My French home renovation reminiscences – as renovation continues unabated on this old farm house in Pas-de-Calais, northern France, I was remembering how it was when I first bought it and wondering why on earth we did it?
At the beginning of this project I made a huge list of jobs that needed to be done and then I broke it down to see what equipment we needed and what supplies were required. I’m an ex project manager so I can’t help myself! Then I looked at dependencies – for instance we couldn’t move to a room upstairs in the house – because there were no stairs! Well, there was a stair case but it was tiny and twisted, like it had been built for pixies! I could manage it but it wasn’t safe and the OH had to bend double to get up it. At the top beams were precariously positioned so that to get to the floor you had to climb over or under a beam. The OH once slipped at the top of the stairs and cut his head on a beam which left a 3 inch gash right across the front of his head. For about a month afterwards he looked like a walking money box!
Apart from dependencies there were also priorities to list – number one being we needed a bathroom and loo. The previous occupants had simply plumbed in a free standing shower unit – at the top of the stairs! It was on the “landing” – an area upstairs which had a floor (not all of the upstairs had a floor) that was relatively stable. There was a bare bulb hanging out of the wall and the walls and ceiling were lined with ply wood to keep the worst of the elements out. This was critical as in some places on the roof we could see outside as there were great gaping holes where tiles were missing or bad renovation work had simply opened up huge holes and been left. Anyway, you can imagine my joy at realising that any stay at this old house would involve showering in that “room”. The loo was in a “box” off the kitchen. I say box as the owners had simply put up a wall and door in the corner and plumbed a loo with a pipe to the septic tank – it was unspeakably revolting and condensation ran down the walls and formed pools of grimy water on the floor – a hideous off white tiled affair.
Some parts of the house had a corrugated plastic or metal roof, rusted, hole-ridden and ineffective roof coverings at best. Some walls had fallen down, some windows were missing, an acro prop was holding one end of the house up where someone had cut an opening in the end wall – and and then built more house on the other side of the gap! My Dad had told me I was wasting my money, it was beyond redemption.
The OH and I spent all of our holidays and at least one weekend every month at the house. We tried to work through the jobs but with an acre of land most of our weekends were taken up with just cutting the grass and trying to control the hedges, trees and weeds! When we could do real work, we concentrated on laying concrete floors – a lot of the rooms had earth floors still and there’s not much point in doing any nice decorating when you don’t have a floor (or walls, a roof, windows…).
You’re probably wondering why on earth I bought this house aren’t you? Believe me over the last ten years or so that I’ve had it, I have asked myself that plenty of times!
There were though many reasons that I fell in love with this ruined old place. First and foremost I wanted to be able to relish the French way of life. I’d lived in London my whole life and wanted to be able to enjoy fresh air and country living and though I could get that in the UK – it would have meant working at my corporate job until I dropped.
When I saw the house I had an instant connection, a feeling that this house was meant to be mine. I seriously didn’t consider the disgusting loo, the dodgy stair case, the fact that there was only one wood fire to heat five enormous rooms downstairs and no heating at all upstairs. I didn’t even think about having to rebuild seven rooms downstairs that were missing walls and/or roofs and worry about how we’d manage.
I saw an ancient old building, an authentic French farmhouse that had not been loved for a long time that had the potential to be a beautiful home. I loved the old beams everywhere, the huge garden, the flint stone walls in the older part of the house, the tranquility of the village.
Of course I had rose coloured glasses on! I should have thought about it more but if I had it would have scared me too much and I wouldn’t have done it and then we wouldn’t have this house that is just now starting to be home. I read back now through my old notes and diaries and despite the fact that here we are – still plastering, laying floors and building after several years we’ve come an awful long way.A bientôt Janine