Those two simple words “For Sale” can turn our lives around, especially when the sign is small and hand-written in the depths of the French countryside. It doesn’t even seem to matter for me what it is for sale – “À Vendre” has me daydreaming. I can see a wooden board propped against a vintage car and I imagine driving it. A sign against some antique chairs outside someone’s house and I envision where I will put them. And something in the window of a building and immediately I’m planning it’s renovation!
When we were skiing in the Pyrenees last month we all fell in love with the house we were staying in, so much so that we wanted to know more. I was especially keen to learn if they had done the renovation themselves and I also wanted to know more about the history of the property for it had an immense amount of charm. After many emails back and forth with the owners, I am excited to be able to share with you the details of this renovation, including some fabulous ‘before and after’ photos. The house was originally a shepherd’s hut, hence the name “La Bergerie”, and aside from a place to shelter from the snow or as a lover’s secret hideaway (more of which later) it was not really habitable. This was not a project for the faint hearted!
But one thing could not be altered; the stunning views.
Marie and Pascal did much of the work themselves, as she explains. I deliberately asked her to reply in English for the benefit of everyone here, and I think you will all agree her English is excellent, despite the fact she claims it is not!
First of all, when did you buy the house?
We bought our house in November 2013, but we saw it for the first time months ago, so we have been dreaming in what we could be able to do with it and also calculating if we were able to pay it and make the renovation.
Was it always your plan to buy somewhere that required complete renovation?
My husband and I always wanted to buy a house closed to a ski resort as we love so much skiing (my husband oganise a lot of skicross and freestyle skiing contests and my father was “Chasseur Alpin” when he began his officer military career) so we always love the mountains with my husband, and much more the Pyrenees and Barèges. We love so much the old houses, and we really wanted to buy a barn as we think it is the most authentic to have good time at the mountain and it is very warm and “cocooning”, it was for us evident to buy something to renovate as we don’t like the “modern” constructions.
Did you choose the village and location and then search for a suitable property, or did the property find you?
We always want to buy something closed to Barèges, so we have been searching for long months (about 2 years) and when we saw la Bergerie for the first time, we had “LE COUP DE COEUR” for the house, the village, the view and the location, as it is very difficult to find a barn which is not lost in the moutain, la Bergerie is in the village of Sers so it is very uncommon.
When was the original property built?
It was built in 1750! When we bought it, there was tons of hays into it, and 1 year before, it still had some lambs coming ! What is very funny is that there was a telephone into the house, people from the village told us that, long years ago, it was the only telephone of Sers ! Into the hay, we have also found a lot of things, I think a lot of lovers were coming !
There was obviously a huge amount of work required to turn this into a habitable home, how long did it take you to do all the work?
We have been renovating the house during 2 years with my husband and some friends and family, all the week-ends and holidays were for the house during 2 years ! Except the masonry, plumbing and electricity, we made all the rest !! Floors, painting, bathrooms, including the “twin bed” was made by my husband ! The table near the fireplace was originaly the shutter of the big bedroom, and the TV table was an old door of the barn ! So we made everything, even the bar was made by a friend of us !
Did you employ an architect or other designers?
We didn’t employ any architect as I work in an architecture office, so I only made the plans for the “Architecte des Bâtiments de France” as we had to respect some points to renovate the house as the village is “classé” because of the Church, for exemple, we were not autorized to make big windows, and it was forbidden to create more openings, but my husband and I didn’t mind as we really wanted to respect the original architecture as it is what we really love.
How much of the work did you do yourselves?
My husband and I (even our two children, Margaux 17 years old and Clémence 16 years old), some very good friends (especially my best friend Isabelle), our family have made about 80% of the total work !
Obviously the house is on a steep hillside, did this cause any problems?
The hillside wasn’t a problem for us, except to bring the equiment. The hardest part of the renovation was to take the hay off !!! We calculated that there was about 1,5 ton that we have been taking off with forks and burning it as and when …. Also the painting was very difficult as there are a lot of beams on the roof and the roof is quite high so it was complicated ! But even if it has been very hard working during two years, we are very very happy to have made it ourselves as it is very grateful to think that you made it ! People of the village are very happy about our renovation as we have respected the original architecture and we kept the authenticity.
Some years ago, this barn was the property of a shepherd called Emile who was very loved into the village, this is the reason why we called the bar “Chez Emile”, it is for us a tribute to this shepherd and also for the people of Sers who are very good persons !
Where did you get the inspiration from and was it your idea to always keep this in a local style?
We didn’t have to get any inspiration as my husband and I really love the moutain materials: wood and stone.
I love that you have kept it as natural as possible inside, do you have a background in Interior Design?
We don’t have any bakground in interior design, but we really know what we love and what we want the bergerie looks like: something warm, welcoming and refine, modern but conserving the charm of the authentic place.
We never made this kind of work before, but we are looking now to make another one …… will be continue ….. 😉
I love the story of how they did this together, a real labour of love and of course this is France, and lunch is lunch. Everything is done with a certain finesse!
So I’ll take you back to the beginning and the interior of the barn
and this ground floor
I love the attention to detail
and the use of the local slate as a backing for light fixtures
and as heat resistant mats on the dining table.
They also kept the original water trough.
The ground floor is open-plan. The kitchen is modern and highly functional whilst retaining the charm of the stone walls and rustic beams.
I love these tiles which work so well with the stone and slate but also add a softer touch
and the view out of the kitchen window makes washing up a dream job!
In fact the view out of all the windows is spectacular!
A staircase replaced the ladder to the loft which now houses charming bedrooms
again with no shortage in attention to detail. They made the headboards which neatly hide the electricity cables for the lights.
and Pascal made the bunk beds which were a delight to both Hetty and Gigi!
Mixing perfectly with the rustic charm the bathrooms are slick and modern with gallons of hot water and heated towel rails of course!
Marie and Pascal rent the house out for holidays all year round with airbnb.com, details here. I should add that I find summer in the mountains every bit as charming as winter.
Staying here has given me lots of inspiration. I love the stone, the slate roofs, the interior and how everything was done. In fact since we returned last month we have made a few changes at home. We needed some new garden furniture and Roddy has been making this himself, (I’ll show you all when it’s finished) because this just proved to us how much one can do and how so many items can be recycled in the most charming way.