est là. Vous avez réellement découvert un oasis dans cette si belle région de la Charente-Maritime ! C’ est toujours un plaisir de suivre vos aventures./ Your house are becoming more an more magnificent! The courtyard is nicely landscaped with the stone wall impressive and protective,the fig tree shadowing the hammock, the gravel that looks like a cobble beach and a little corner to sip a cool drink!The perfect place to relax and make a siesta in heatwave time. Your summer kitchen is also a MUST. Great job and well done Jack for the spring-cleaning. Really a nice place to relax with family, read a book, eat some grilled foods as spring is here. You really find out an oasis into this beautiful county of Charente-Maritime! It’s always a pleasure to read your adventures. Philippe

    • As always a huge thank you Philippe and as always I am replying in English for the sake of the vast majority of my readers. This is really a little piece of paradise we have found here in the Charente Maritime, hence the blog name, our French Oasis, it really is! We are close to the coast so it is nice to keep things with that in mind, it’s a lovely old house and beautiful old gardens but they had fallen into neglect and slowly we are bringing things back to how they once were and taking care of everything; it’s a very long project, but it is very worthwhile, hard work, but great fun! Have a great weekend, Susan x

  • No one need wonder what keeps you all so very busy after reading a post like this! Love the updates and photos on everything–especially the summer kitchen and gardens. All of it is wonderful. The tiles are a great find. Look forward to seeing how you incorporate them into the summer kitchen. And kudos to Jack and Roddy on the ceiling clear up.

    • Hi Mary, where would I be without my boys! Renovating here and bringing it all back to how it once was is certainly a long and slow process, but it is so worthwhile and it’s fun to be able to share it all. I too am wondering how we are going to incorporate the tiles into the summer kitchen, maybe we shall put them on the surface next to the open fire where we cook, I will find a way, it would be a shame not to use them in some way! Susan x

      • J’ apprécie beaucoup de lire vos réponses à mes commentaires ,ainsi que de lire les autres bloggers, dans la belle langue de Shakespeare. Cela me permet d’ améliorer petit à petit mon faible niveau d’ anglais. J’ écris aussi mes commentaires en français car je sais ( en vous lisant sur Facebook et sur votre blog ) que vous maitrisez de mieux en mieux la langue de Molière./ I am very pleased to read your response to my comments as well as reading the others bloggers in the beautiful language of Shakespeare. I also write my comments in french because I know ( on Facebook and your blog )that you are mastering the language of Molière better and better. Je vous souhaite un bon week-end.Philippe

      • Bah oui, je parle le français chaque jour et chaque jour je parle un petit peu mieux. Si j’habite en France c’est très important que je parle le langue! Mais c’est beaucoup plus difficile pour moi que les enfants! Je vous souhaite un bon week-end aussi, Susan x

  • Lovely post and nice job on the renovations.. love seeing a glimpse into what is going on there. You all have been very busy, inside and out…. love seeing your Jack Russells too!

    • Hi Carla, thank you so much, I have to tell you it is great fun sharing what we are doing here, slowly bringing this 200+ year old farmhouse and gardens back to how they once were. Of course the dogs are never far away, Evie is the most photogenic little thing I have ever known, it’s hard to take a photo without her in it! Hope you have a lovely weekend, Susan x

    • Hi Kim, welcome to the blog and great to have you following along. The summer kitchen has become the most wonderful space, it always was fun, but only if one was quite happy mixing with the spiders and it always had a slightly sad and forlorn feel to it, now it is reinvented and we all love it! Susan x

  • Oh my that ceiling is fantastic and the chandy is just the right piece of “jewelry” for it….Until we relocated, we always had a summer kitchen…I miss it and you are certainly giving me the inspiration to move forward with plans for one!….I look forward to your bathroom renovation.

    • Hi Shirley, Welcome to the blog and great to have you following along. So glad you like the ceiling, it took us quite by surprise and we are so pleased to have uncovered it! The chandelier I bought nearly a year ago for the very princely sum of 15 euros at a Brocante and I have been waiting all this time to put it up! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Susan x

    • Thanks, with the warmer weather it is fabulous to cook out here, last year it was rather full of cobwebs and spiders and so I am really looking forward to using it to it’s full potential this summer! Susan x

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