The heart of any home is it’s kitchen. Particularly a rambling french house where you hope one day to entertain friends and family. In my head I could already see myself whipping up a coq au vin with copper pans hanging behind me. Sprigs of local herbs stored in rustic tins on higgeldy-piggedly shelves – studiedly so obviously, in fact probably not even real herbs just nice faux ones that never die. I scoured Amazon for French cook books (Ripailles is AMAZING btw and also At My French Table. ) There is an abundance of fabulous cooking ingredients thanks to the dazzling combination of Super U (a grocery shopping monolith), local markets and my neighbours fields. in short, shopping, cooking and eating played a big part in my French plans but my kitchen looked like this…….
As everything in the house needed total renovation, it was hard to know where to start. But as the kitchen had our only source of heat – an enormous fireplace complete with iron chain to hang cauldron. Plus it needed little structural work – except for a large Acroprop needed to keep the ceiling in place and the floor above. AND as my parents had promised an imminent visit and would for sure want cups of tea, maybe even somewhere to sit, this was the place to start.
Now, the next crucial thing to note at this point is that we had NO MONEY to do this house up. Nothing. No, slush fund, no contingency money and no cash to employ people to help us out. Nope our beautiful rambling, falling down in fact, french house was a two person, two child fixer upper. And when things got tough we were possibly going to have to auction the two kids on eBay to raise funds.
So, how do you furnish a 4×4 metre kitchen on no pence? Well, enter two well known cheap renovating buzz words. Two brands who were to become our closest allies and indeed friends – IKEA and EBay. Funds were so tight that we couldn’t even afford new IKEA (this is not one of THOSE houses on Grand Designs where a neurotic woman gets upset that French builders have ruined her hand-made-in-Italy marble topped kitchen – ‘Oh My God NOT the Gaggenau!’) So, unlike normal families who drive to IKEA, maybe have a nice lunch of meatballs and chips, then drive home with their spanking new units, Peter bought used, old Varde units on Ebay via saved searches and trips to the outer reaches of the home counties. We lucked out when he discovered a cooking school that was closing down who sold him not just a couple of very large units which would become our ‘island’ but also a barely used Smeg range that they had several of and needed to sell. Result! And then it was all driven down to France, by Peter on his own, in the back of our estate car. And several gallons of white emulsion later, it slowly began to take shape….
We missed Peter in the months that followed as he drove to and from France in cars laden with increasingly large loads. And when he sent us pics of himself covered in paint and dust – we looked on jealously as we continued with our daily commutes to work and school. Dreaming of our house with a bucket for a loo. Skype meant I could still bark instructions from the other side of the channel, making sure he put everything just where I wanted it. Ensuring, he placed my island unit in exactly the right position so eventually I could oversee all kitchen related activities like a conductor with his orchestra. And I spent several weeks poring over colour charts to establish the perfect shade of green for the walls. In the end we went for Overtly Olive by Dulux on the main walls with Farrow and Ball’s James White on the wall with the windows to add some lightness to it all. Huge lampshades were bought in IKEA and some open shelving to store the lovely rustic looking crockery donated by my parents (BHS Lincoln – still to be found on Ebay – we had four gravy boats last count as Peter insists on buying every piece of it that comes up like my granny used to buy up sugar in case of another war). And it became a room. A proper room that you wanted to spend time in. I could use Serge’s bountiful courgette crop to make courgette quiche, courgette cake and courgette risotto – we haven’t eaten a courgette since. Sitting in front of the open fire, with a glass of wine, reading a book is still possibly one of my favourite places in the whole world. I eventually found a fireside chair but will save that story for another blog post as it involves a fight, in french in IKEA!
By that first Easter and a trip down there together with our several weeks absent husband/father and it was perfect. Really, perfect. We had a room! A finished room! And we spent all our time in there. Eating, playing board games and trying to avoid bumping into that flipping acroprop!