Friends and family frequently ask “why France?” It wasn’t my idea! A besotted better half hankered after a more ‘rural’ life with lots of space, sunshine, delicious food and ingredients and, of course, great wines. Well it didn’t sound all that bad and, after three years spent travelling the South West looking for our ideal home and commercial venture, I was smitten and pressing him for decisions.
Actually, he knew exactly how to get me on board… show me an old house with a ton of character, but needing a whole load of love, make sure it has lovely views, a pretty village close-by, with great markets to visit and having some land for the dogs and chickens and I’m there. I wanted my very own design project and what better than a beautiful old French house to restore to its former glory?
But, where to start when searching for that dream home? Repeat after me “location, location, location’. Identify one or two really good agents who understand your brief…it will save you a lot of wasted time and heartache, especially if, like us, you are conducting your search from England. (We used Global Immobilier in area 47 and they were fantastic from start to finish). Work out exactly what you want, what you won’t compromise on and the nice to have’s. Consider accessibility, proximity to services, neighbours, views, how you like to live…the lot! Do your research and brief your agents well. These are all things that you can’t change once you’ve bought you’re home so get it right.
Then on to the fun bit, choosing the house…and there is a lot to choose from!
Now, the French have an undeniable and legendary sense of style. From the chicness of the Parisian boutiques and boulevards to the extravagance of Versailles and even the nonchalant fading of painted shutters against aged stonework, a style that has inspired a whole industry in shabby-chic.
However, a word of warning… don’t expect to find it in many of the properties you view. That nonchalant aging of painted woodwork has often accelerated to rotting and the inimitable style has been surrendered to a whole raft of bizarre ‘home improvements’ usually driven by practicality and budgetary restrictions.
I started our search with a few basic rules…it must have a decent roof (the huge replacement costs are seldom reflected in the asking price) and the only solution should not be knocking it down to re-build it. Of equal importance, it must not have endured a hideous renovation which included ripping out windows and replacing with white U PVC, the removal of all fireplaces “to create more space” and had stone or original wood floors taken out and replaced with cheap laminate for warmth and cleanliness...sacre bleu!!
Of course, practically anything can be changed in a house, from room sizes and layouts, windows and doors, roofs, and even external facias. But consider time, cost, energy and will and you’ll realize the importance of establishing what you want to end up with and the budget needed to get you there.
For me, design and style are easy to achieve but the fabric of the building, the character that original architectural features provide is irreplaceable. Of course, you can reintroduce aged beams and floor-boards, stone eviers, open fireplaces but, aside the not to be underestimated cost, you cannot put-back the historic character and feel of the place. Call me crazy (and many do!) but a house has a personality born of the many people who have lived, loved, laughed and cried there. It shows in those worn floorboards or the stone steps, it shows in the blackened fireplace and the distinctive nooks and crannies, and, it shows in the respect its owners have had for its very being.
However, there is one thing for sure when searching for your perfect home and that is that with any house you are going to have to make compromises. Certainly our own choice was not a conventional one and did not appear to match our criteria but one look at the stunning views, and the old stone ovens used by monk’s to bake the bread for the surrounding hamlets, and I was hooked and Fournil Des Moines was ours.
I would liken it to the more mature amongst us looking for the perfect partner, armed with a clear picture and a checklist of attributes. Somehow that list goes out the window when you know you’ve found the one!!