Update update!

Argh – I have neglected my blog. I feel bad about this as I was so passionate about keeping it up to date for so long. I think the problem is two fold…

  1. I was playing catch up, telling our story room by room with historical photos and tales. Now I am in essence updating in real time so have much less to work with.
  2. The changes we are making now are much less seismic. We are even re-renovating things we renovated when we first moved in.

But just to get you all up to speed on progress – here are some pics from this summer. A summer where we were visitor free for the first time since we bought the house so in theory we should have had loads more time. Our first project was to redecorate the kitchen.

Here is how our kitchen looked when we first bought the house, complete with Flintstones grotto..


yabba dabba do!


And here is how it looked once we’d painted and added in a kitchen.


overtly olive in 2011

But this summer we decided to give it an overhaul. It was the first thing we decorated when we moved in and as such it was looking a bit tired. And I’d also tired of the Overtly Olive walls that we’d plumped for when we first moved in.

So I headed to B&Q and bought myself many tubs of Valspar Smoky Lashes and some Dulux Egyptian Cotton. And voila – add in a metal sign we found in a Vide Grenier and we have a brand new kitchen. The ceiling still needs to be painted but we both feel a it sick at the prospect of forty or more in between beam sections.

Next visit I am replacing the floor but may stick with a black and white theme as it feels like part of the house.

And I simply can’t part with the ‘ugly chair’ I bought after a fight with a woman in IKEA’s bargain corner. It was one of the first things we got when we bought the house and just needed anything to sit on. It has housed the bum of all our guests who sit in front of the fire checking their emails or reading a book and despite stains, burn holes and general wear and tear, I think it has to stay.

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Renovation recap

So where are we at with this house? We’re having people to stay so it must be quite close to being done right? Well. Here is the thing. Bits of it look nice. The bits I’ve shown you. The kitchen, one bathroom, two and a half bedrooms and the barn now has a floor. (Mr Landauer the gardner came with gallons of cement, tonnes of gravel and excitingly for the male members of the house – a digger/tractor thing *technical term)


Le Tracteur thingy


First put down ten tonnes of gravel


Then pour on gallons of concrete…

And we have a table tennis table, swingball (another great 80s throwback – Pete and i dress up as John Lloyd and Chris Evert while playing for authentic feel) and a massive hammock for the garden. But inside? There is A LOT still to be done. And when friends come to visit we feel bad making them holiday and DIY, so work slows down. And if we have friends to stay then we feel bad going off and painting or plumbing, with a casual ‘help yourself to a slice of Brie’ so work slows down. So I must at this point thank Stuart for his Herculean efforts while technically ‘on holiday’ as he did spend an entire day, with Peter painting the ceiling in one of our dingiest rooms. And to our friend Mr Candy for his mini-break with Peter to install top floor windows in the early days. It was, and is, MUCH appreciated. And now that bits of the house are habitable, Peter can’t really justify heading over alone (or with Mr Candy) to ‘make essential advances in wiring’. So things have slowed. Considerably. And as this blog is being written in the past I thought it might be good to have a recap. Its roughly May 2011 and here is where we are at…




Vic began to wonder if her lamp choice made her a basket case?

2. Downstairs bathroom


Wouldn’t you just die without the Metro tile?

3. Master Bedroom


It was time to clear out the dead wood

4.boys bedroom


La Carte SVP

5. Upstairs hallway


1. The top floor!

On our top floor are two massive attic rooms. My goal is to make one a master suite with freestanding bath. The other is to become a ‘dorm’ for our younger guests. But right now they both look like this


Nice for bats!

2.The entrance hall

Not exactly Southfork is it? This is first thing you see if you enter via the enormous front door. Pete has done some plastering and some painting but there is still quite a bit of work needed.


3.The downstairs bedroom

This is going to be a guest room. It has the finished bathroom attached to it and at the moment you have to walk through this to get to the bathroom. Note it DOES have a radiator. Not quite hooked up yet. I might let Pete explain the heating to you all – it is beyond me! This room once had a loo in the corner of it so at least that has gone to the dechetterie (french for tip) and it has had a coat of white paint by this stage – it WAS worse than this at one point!


Its all white really

4. The grand ‘salon’

We rather pretentiously refer to this room as the ‘salon’ because sitting room just doesnt seem right. It is huge. It is grand. And one day it will be a salon. But right now it looks like this…. we did around this time have Mr Landauer come in and concrete the floor so we could at least walk through here without stepping on a mouse or rat or some such scurrier. But I thought I should give you the ‘basic’ picture.


Its all gone a bit ‘kings speech’

5.The worst room in the world (indeterminate eventual usage)

Look at this! Truly the ugliest, dirtiest room in the world. This is pretty much the worst room we had to contend with with a horrid huge water tank that took hours of sawing and yanking just to get it off the wall. And incredibly when we first visited the house this is the only sink we had and we used to USE it! But reader – this room will in about a years time from now become awesome. Just wait!


Cup of tea anyone?

6. The Dining Room

But not one you’d really want to eat in. All these not so nice rooms are connected to the nice rooms so even if you are sitting in the lovely kitchen having a glass of rose – if you need to wee in the lovely bathroom you have to walk through any two of the above to get there. Which is where flip flops have become essential items.


Pink to make the boys wink

7.The Top Floor bathroom

Yep. Check this baby out? Holes in the ceiling. A bucket to collect the water that pours in up here and no floor whatsoever.


Can I have a pee please Bob?

So thats it. Nice right? Want to come for a visit yet? Maybe leave it another few months? And see what we get up to?

Gained – 1 kitchen. Lost – 1 husband….

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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…….

flinstones grotto - we still have no idea why?

flinstones grotto – we still have no idea why?

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….


A tidy kitchen is a tidy mind, right?


THAT acroprop!


My favourite place in the world

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!


Smeg range via Ebay


The remaining thing from the old kitchen – painted up and its now a telephone table


Crockery courtesy of Mum and Dad


And from another angle!


Seb makes himself at home


ta da!