Renovation project Number 2 (meanwhile back in London..)

The French House had taken shape and over the last three years we’d achieved a huge amount. Sometimes I had to sit and look at old photos of dirty concrete floors and rats nests just to remember how bad it had been. The early days where we huddled around the fire in the kitchen with only an acroprop for company! And a bizarre Flinstones grotto!



Yes there is still a lot to be done and we’ve even had to redo certain rooms like the downstairs guest room here (am planning a big kitchen makeover in 2015 – watch this space!) but essentially it was comfortable and clean. We’ve even listed it for rent on Air BnB (link here )

And yet, about a year after starting the French house project, we decided to buy a house of similar disrepair in London. So now when we arrive back at our London house after the fourteen hour drive home – we leave a relatively nice, comfortable, clean french home – back to a dirty, ugly, building site of a house! Truly it’s basic. And the speed of fixing up our London renovation project is nowhere near the pace of France. We are seasoned renovators (Peter has done up and sold three or four houses over the last few years) so we thought we should have a go at a large family home that came on the market on our street in London. Actually it was three bedsits – with an external staircase to access the top floor one. In the early days of living there we had to go outside just to go to bed.


But as it was over four quite large floors, we saw ‘potential’ the renovators dream! Large, high ceilinged rooms, room to expand out on all sides, separate sitting rooms for us and the boys, four bathrooms and a huge garden by London standards. (Non London readers, anything others than paving slabs of 10×10 is quite a luxury)

So reader, we bought it and moved in. And three years later we don’t seem to have done much at all compared to our French House. Maybe because when in France we have little else to do whereas in London combined work lives and social lives suck our time like a Dr Who vortex!

It has taken so much longer to do anything as we are living among it all. Just moving all the wiring in the four floors of corridors and replacing skirting and architrave around doors (oh and taking all doors off to sand and repaint) has taken a year. But recently we turned a bit of a corner as the boys bedrooms in the loft are almost finished and work has begun on their top floor bathroom.
I have no before photos as these rooms simply didn’t exist – they were one big attic room we had a loft conversion company come in and build out to both sides.

I let the boys get involved with colour choice and tried to make some fun elements for both of them. They each have a sofa bed from

Seb has a magnetic board with minecraft magnets so he can put up posters etc while Arthur has a whole wall made of cork tiles to pin his various Dr Who related stuff.


magnet board made with a bit piece of MDF and magnetic paint



The boys both wanted shades of blue so for Arthur it was a ‘almost teen friendly’ Hague Blue from Farrow and Ball. And for Seb Borrowed Light – “it’s grey” he wailed when it was done, but I persuaded him that no it was blue, very pale blue. I have promised him an orange cupboard eventually to brighten things up!

And although it is small steps and the rest of the house is really, still huge amounts of work, the progress we made over the years in France means I KNOW that we can do it and one day it will be nice. I just have no idea when that day is!!!

When kids decorate


The kids were so little when we moved in, the house looked even bigger!

I hope by now I’ve made it clear that this is a family project. One of our main reasons for buying the house was to give our kids a wealth of new experiences in a different country. Of course they will probably grow up hating France, French food, us, broken old houses and DIY. They’ll most likely rebel by moving into a new build Barratt bungalow one day full of wipe clean leather furniture and surround sound like Patrick Bateman in American Pyscho. But until then, we hope, this is to be an enriching time, learning how to order mint ice cream in restaurants, eating steak tartare and spending their time building rope swings and dens (well for the forty minutes a day they can be dragged off their nintendos). One of our greatest frustrations with this project is the distinct lack of excitement shown by the children towards it. ‘House in France? Yeah whatevs’ seems to be the general mood. Perhaps all children are like this about things of which they know no different. Maybe the Beckham kids say things like ‘houses in LA, bucks, France, London, whatevs.’ Suri Cruise probably doesn’t say ‘oh goody another pair of red patent tap shoes – you are so kind to me Daddy’ and so it is that mine think owning a wood, two fields and having chickens on your land has the excitement factor one would normally associate with getting an extra piece of broccoli for your tea.
Things they do love about France though – vide greniers and the cheap plastic tat they can amass there, eating out, cooking in, mint ice cream and Madeleines. Add to that, a stripey hammock, rope swings, orangina and our local pizza place called Restotop and its not all bad!


Arthur discovered the best way to cut onions…..


Even the hammock had a breton theme

But there was the issue of their bedroom. Not used to sharing, the boys were bunked in one room here in France. Not due to lack of space but moreover as the house feels so big it would be weird to have them too far away from us. Oh and the fact that as most rooms were uninhabitable it was easier to focus on doing up one room rather than two. The room we’d earmarked for them looked like this


The worst thing about this room? It’s pink!

And this is AFTER our friend James had been over with Peter and stripped off the old, peeling, dirty wallpaper declaring it ‘unfit for purpose’! The boys didn’t seem to care. They loved being given free reign to make a mess, not make their beds and draw on the walls.
We suggested that perhaps they choose a colour for the walls (as at home I insist upon subtle shades of non child friendly grey or khaki for their rooms – they dream of Ben 10 duvet covers and Disney related bedroom stuff). They chose – RED! A bright, fire engine red. Ketchup colour in fact. I persuaded them into the idea of combining this with Cath Kidston cowboy wallpaper and bedding and we struck a deal! A giant wooden cupboard was bought at Emmaus a kind of permanent car boot sale near Pau. This could house all the rubbish they’d bought at vide greniers and the various toys they brought over the years from home. These toys serve to remind us how quickly they grow up as there are Charlie and Lola books now deemed ‘lame’ still stored inside the Emmaus cupboard. A moshi monster treehouse that neither boy wants to play with any more but we save for when baby Mabel comes to visit. And a wooden toy railway that looks great in photos but truthfully I’m not sure anyone ever played with it! Now they have iPods. They FaceTime their friends. They watch films on their laptops. But in those early months when we had no wifi or broadband we all survived.


A cupboard full of plastic tat

We played endless games of monopoly, blackjack or took a trip back to the 70s with Mastermind – a game my grandparents used to own and which I bought again at a vide grenier and my kids love.
And their room is a brilliant combination of old and new. A cornucopia of funny old toys and games and when I snuggle them up there in the evenings, when they shout ‘wrap us up like sausages in our blankets’ it’s like being in the 1970s only without the bad sitcoms and green cross code man.
And their room is so lovely, they’ve forgotten to complain about sharing. And I rather like their ketchup coloured wall. It’s no farrow and ball but I rather like it.


walls the colour of ketchup


Is that another IKEA HEmnes drawer unit? Why yes it IS!


Spidey ‘sensed’ someone’s wife had made them throw that trophy away. Somehow WE ended up buying it!


Cath Kidston cowboy paper – yeeee ha


We ran out of wallpaper!!!! We have enough now to finish it but haven’t got round to it yet….