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.



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


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

Master bedroom


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.


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

Downstairs bathroom


er yuk!


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


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


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

Kids sitting room




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


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


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


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.


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

Small bedroom


My dressing room/spare bedroom


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

Upstairs bathroom


Letting the rain in….


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…..


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?

Our perfect pink – finally!


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.


Calamine by Farrow and Ball

but the wall above remains in our London dining room and produces an interesting talking point for guests.
“So, which one are you going for,”
“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!)….


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.


Farrow and Ball Calamine walls


The Chandelier of love!


Serge’s plant and some French mags!

Downstairs Bathroom ‘Get the Look’

Bathing beauty

Bathing beauty

The last time I did a ‘get the look’ post I got a lot of love for it. Like I said before, I AM a journalist so research is in my DNA. Its one of the things I love about renovating (and oddly one of the things that other people cite as the reason they don’t do it – “who has the time to look for tiles blah blah”)

Its where other blogs are invaluable too as blogging is a way for those of us who love searching down bargains and unique ways to decorate to share our wisdom. And I often wonder what would I choose for my homes if I could choose anything. Where would I start if money were no object. For me the starting point of any room is usually based around some money saving necessity and I take it from there usually via Ebay!

In the case of my downstairs bathroom the bath was the thing that had to stay. It was in the room when we moved in but had slime and quite possibly an ecosystem living in it. There were vines and creepers growing through the window of this room and it had a concrete floor and falling down walls.

A hot water tank. Which means - HOT water!

A hot water tank. Which means – HOT water!

This picture above was how it looked AFTER we’d cleaned it up a lot. But thanks to a lack of funds, Peter decided that the bath had to stay. And I rather liked its little metal feet so I said OK. And as you can see – the floor had been accessorised with a rather nice piece of cardboard that we had to step on so floor tiles were needed asap. So we visited B&Q near our house in London and found some slate tiles a bit like this that were on sale. So for only about £100 we had enough to cover our floor and do a skirting board in them too.

Colours Excellence Pack of 5 Black Slate Wall & Floor Tiles (L)300 x (W)300mm

B&Q slate floor tile

Most places do slate tiles like this. And I love the look. I could have spent more and got these ones from Topps Tiles

Or really blown the budget and gone to Fired Earth who do these brilliant rectangular tiles which I think give a lovely country feel. In fact am now wishing I’d pushed the budget a bit. Maybe when its time to re-renovate and I’ve turned this blog into a moneyspinning enterprise with my own TV show I can make Fired Earth rather than B&Q my home.

And on our walls we went for Cornforth White by Farrow and Ball – I can’t even remember how or why we got to this colour but it may have involved my friend and colleague Oonagh who knows every F&B colour by heart. I suspect some nights she dreams of Farrow and Ball. Her alltime fave BTW is Light Blue which isn’t really blue at all but grey. But maybe she suggested Cornforth to go with the slate – either way it works and I am really happy with it.

Cornforth White

Farrow and Ball Cornforth White

The bathroom suite itself (and I use the word suite loosely as the dodgy old iron bath was staying, all I needed was a loo and a sink) came from a local bathroom centre in Greenwich. Well, Charlton technically. Lets go for West Charlton. Its called Gem Discount Bathrooms and sells pretty much any type of bathroom you would want but the ones you can get for really knock down prices are the ‘traditional’ look ranges. Everyone does them and they are always on sale because no one likes them anymore. Or at least they don’t like them in their wipe clean, modern, limestone tiled London bathrooms. (And I don’t really either though I did just do up my bathroom at home and went for something in between)


My new London bathroom!


More London en suite bathroom


Savoy toilet from

Anyway I digress…. Victorian style bathrooms feature on most people’s sites and are often on sale. Ones I love include this old school cistern at the top loo.

It is part of their Savoy range which looks like this. Perfect for French Country homes. Or English Country Homes I suppose. But maybe not in downtown Dalston!


Winchester Suite from Victoria Plumb

bathstoresavoyOr Victoria Plumb often have things on sale. This bathroom suite is currently only £168 for the loo and sink!

And after that I just added things found at Vide Greniers. A lovely vintage picture which remains one of my fave ever finds. A storage cupboard from a local brocante (which Peter had to tie to top of car and drive home).


Moustache mat from Primark

But my favourite recent addition is my moustache bathmat from Primark (who FYI do some great bits and pieces of homeware!) Ta da! And only £6 I think. Bargain.


New Farrow and Ball colours (omgeeee!!)


I HAD to blog v quickly about this….
So in my post bag today was a lovely black box from Farrow and Ball with the anticipation building title ‘New Colours’

Once I’d instagramed it (natch) I ripped it open to find this wrapped up in tissue paper along with a press release detailing the new shades.
Names of said new shades are;
dimpse, Wevet (named after a Dorset term for a spiders web) , Ammonite, Purbeck Stone, Mole’s Breath (less smelly than an elephant’s?), Yellowcake, St Giles Blue, Stiffkey Blue and Nancy’s Blushes

My fave is the Stiffkey Blue


This is literally up there in terms of sheer excitement level with the time I stood next to Downton’s Lady Edith in a bar in LA! I know, I really should get out more…..

What colour shall we paint our house?


A post in which I throw something open to the public vote. It will be like X factor or ‘farrow and ball Factor’. I may even get Dermot round to announce that lines are now closed but you may still be charged.

I need to decide what colour to paint the outside of my house and its shutters! And I just can’t. It’s is a monstrous decision and one we will have to live with for years.
My options are – Stick with white walls and add a coloured shutter? Or paint the walls cream/grey/beige and have white shutters #firstworldproblems. And don’t get me started on the front door.


Options I’ve found and like include the following….






So what do we think then? Comments v welcome.

A french house for all

ImageWhat IS the point of having an 8 bedroom house in the middle of nowhereville France? Its a question I ask myself often. Despite being affordable to buy by London standards, and despite our total lack of budget for renovations, it does still suck out a considerable amount of cash every month. Our paint bill alone equates to the GDP of some smaller countries (maybe there actually IS a small island nation somewhere called Farrow and Ball and I am contributing to its healthcare provisions). So just in the spirit of open-ness and to give you a vague idea if you were thinking of buying your own slice of rural idyll here are just some of our expenses around this project. And while it is not Sarah Beeny renovating that place in the country and buying £100 a roll wallpaper extravagent, I will concede there are ways we might be more frugal. But as, when my husband points out every month if I went to Asda rather than ordering Ocado I could spend the differential on a handbag I am forced to admit – I have LIMITS.


  • Vide grenier tat or what we could call essential furnishings like chairs to sit on etc…… £50-350 each visit to france. And we still have masses of empty spaces where furniture really should be. It took us two years to find a dining table and chairs.
  • Boring house stuff like flooring and insulation and pipes and wires to try and make progress £300-£1000 each time
  • Paint ….. roughly £150 per room (we have 13 rooms plus hallways – you do the math)
  • Drive down there ….. £100 petrol, £60 tolls, £80 tunnel crossing. If we flew and rented a car this would be more like £800 each time. So we set off after school on a Friday and drive through the night. The boys sleep and Peter and I take turns to drive. It is not so bad. It sounds bad. It honestly isn’t. The kids watch movies till they fall asleep. And we drink lots of french coffee and make lots of stops and grab sleep where we can. Then we arrive at our place at roughly 7am in the morning. Stop off for warm bread at a just-opening boulangerie. And we pre warn Serge our neighbour, who goes in before us to light the fires and leave us butter and milk (and sometimes home made cake). And when we get there we get our coffee machine going and breakfast like kings before even thinking about unpacking the car.
  • Super U shopping….. a lot – french food is EXPENSIVE. Don’t be fooled by thoughts of Wafting around markets with your basket filling it with mishapen cheap veg. It is more expensive to buy at local markets than it is to shop at the supermarket. Or indeed order Ocado. In fact it might even be cheaper to get ‘Dave in an Aubergine van to drive a veal shank down to SW france than buy a Jarret de Veau at our local market) BUT it does all taste delicious. See below…
  • housekeeper/gardner who keep eye on place and come in before we get there and make up beds, clean. Yes this is a total extravegance. I could make our own beds. I could clean. BUT its a holiday. And the Landauers are like Ray Krebbs used to be to the Ewings kind of living off our land (of course he eventually turned out to be Jock Ewing’s illigitimate son and I seriously hope this does not turn out to be the case with Mr Landauer!) We initially paid Mr Landauer to gravel our driveway. And then he came back and suggested he concrete floor the barn. We said yes. Then he suggested he concrete floor our sitting room and we said yes. Then he suggested he mow the lawns. And chop wood. And his wife could clean. And we liked them. One day he turned up with an enormous mirror he wanted to sell us and we bought it.
    I suspect that they have us pegged as a slightly scruffier Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley cos we’ve got the biggest house in a three mile radius, and I am loathed to disappoint them. Yah – sometimes when they come over I sling on a pair of white jeans and some corky wedges! We trade Christmas gifts each year and Mrs Landauer once asked me if I could find her a english tea service. She dreamed of being able to serve visitors coffee in proper ‘english’ cups and saucers. I think she specified flowers on them. And it so happened I owned just such a tea service that had been my grandmother’s. And when I gave it to her she looked beside herself with joy. And I have visions of her sitting in her house daintily pouring coffee into each cup and drinking with her little finger sticking out which she may or may not have seen in an Richard Curtis film. I have no idea how old Mrs Landauer is. I treat her like my Mum as she has that sort of weary pity for me in her eyes – this poor feckless girl who can’t even clean her own home sort of look. And, unlike my mum I hasten to add – she has the weary face of a woman who works really really hard all week for not that much money and has four kids to feed one of whom is disabled and in a hospice permanently. So she looks very old. But she could actually be younger than me. I have no idea. And now we feel bad telling them that we can’t really afford to pay them escalating cleaning and concreting costs. So we keep paying them and they keep doing stuff. And giving us strange doiley lacey things she likes to drape over my modernist furniture.
  • IKEA – roughly £300 every six months just so we have beds and chairs and er stuff to fill the enormous empty rooms
  • Fun stuff – like going to visit spas, eating out, skiing, zip wiring cos you dont want to go on holiday and JUST play scrabble – approx £300 each visit


  • Cubivin – a 25l box of wine from the local vineyard that costs €1 a litre!
  • Not going on fancy skiing holidays – saving approx £3000 a year (we’d def go somewhere nice right)
  • Not going on fancy foreign holidays to Maldives with kids clubs etc – savings £7000 a year
  • Summer childcare – well techinically nothing as Peter would just do it but there’d be clubs right? And they are all about £250 per week

Stuff that makes having a french house TOTES priceless..

Having all our friends to stay. Sitting around our giant wooden kitchen table (cost of £500 from friend who sells Brocante) with a mess of adults and kids all leaning int to help themselves to roast pork, jamie oliver’s courgette rice and drinking vast quantities of our red wine cubivin. With candles lit around us, cheesy tunes on Spotify and an evening finale of dancing in the kitchen, videoing it on our iphones and then dying the next day when we play it back.


a table for 8 please…

Like when my BFF Petra came to stay with her two children (including my goddaughter Cara) i looked around one eve as we all feasted on duck and thought ‘yes. this is why we bought this house.’ And when the two four year old boys (mine and hers) played in a paddling pool in an inch of water for four hours leaving us to sit in deck chairs drinking wine, we realised we don’t need kids clubs. We ate huge meals outdoors cooked by Petra’s gourmand husband Stuart and we laughed. And we had the time to have those conversations that sometimes London living just doesn’t allow. Petra and I shared a house together with four others back in the early nineties – like ‘This Life’ (young people reading this – it was a TV show like Skins but with professionals sharing a flat back in the nineties. Think, a show like Friends but with sex and drugs) and we’ve been best friends ever since, twenty years in fact. But as she has a very big important job (she has proper career in finance and is v successful at it – eye wateringly so) and I have a sort of big important job but doing slightly dafter things like meeting One Direction, we don’t see each other as much as we should. France gives us days to catch up. And she and her family came back the following Easter as Cara couldn’t wait to go back to “the big dirty house” as I say – priceless.


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….

I’d quite like a bathroom now please….

Who wouldn't fall in love with this?

The house that belongs to the ‘King of the Village’ but what would my mother think?

It is one thing entirely to fall in love with house with holes in the roof and a snake living in the utility room. To see beyond the rats nests and broken toilets yourself. And to then exist in a little bubble of contentment, reassuring yourself that ‘one day’ it will be a palace. It’s rather like falling in love with a boy – you love him despite his habitual refusal to close a drawer after taking something out of it, his manky Ramones t-shirt and his love of You’ve Been Framed. And so it is with a home. You see BEYOND! Mice scurrying away in the room next to your bedroom? Ah, yes that would be the ‘at one with nature’ feature! The inability to have both cooker hob AND the kitchen lights on at the same time? Cooking by candlelight – how romantic! An old tin bath and no shower. POTENTIAL! But when others enter your heavily blinkered world – you begin to see it via their eyes and suddenly you have a broken old house and a holiday that only weird intellectuals wanting to ‘test’ themselves would go on. Club Med it was not. And so it was with my parents impending visit – would they love it? Would they see it’s charm? Thank god parents don’t judge – right?

A hot water tank. Which means - HOT water!

Not the kind of en suite my mother is used to

We needed a bathroom. And we needed one fast. One that not only had a bath, a loo and a hot water tank but maybe a floor. Some tiles perhaps. I’d already optimistically purchased some Missoni towels and a bathmat – oh and a lovely Cowshed soap and handcream dispenser – optimism you see – it even says on the Cowshed website that this set is a MUST for any kitchen or bathroom!

The rotting wooden ceiling in our bathroom needed all the gaps filled and each bit painted at least three times with eggshell. Our arms grew tired from reaching up to paint and our hair, faces and clothes were permanently splattered with tell tale droplets of white paint. Our friendly local pizzeria patron (also called Serge – confusing!) grew used to us turning up in search of les pizza royale (ham and mushroom) exhausted and looking as if we were an installation in Tate Modern so indelibly splattered were we.

Got to be time for a tea break lads?

Got to be time for a tea break lads?

I think from memory – Peter must have gone again by himself and driven the actual bathroom over to France because although we salvaged the original cast iron bath, the loo and sink were bought at a discount bathroom specialist near where we live in Greenwich. Luckily for me – most people don’t want traditional looking bathroom suites any more – they want Stark toilets that hurt your bum when you sit on them because they are square and your bum is not. They want fancy open spout waterfall taps and don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too in my London home. In fact, watch out for my spin off blog ‘we bought a wreck in south east london’. But for rural France, I needed rustique, homely and ecclectic. One of the major allures of this renovation project was that I could decorate and furnish this home with lots of things I wouldn’t have in London. I wanted it to feel a little bit countrified and traditional. I wanted wallpapers, pretty light fittings and faded antiques. So, I got myself a Victoriana bathroom suite – unwanted by London urban sophisticates – snapped up by me for a couple of hundred pounds including taps. And the tiles – well B&Q’s finest (cheapest) slate floor tiles and good old white metro tiles with dark grey grout completed my modern country theme.



When we first went to look at our house – the bathroom was DISGUSTING – like the onewhere Ewan McGregor falls down the loo in Trainspotting – only with Ivy growing on the inside. It was dark, gloomy and almost impossible to enter. But I could always imagine how it would look. And now it does. The walls we painted Cornforth White by Farrow and Ball and then we had just a few finishing touches to add. A cracked mirror and old painting were found at local Vide Grenier’s – I’m going to do a post dedicated to all the tat (interesting local artifacts!) we have bought over the years at Vide Greniers – I just need to photograph it all! Held on a Sunday they are like car boot sales but much much better – and they usually have wine at them even at 10am in the morning! And a cupboard was found in a local Brocante shop and tied to the top of our car and driven back slowly.

Time for a soak

Time for a soak

IMG00675-20110419-1428So, our bathroom was finished. We were finally able to retire that bucket! Although by the time we actually had a working toilet, the boys had got so used to peeing in the garden they were a bit loathed to go back to using sanitaryware. And you know what – I was kind of fine with that. Just not while Gran and Grandad were around!!!!


Gained – 1 kitchen. Lost – 1 husband….

Image 8


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!



Maison a vendre

I’ve decided to write a blog. I am roughly three years too late. Well, I’m actually about six years too late – even my nine year old already has a blog but in this instance I mean I am three years too late on my chosen topic. We bought this house in rural South West France almost three years ago and I knew it was the perfect project to document Grand Designs style on a blog. But I didn’t. But I am now. I’m starting from the beginning and eventually I will get to present day, like Kevin Mcleod turning up in his North Face parka to see ‘how it all turned out’. A sort of suspense thriller blog of doing up a house….. do we ever finish it? Do we find just the right shade of grey on the Farrow and Ball colour charts for the bathroom? Well you will have to wait and see…..

Found on the internet. One visit later and we bought it.

Found on the internet. One visit later and we bought it.