I've always wanted a stone house - stone is so much more part of the countryside than red brick. Our "fermette" at Tessel Bas was massively built of local stone in the late 1800s; it has metre-thick walls and is bedded securely in the native limestone. The massive stone construction is snug and warm in winter and blessedly cool in summer.
The single-storey layout has grown over the years and has interesting split-levels. Rooms comprise a kitchen/diner, a lounge with ancient oak beams, a covered verandah and just two bedrooms - but the floor area is large compared to a UK two-bedroom house. Our bedroom has lovely views over the valley and the guest bedroom overlooks the park.
There are also two storage rooms and an essential and well-stocked wine cellar, plus a basement housing a pressure jet oil boiler to feed the oil fired central heating, which helps the big wood-burner in the lounge to keep us cosy and warm.The big 40kWh boiler was 34 years old and showing its age, stinking of fumes and sometimes refusing to start, so it has been replaced by a new Dietrich boiler (inevitably now called "Marlene"!) with a wireless thermostat that we can carry from room to room.
The whole house was renovated some time ago, including a new roof. All the usual facilities were present and working but the decoration was to the usual strange French taste and the fittings needed updating.
My renovation programme started with the kitchen, which has been stripped of existing units, retiled, re-plumbed and rewired. The process was a slow one, not only due to the temptations of working in the garden and the long delivery time of the kitchen units, but also to the DIY process of learning French DIY. This is because there are significant differences in the products, processes and practices between France and the UK for building, plumbing and electrical work.
The advancing tide of renovation moved firstly into the couloir, then to the toilet and bathroom. Since we had only one loo and one bathroom, I installed the new units while Christine was visiting the UK. The caravan was available as a stand by for the toilet, but had been sold by the time the bath was installed. Consequently several showers were taken in al fresco mode using the garden hose and sprinkler!
The purchase of a new computer increased the need for a quiet room/office/grown-up's playroom. At one end of the house there is a cellar with an ante room, used for storage. This was requisitioned, the roof insulated and panelled, walls painted, floor carpeted, wiring for the mains and telephone connections to the computers installed and built-in computer benches made and fitted. The old window had been blocked up, so it was replaced with a double-glazed unit at the same time as large double-glazed windows were fitted to the verandah. It was obvious from the trotter scratches on the old doors that the room had once been a pigsty, so the room was named "La Porcherie", a term often applied to teenagers' rooms in France!
The "verandah" was once an open courtyard surrounded on three sides by the house, but has been covered and glazed at the front. This glazing had seen better days and was draughty and poorly insulated, so we decided to have double glazing fitted - a much more pleasant experience than dealing with the cowboys in the UK! Vertical blinds have also been fitted to control the heat of the morning sun in summer, and the room was thus a candidate for the most recent renovation. The task was mainly painting, although I had some fun fitting a power socket for the hi-fi through a 1.5 m thick stone wall.
With Simon & Sara's wedding in May 2005 fast approaching, I had a strong incentive to get the salon decorated, so a new door was installed between salon and the guest bedroom - glazed to lighten a dark corner - then Xtine was packed off to the UK while I attacked the beams and the fireplace. The main cross-beam was sanded and limed, and the hard render on the fireplace removed to show the stone. A rather nice little niche had the paint stripped off to reveal the rather attractive honey-pink stone beneath.
The second bedroom is quite a large room, with room for at least three beds and a view over our park. This room needed little work other than repainting, although we do have a plan to add an ensuite toilet and shower room.
Our bedroom was the last of the rooms in our house to be refurbished. The first priority was the walk-in wardrobe, which had been equipped with shelves from orange boxes. All this was stripped out; the ceiling pulled down, insulated and panelled with pine lambris (tongue & groove) finished with a clear varnish, the walls decorated, then shelves made up from pine laths were installed. All this took an inordinate time - even the lighting had to be rewired, so there were all the problems of a room, the only difference being the time to paint and the amount of paint.
To enable decoration of the main bedroom we moved into the guest bedroom. I started to refurbish the bedroom window, but it was too old and I had a new double glazed unit fitted. It's a big window and the difference the 24mm glazing made to the bedroom temperature on cold frosty days is amazing! The floor had been covered in an ugly green carpet. I looked in to various alternatives, such as chestnut parquet. In the end I decided on thick oak-veneered deal which best accommodated the uneven floor. French "bed-heads" are usually fixed to the wall but we couldn't find one to suit our taste, so we bought a quilt with matching pillowcases, filled the latter with sheet foam and hung them on a curtain rail.
Our old wood-burning stove was getting old in the tooth, it was difficult to keep clean, it needed a new firebasket and the chimney wasn't lined with a stainless-steel flue in accordance with current fire regulations. So we bought a free-standing wood-burning stove. We had it professionally fitted as the saving from the preferential TVA (VAT) rates paid for the installation - and kept the fire insurance people happy too!
With double combustion and a guaranteed efficiency of over 65% the new stove provides lots of heat using logs from my own trees and is, of course, carbon neutral.
They say that a plumber's house is always the one with the dripping tap, in the same way our house had somewhat dodgy electrics. Like many rural properties it used a three-phase 230/400v supply, with each phase limited to 15 Amps. So the use of modern appliances often precipitated a trip, usually at the most embarrassing moments, such as during cooking for guests. So I asked EDF to change us to mono-phase, which was done quickly and efficiently. However we now had 45 Amps on tap, so I had to do a fair amount of rewiring and install a consumer unit with an earth-leakage trip and individual breakers for each circuit. The rewiring involved a fair amount of time in the grenier, amongst the spiders webs and mouse skeletons, so I was happy when it was finished.
With the completion of the wiring, the house refurbishment is substantially complete. In 2007 I did little to the house, apart from adding some extra fibreglass to the loft.
Our front entrance hall has a high ceiling reaching up to the apex of the roof - it was finished in darkish lambris (tongue & groove) and inadequately insulated. To make the room lighter I lined it in 2009 with plasterboard insulated by a thick layer of expanded polystyrene. I underestimated the work required to fit plasterboard sheets at up to 4m high and was very grateful for Peter's help in the task, although I had a game knee for sometime afterwards.
At last we yielded to the demands of the Service Publique d'Assainissement Non-Collectif and had a compliant sewage system installed. This involved spending several thousand Euro and turning our promenade into something resembling the battlefield of the Somme. At one stage I thought the garden would never be the same again, but after only a few months there's little evidence remaining of the ballet of the mechanical shovels.
My five-year-old Compaq WinXP machine was showing its age and had slowed down to an unacceptable level, so I indulged my love of the Apple Macintosh by buying a Mac Mini to go with my big Samsung monitor. The pic shows the Mac in the Porcherie, dwarfed by a 2TB external hard drive used for backup.
The entrance hall is much warmer after the insulation work, but it had no heating of its own; in the depths of winter the pussy cats sleep there and with it closed up the room was often cold in the morning, necessitating the use of a paraffin heater for a while. The obvious answer was an extra radiator, but I had to get a plumber and welder to tee-off the existing steel pipes with a TIG welder.
We had the South wall stripped of its old render in early 2011 and repointed to show the stonework. Later I stripped and repointed the lower portion of the walls in the North-East corner around the porcherie. The stone wall near the entrance door had some unsightly pointing, so I repointed it in 2012.
We really love our little house - it's quaint and interesting - the accommodation is more than adequate for us and allows us to accommodate some visitors, without the housework being an insuperable burden. And we're always glad to get back to it!
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