About vicawhite

Magazine person by day, French house renovator at all other times! A love of Breton tops links the two but not much else. I live in SE London for most of the year but spend holidays and happy days in Gensac - a tiny village in SW France in between the not-much-larger villages of Maubourguet and Vic en Bigorre. My day job is very glamorous. My holidays are not. And that's how I like it.

How DID we end up with a house in France?

As I’ve got quite a few new followers, I thought it might be worth reposting one of my early posts about buying our house. Why did we do it? How did we do it? Again, why did we do it? So here is the story of La Maison Blanche ….

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So how DO you end up buying a house in a tiny hamlet in SW France? Well this involved a lot of ‘bookmark bar dreaming’. You know the thing. You see a house you love for sale by trawling french property websites, you drag it onto your bookmark bar and then open it every now and then to see if its still for sale. Imagine yourself there throwing big dinners for friends, cooking Confit of Duck, wafting in the backgarden picking lavender. Chances are though, it still will be for sale because most tumble down French property is difficult to sell. Only crazy English people buy falling down, in need of attention, French properties. So in the current market they can sit there for sale, getting more and more run-down as months go on. Which is what happened here. Until, two unconnected events took place.

1) My mother-in-law, Joan, died. She was 82 years old and had lived a wonderful full life. There were stints in Africa as a midwife in the 50s, dodging doodlebugs in WW2 in London delivering babies and then going to Canada as part of the war effort where she met her husband, Lee. After returning with Lee and his children from a previous marriage to her home in Devon, she went on to give birth to my husband Peter and his sister Ruth. They, finally settled in Bristol and had several grandchildren. These children and grandchildren, including my husband Peter were left a nice sum of money when she died (her husband Lee had died in 2000) for which we were very grateful but had no plans to spend impulsively.

2) Peter did a bit of ‘bookmark bar dreaming’ clearing out. He decided to revist all those properties he had optimistically bookmarked and have a REALITY check. There was no way we could afford any of them even with a little windfall. Except…. As he got to a Maison Du Maitre in the Haute Pyrenees with it’s own 1 acre wood, 6 bedrooms and bright yellow (albeit falling off) shutters, he noticed the price had been reduced by almost 150000 Euros! Zut Alors – this would never happen at Foxtons… Miraculously, this home was now within our grasp.

And so, in May 2009 with the children left at home with my parents, Peter and I flew to Pau to meet up with a slightly smarmy (probably slightly desperate) estate agents called Patrick at a property that had been on his books for over 2 years. We fell in love straight away. We saw beyond the nicotine stained, EVERYTHING, mould encrusted bathrooms, ceilingless and floorless rooms with rats and mice living there. What we saw was an enormous house where we could holiday with our friends, a huge barn that we could spend a lifetime renovating long after the house was finished, a wood where the family could build a treehouse and a local village with restaurants that served soup, salad, steak and chips followed by creme brulee and a carafe of red wine for just 12 Euros each. And so reader, we put in an offer…..

My french house – before and after pics …

I think it’s a good idea to do a quick recap. Sometimes even I forget just how awful our French house was when we bought it. So this blog post is a simple before and after round up. No, you’re welcome.

Kitchen

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Our kitchen on the day we moved in – nice huh?

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Varde units from Ikea and crockery from my parents and local brocant markets.

Master bedroom

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This was where we slept for about six months – the futon I bought in Australia when I was 24 and living there – its travelled to here via LA, Newcastle and London.

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Mirror from ebay and light fitting was here originally! Wallpaper is Laura Ashley Josette.

Downstairs bathroom

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er yuk!

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Still one of my have makeovers. Walls Cornforth White from Farrow and Ball and bathroom from a local discount bathroom supplier. Extras from local Brocante.

Downstairs guest bedroom

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This is actually ‘after’ quite a bit of cleaning up and painting. Don’t have a truly ‘before’ pic but you get the idea

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Ta da! Bed from Ikea. Curtains made by me! Everything else brocante or local market.

Kids sitting room

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Oh.My.God!

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The kids have a room of their own! Sofa was found in a skip and recovered with John Lewis fabric. Walls are Farrow and Ball Parma Grey.

Dining room

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Can you see why we bought the place? nope, me either….

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Because I knew it could look like THIS! Walls are Earhbourne Paints Bandstand. Lights from BHS and everything else from local brocante markets. Table from our friend Steve who has a great Brocante in Aignan.

Kids room

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Again this is a mid way makeover pic – don’t have true befores. Our friend James’s stripped the wallpaper from the walls in here as it was too disgusting to even go in with it on apparently. Thanks James.

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The boys chose the colour – its a Dulux red can’t remember the name. Bedding is Cath Kidston.

Small bedroom

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My dressing room/spare bedroom

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Ready for the arrival of my god-daughter! Bed Ikea and towels from Matalan!

Upstairs bathroom

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Letting the rain in….

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Paint is Earthbourne Bandstand (leftover from dining Room) Tiles are from Topps Tiles and called Henley

Grand Salon

Our 'rat run' home to lots of furry friends

Our ‘rat run’ home to lots of furry friends

Not yet finished but looking better right? Walls are Calamine by Farrow and Ball and lights are Graham and Green.

Not yet finished but looking better right? Walls are Calamine by Farrow and Ball and lights are Graham and Green.

So there you have it. We do also have a few ‘sub rooms’ which are small bedrooms attached to the other rooms which we’ve painted and thrown some beds in plus we have a very basic utility room. ANd then we have two of these…..

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Attics – one day will be two VERY large bedrooms with ensuites!

But that’s definitely for another blog post. How do you think we’re doing so far?

How many bedrooms DO you have?

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See it IS like a boutique hotel!

Now that the house was almost fully functioning (don’t get me wrong – there is A LOT still to do/finish and even when we do there are barns and woods and by then the house will need redecorating – the kitchen already looks like it could do with a lick of paint!) we had more guests putting in requests to come and stay.

I remember reading an article written by Daisy Waugh years ago about why they finally sold their house in France. It was because she got fed up with people using it like a hotel and having to spend all her holidays cooking and cleaning for other people. And I also remember thinking – well that will NEVER happen to me cos my friends are not annoying posh people like hers and I love them all. And I do. And in fact it feels really quiet chez White when there is just us there. And as the house got more furbished – it became much easier to have larger groups of people all at the same time. And in Easter 2013 we hosted our biggest house party to date.

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A house big enough for 3 families! (just)

Many years earlier (too many to start counting but put it this way ER was the ‘hot new TV show’ at the time) I had shared a home in South West London with a group of total strangers I found via a thing called Loot. It was a listings newspaper that came out every week and people would place adverts in it for flat/house shares. These were the days before the internet when you actually called people up using a landline to arrange appointments to view. And so I went along, 21 years old and just out of Uni to look at a house on a street called Cavendish Rd in Balham. I ran into two people called Darren and Isobel on the way in who had just graduated from Cambridge and were looking for a place to move to in London. And that was that. We decided we sort of liked the look of each other and we sort of liked the house so we took it and moved in together. We found two others and our five bed house was full and the ‘Cavendish Rd’ gang were born. The later additions via moves, different shares etc included Dan, a fellow Cambridge Grad and Petra my now best friend and at the time, colleague of Darren. And those three years learning to be a grown up were some of the most fun of my life. Like Uni days but with a bit of disposable income. We lived mostly on a diet of Chardonnay and Covent Garden Soup Company soup. And we got promotions, changed career directions, fell in love (not with each other – phew) and because we had each other, it was OK that our boiler broke every winter. Or that the furniture in our big, ugly, rented house looked like people may have died on it years earlier. So, when, in 1996 I was offered a job in Australia, the decision to leave Cavendish Rd was made with a very heavy heart.

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young and foolish

But, it was a promotion and it was AUSTRALIA! I had to go right? But as the Cavendish Rd crowd waved me through to departures at London’s Heathrow I sobbed into my passport and wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake.

But everyone’s lives moved on – the house share broke down and people graduated into smaller flats with working bathrooms. We all became proper grown ups. Darren even got married and before long everyone else did too. And then we had kids. Two each. And so that we didn’t lose touch with one another we arranged (and still do) every year to go away for a weekend somewhere with all our kids and we refer to it as the Cavendish Rd Weekend Away. Twenty adults and twenty kids.

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OMG we had kids!!!

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Darren leading the 20 strong Cavendish Rd gang today!

And somewhere in the midst of all of this, someone suggested that a Cav Rd sub group could come over to France for Easter. And so that’s what they did. There was a bit of overlap which meant Darren, Dan and I plus our partners and kids could sit in my kitchen in SW France and wonder if we could ever have imagined all those years ago that one day, twenty or so years hence, we’d still be friends. And our wives, husbands et al would be friends. And our kids would be friends. And we’d be friends with each other’s kids as they grow older and develop personalities of their own. And Dan’s daughter Suki taught Seb how to play backgammon. Then Seb taught Suki how to shout ‘poo poo head’ really loudly at your parents.

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And Dan taught Peter and I how to play bridge and got really cross when we beat him and his wife Louisa (beginners luck)

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And on Easter Sunday we had a feast that didn’t involve any Covent Garden Soup Company Soup at all. See. We HAVE become grown ups!

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The epic Interview

My son blogged today too!!

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Hi, so this week I interviewed an actor from two of the Doctor Who episodes. His name is Damian Samuels he played Arthur Lloyd(cool name!!) in The empty child and The doctor dances. Here is the interview

 What was it like in Doctor Who?
It’s always exciting getting an acting job, this felt like just another job at first, as Doctor Who hadn’t been on the televison for years and so there were very low expectations of what it might be like. It wasn’t until I was doing the table read ( The first readthrough of the script) with all the actors that I suddenly realised how amazing this could be. Christopher Ecclestone was incredible with Billie Piper and it was Captain Jacks first ever episode. It was all Steven Moffats first ever Doctor Who script so there was real excitement in the room and you felt like you were…

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Our perfect pink – finally!

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Eeny, meeny

So for those joining now -hi! *waves

Here is where we are at. I had painted our Grand Salon in France a hideous, girly, darkish pink. It looked like a nine year old’s bedroom – all it needed were some Lelli Kelli shoes scattered on the floor. And so I had begun a search to find a pink I DID like. I was open and broad minded in this quest – from lilac to nudes to peaches – no shade of pink was denied its chance. See above!

As it turned out I fell back on my old friends at Farrow and Ball (don’t ask why I didn’t just do that in first place) and went for Calamine.

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Calamine by Farrow and Ball

but the wall above remains in our London dining room and produces an interesting talking point for guests.
Guest….
“So, which one are you going for,”
Us…
“None of them.”

And we set to work, reprinting the entire room. And then we added a wooden floor which came from Bricot Depot and some tall skirting boards which Peter plans to add to the rest of the house one day but he ran out of steam doing the Salon.

And I added two hanging lights I bought in the Graham and Green sale. I got Peter to replace the hanging wires with vintage style fabric covered cord bought on eBay. And we are currently in the process of recovering all these old chairs we’ve found in Vide Greniers.

The coloured chandelier has been moved around every room in the house and will be replaced in here too but we can never get rid of it as it hung in Peter’s dining room in Los Angeles where we first met. When we left LA, we left the chandelier with my LA dwelling Aunt Moira and it lived in her garage for about ten years until I decided I’d carry it back while visiting for work. It came on the flight as hand luggage much to the annoyance of other passengers. And now it’s in France. And Peter keeps optimistically hanging it in every room until I point out it ruins the ‘mood’ I had planned….. Maybe it could go here (current utility room!)….

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One day in the future this will ACTUALLY become a pig sty

And as a gift for us all and our newly repainted Salon, Serge brought us an enormous plant which we added to our ‘reading corner’ and we have a long list of other things we would like to go in it. Mirrors, chairs, tables, bookcases – pretty much everything but at least I have painted walls in a colour I love. Phew.

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Farrow and Ball Calamine walls

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The Chandelier of love!

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Serge’s plant and some French mags!

Google interior inspo

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Shady shady

Bit of a random blog post today but thought you might like some interior inspo from the coolest offices in the world – Google HQ! I’m in residence for one week as part of my ‘real life’ job as editor of Company magazine.

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Please can I work here?

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Pod off!

So it struck me that Google have very similar design esthetics to me! For more pics check out our story on company.co.uk

Then get updating your CV – they have unlimited food and snacks all day long too!!! #dreamjob

Fifty shades of pink

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Not suitable for anyone male and/or over 9

So, to recap… This is the pink I had chosen for my ‘salon’. And I hated it. Sorry Earthbourne paints, it’s not entirely your fault, I mean, this might be nice in a small girl’s bedroom. Possibly with some of those flowery padded letters spelling out ‘sleep’ but it’s just not what I had in mind for my grand salon. I’d chosen pink for my French salon as my London home is a haven of greys, khakis and blues (well my old London home was – the current one is a building site save for my bedroom which is a khaki haven farrow and ball Blue Gray

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Farrow and Ball Blue Gray in my London bedroom

In France, as it’s in the middle of nowhere where no one will expect any specific design motifs (rooms without livestock in them are oddities around these parts!) and has huge rooms, I saw it as an opportunity to do things a little less ‘greige’ which is where my pink obsession began. But my salon had to be grown up and not at all girly. #epicfail so far.

This is more what I had in mind….

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Maybe a touch girly?

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A little more ‘mature’?

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Definitely more sophisticated and ‘manly’

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Dream room…..

And I know I teased last blog post that I’d reveal what I ended up with eventually. I might spin this out a bit longer – like an episode of Homeland. All WILL be revealed next post…..

The Grand Salon (or, how we finally painted our sitting room!)

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Cosy huh?

When we first bought the ‘house in france’ one of it’s biggest selling points was the sheer size and scale of the rooms. Majestic one could say. Certainly compared to London living where if you can afford a three story shoebox with a postage stamp sized garden its considered living in Versailles! And the french house had rooms the size of entire floors of our London home. And so it was with the ‘Salon’. Too grand to be called a ‘sitting room’ and the word ‘lounge’ brings me out in funny lumps n bumps and certainly not a ‘drawing room’ as we had no intention of withdrawing to it – in fact we intended to spend hours of our time there so we plumped for the french – ‘salon’ when referring to it.

Initially the salon didn’t have a floor. It had rats running through it eating up the broken floorboards and so we closed the doors and avoided it at all costs. But once we’d had some people come in and concrete the floors (sorry Ratty – maybe they’re still there like Han Solo – frozen in time or people in Pompeii having their tea when the volcano hit) we started to use the biggest room in the house.

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a bit cosier…

And for Christmas each year we built big fires and had the tree and a couple of sofas thrown in to sit on. The mid century modern sofa eventually ended up in the kids sitting room (see blog post here) but the big squishy grey sofa will remain. It came from IKEA and is a bargainous EKTORP – the cheapest one they do. But as it’s already had children peeing on it and paint splattered over it as part of project redecorate I think it was a wise move not to go for Parker Knoll!

It is essentially the last room we need to decorate and in some ways I’m worried about where my blog will go once I’ve shown you this!!! Although we still have sub rooms and hallways and barns and exteriors to make over. So don’t abandon me just yet.

Once Peter had plastered the most damaged bits of wall (and the Kings Speech style peeling paper had finally been removed) we started painting. I’d had an idea that I wanted this room to be pink. I cant even remember why I got this in my head but I must have seen a pink sitting room in some back issue of Living Etc or some such. And Peter insisted I get an Earthbourne paint as they are clay based and better for our damp walls. So THIS is what I plumped for being the only pink they had at the time. And then we started painting. And we made the kids help…

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Who needs kid’s clubs?

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Pink to make the girls wink

And it was VERY pink. And we used two whole tins of relatively expensive paint.

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our brush with pink

And then it was almost finished and……. I HATED it. It looked like a 10 year old girl’s bedroom. All it needed was some White Company bunting and a One Direction poster and that’s where we’d be. And I knew that I could not leave it like that no matter how much our expensive, clay based paint had cost. So we went back to the drawing board. And the quest for the perfect pink began again…… like Indiana Jones hunting for the Holy Grail – I was looking for my dream paint colour. The quest was on…

mad about matt

My son, Arthur has started a blog – he is a bit depressed as no one has visited it yet- I’ve told him it’s a long game in blogs….

doctorwhocomic2

 

Ok so in this post i’m going to talk about people’s favourite doctors. So in the comments leave your favourite doctor and why  . My favourite doctor is Matt Smith because he is always really exited when he meets new life forms and how he reacts to problems. For instance when he was playing chess with himself he used intellect to win back his body which was epic. Plus in 2011 while we were at a music festival(latitude), i met him in person and he was really kind. So to recap please leave a comment about your favourite doctor .Thanks see you next week.

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We’re board!

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Game on!

When we bought La Maison Blanche – we naively thought that bringing our children to rural france for every holiday would mean shared rustic experiences. There were to be no televisions in the house, so for at least ten weeks a year they’d be unable to watch that god awful rubbish on the Disney Channel involving the same rotating five actresses all bleating on about “dating and like, friends and like, totally relating…”

Instead, we thought, smugly, we would all sit around and talk. They’d ask questions about our lives before them – show interest in the history of us, the house or themselves. Oh no. We might occasionally get ‘WHAT?!!!*** THERE WAS LIKE NO MOBILE PHONES WHEN YOU WAS YOUNG….THAT SUCKS’. HOW DID YOU, LIKE, INSTAGRAM?’ But of course these days you don’t need a TV to watch, er, TV (yep thanks netflix and youtube). So electronic items have seeped into our french life. And access to moving pictures is unrestrictable as Peter needs his computer there to do his work and I need my ipads to play Candy Crush Saga. So it began with the children then using them to watch films. And then came the Olympics so we worked out a way to live stream via BBC.com to watch the Opening Cermony and so before you know it you’re right back to where you began with constant, 24 hour, TV access.

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Anyone know what the thing behind me does though? Plays big black plastic disc things…

But if the battle against electronic items is a losing one – the war is being won slightly thanks to our enormous and ever increasing board game selection shown above. In London we may occasionally get the Monopoly out for a long, slow, torturous game which always ends with Seb banging his fist on the board and sending houses flying when he is losing, but that’s it. Apart from games of cards or endless pokemon card exchanging that I still don’t understand. However, in France just the lack of a TV seems to encourage game playing. And trips to Vide Greniers always result in some classic being bought in another version french or multilingual (I once found the French equivalent of a Countdown game)

My best ever buy is Mastermind – a 70s classic based around the TV show but nothing to do with the TV show. You have to work out the sequence of coloured pegs your opponent has selected. If you’ve got right colour, right place – you get a black peg. Right colour, wrong place – a white peg. Sounds wild right? Well it is.

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Mastering your mind

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J’achete!

And who could fail to be excited by french versions of English classics. French Trivial Pursuit played late, drunkenly at night can keep adults entertained for hours “c’est Vanessa Paradis?” Pretentious nous? And even Monopoly when played with french properties somehow seems just that bit more exciting. Occasionally we even get to the end of a game without anyone storming off in a huff of bankruptcy. Or reaching for the remote control to find out what’s happening to Austin and Ally.