Come dine with us

Renovating homes is a tedious business. There’s always so much to do before the fun bits arrive (the bits when Peter goes on about PVA on walls and caulking etc before I get to choose paint colours and furniture). And as so many of our rooms have been done, bit by bit, often there isn’t a truly ‘Ta Da’ moment where I’ve been able to go from derelict, walls falling down to fully dressing a room and instagramming it safe in the knowledge it’s really properly ‘finished’. Usually there are several, slow stages in between which I’ve edited out for the purposes of the blog and a lot of my rooms are still not truly finished. But the Dining Room is probably the room that really did go from revolting to fabulous and although it was still done in stages, it is in real life now a really, truly, lovely room. That in photographs looks like a proper stunner straight out of a homes mag (even if I do say so myslef!)

So, blog lovers, here is the before….


pink – very this season!


Not quite Claridges

When we have guests to visit these days, we describe to them just how bad the house was before. And as, for most of them renovation ‘stress’ involves the arduous process of finding a rental house to move into while their architect draws up plans for a side return extension, I know their imaginations could NEVER create the pictures above. Even I sometimes forget just how awful our French house was. And even looking back at these pics now I’m not sure how or WHY we did this. It is horrible. Charmless. And we lived with our dining room like this for almost two years give or take. (I think the horrid white plastic table stacked with loo rolls was removed quite quickly)

But lets not dwell on it. Lets talk progress. Mr White did a LOT of plastering. You can see patches on the top pic of where he had started patching bits up but there was a lot more besides. And he would get up early while the rest of us were still asleep and paint large stretches of ceiling and wall with white emulsion to try and alleviate the gloom. And when he had finished, phase 1 he did what any man of a certain age would do. He bought a table tennis table to go in it.


But where do we put our knives and forks?

And then there began the long process of restoring the marble fireplace and buying a wood burning stove which you can see in the picture. I may in fact direct you to Mr White’s blog about this as its really his thing and although I love having central heating via a wood burning stove – I must admit to glazing over as he tried to explain the actual technicalities behind it. But here it is if you want to know and I’ll get back to talking about curtains!

Our trusty chandelier that once hung in Peter’s Los Angeles Dining room was temporarily put up just for the want of somewhere for it to live. Since Peter and I moved back to London in 1999 it had languished in my Aunt Moira’s garage in Beverly Hills until a work trip a year or so ago. Somehow Moira persuaded me to carry it back as hand luggage as a surprise for Peter. The surprise for him was that I hadn’t ditched it at LAX as I never really liked it even when we lived there – it certainly wasn’t worth the painful stares from fellow flyers as I took up the majority of the overhead lockers with it on the flight from LAX to Terminal 5! But it lived on, in our half way done dining room in France. And although I don’t particularly like the chandelier itself, I did like the fact that we could sit underneath it and pretend we were back in Harratt St, West Hollywood where we first met.

But once I found my perfect dining table, the table tennis table was removed to the barn – where it still lives happily today, often covered in bat poo but nothing that a jiffy cloth and some Ajax can’t fix.
The table came from our friend Steve Cutts who has been selling his chateau nearby (see blog post here )
On a visit to his home, I admired both his big farmhouse kitchen and dining tables – both large enough to fill our space and perfect in terms of style. So I persuaded him to sell me both even though it left him and his kids crowded around much smaller ones until he found some to replace them. We then found some unfinished chairs at a vide grenier – all six for €100. Un bargain.


So we were starting to look like a finished room…. In fact I may leave the final phase for another post!



So before another winter drew in (which makes us sound like the Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie right?) we had to do something about heating. we bought a large wood burning stove (some very long convoluted way I seem to remember probably involving ebay) and had it delivered to south west france.

The one thing I do remember is that it weighed a tonne. And having gone to all the trouble of getting it from somewhere in the middle of england via ebay and then having it driven the fourteen hours to Gensac which by our standards is a major investment (had it not been so heavy Peter would probably have made the kids pull it down on the back of their bikes!) Parking up. Getting a complex array of ramps, jemmies and towels to soften its landing across the gravel driveway, and with some help from puffing and panting frenchmen. Using a hydrolic jack, peter managed to get it up a ramp, up the front door steps. Then, in slow motion, we saw him stumble, the stove wobbled, he stumbled some more and the brand new, most expensive thing we’d invested in, stove crashed onto the gravel driveway. And the glass window made of special fire resitant glass which comes at vast expense smashed. Into many pieces. I might have shouted MORON at this point in my typical empathetic manner. Peter looked crushed. And we were still freezing.

But, long story short. We ordered another piece of glass and fixed it. Dozens of cast iron radiators were bought on eBay and driven over to France. Two at a time so as not to ruin the back axel (technical term right) and Peter installed them all.


If you want to know how this wood burner pumps powers all these radiators – don’t ask me! Check out husbands blog it talks about water being pumped etc. pressure etc. blah blah. All I know is that the downstairs of the house was toasty for the first time in its lifetime.

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?