When we started searching for our home we had a wish list: somewhere within 20 minutes of the coast, a large garden, a village location, and we needed enough space for a family of seven. Sounds simple enough, except it wasn’t. Roddy found and bought the house while I remained a 9-hour plane ride away with the children. Izzi was taking her final International Baccalaureate exams and couldn’t leave. After a flurry of emails, Skype calls and endless photos and videos criss-crossing the Atlantic, he returned home with documents in hand and a house purchase finally underway in France.
I clearly remember his nerves the day we finally drove in through the gates of our home as a family. We were all excited, finally we would see inside our house for real; Roddy on the other hand was gripping the steering wheel of the car with such force his knuckles had turned white, for he was terrified; what if we didn’t like it?
I had read the agent’s details over and over, perused all the photos, and knew it needed work (a lot of work) but what wasn’t to like?
Before I go any further I should translate some French Estate agent phrases: ‘habitable’ means you will basically get a roof over your head, ‘needs updating’ means more of a complete renovation is required. Our house was described as a ‘comfortable family home’ which then went on to list rooms, bathrooms, the kitchen and appliances.
I suppose it was indeed habitable but the electrics alone dated back to the 1930’s in places and the plumbing left a lot to be desired as well. But as soon as I saw the gardens I was entranced. Turning back to the house I entered through “our” front door, happy but resigned to the work that needed to be done. However, when I went upstairs I have to admit my heart sank and for a fleeting moment I thought, “OMG, what have we done?” But then I looked out of the window and saw the children already playing on the old swings and I knew everything would be just fine.
There was a lot to be done before we would call it a ‘comfortable family home’, and it wasn’t a job for the fainthearted. We rented a gîte in a nearby village for two months, put our business on hold, and we worked solidly on the house along with a french plumber, an electrician and Roddy’s best friend – Howard, the best all-round builder either of us have ever known.
Eventually after two months we took up residence; it wasn’t anywhere near completed but our rental had come to an end and the owners didn’t want to continue to let their house over the winter months. So we moved in, albeit it was really ‘camping’ in our own home. We didn’t get a kitchen for another two months and had to make do with the sink in the old kitchen, and the fire in the summer kitchen for cooking. We did have a fridge and we had plumbed in the dishwasher. Somehow it didn’t matter though, it was rather like the early stages of a relationship; we were in love (with the house) and that euphoric feeling carried us through till Christmas and the end of the major work. In the evenings Roddy and Howard would collapse exhausted.
This is not a designer’s house, this is our home; I wanted it to be friendly, comfortable and welcoming with a touch of chic, the sort of home where no one is afraid to enter in their gardening clothes and where no-one stands on ceremony, where children feel able to play freely but also a home that encourages friends to linger.
The house dates back to around 1780. The kitchen was modern compared to the age of the house but left a lot to be desired!
We took it out completely and as the room was not large enough for a big family we turned this room into a library and study.
This was the original dining room complete with black beams and a red ceiling!
and it became our kitchen which included changing the door for a pair of custom made French doors.
We combined our antique furniture with simple modern white kitchen units
and we kept the original bread oven.
It is very much the hub of our home; the kitchen table is often where the children do their homework, where I often work at my laptop and where many of our best conversations take place during our family suppers each and every evening. We always light the candles and I always have fresh flowers on the table, it makes every meal special.
We kept the original door which led from the attached barn into some sort of store room which we turned into the pantry.
Upstairs took the most work, as we also replaced bathrooms. Unusually for a French home, there was wall to wall carpeting which we ripped up to reveal fabulous old wooden floors, someone had even replaced some of the boards at some stage, shame they didn’t align them!
The bones of the house remained the same but the change was unbelievable; the room below was to be Gigi’s bedroom and I remember her crying when she saw it as it bore no resemblance to the little girl’s dream room she had imagined, but by the time we finished it was to become her favourite place in the house.
We turned the long landing into two more bedrooms and a playroom.
Nothing of any size could fit up the angled staircase and so most things (hot water cylinders, showers, furniture) had to be manoeuvred upstairs on the old existing pulley system, through what is known as a coffin hatch; why? because in the ‘olden days’ a person was often “Laid Out” on their bed or placed in an open coffin so that friends and family could pay their last respects. When it was time for the funeral the specially cut floorboards were removed on the landing leaving a hole through which the coffin could be lowered.
By the time we stopped for Christmas we’d got through 280 litres of white paint, and some beams and ceilings had been replaced; the work had seemed endless.
But the result was worth it. The sitting-room was perhaps the room in the best condition in the house, with the least amount of work required, and as you can tell this is where the previous owners seemed to have spent much of their time.
The walls were in perfect condition, we just had to paint beams, the fireplace and ceilings.
One day this summer, Roddy was working on the wall outside the front gates when a passing car stopped and the driver leant out of the window to talk to him. He was the cousin of the lady who had owned the house, and he told Roddy of how they used to play in the garden, the fun they had had, and he spoke fondly of the memories he had of a house filled with laughter. He said it had always been his favourite place to visit; and then he also mentioned how happy he was to see the house belonging to a family with younger children once again.
Now when I walk in through the front door, I am enveloped in a feeling of warmth and contentment wherever I go in the house and I don’t want to leave, I know just what that delightful man had meant; houses have atmospheres and this is a happy home.
And finally the winner of our giveaway, drawn out of a hat by the children last night, is Joyfulhome !!!! (I promise completely a coincidence)
If you can please send me an email with your details we can get your picture packed and shipped to you. Congratulations and thank you so much to everyone for all of your fabulous comments, they meant the world to me and I wish you could all have won x