Archive for category: Restoration blues

Re-use / recycle at the B&B

We needed a more robust barrier for the roof terrace at the B&B, especially as we wish to offer family friendly accommodation (!) and I think I have found just the thing, an ancient manger from the garage that in living memory was the barn where animals took refuge in winter. There is a debate about preserving the integrity of the building and we have done this throughout 6 years of restorations at our B&B in the south of France. However, in this case, this lovely feature was completely redundant. The wood is in good condition, despite the ubiquitous woodworm, and is so tactile – you can see where the cattle have worn the wood smooth when feeding. So do you like my authentic balustrade or should I have let something that is probably over 100 years old well alone?

Worn smooth over the centuries

Room at the B&B

A great day at Chez Maison Bleue, the maçon returned after an unexplained absence of some weeks, but it somehow seemed petty to comment on where he might have gone after taking all the tiles off the roof – just before the heaviest snow in this part of Languedoc for 20 years. The main work still to be done in the B&B is in the huge double height room at the back of the house, the Barn room, and although it will not be ready for letting at the weekend, with a fair wind, will be a spacious double / family room with ensuite shower in the near future.  The ancient beams have been exposed after suffering the indignity of being clad with orange pine, most commonly found in Nordic saunas. All that remains to do is renew the electrics, replace lintels above doors and window, lay floor with reclaimed parquet, build partition wall for bathroom, fit sanitary ware….think I need to lie down…

The ancient wood can breath again

Restoration of our 18th century gite

The restoration of our holiday cottage in the south of France was undertaken by our team of artisans exceptionnels, headed up by our French architect Sophie Baby of Mirepoix. Much angst, zillions of euros, and a few tears* have resulted in a beautifully restored, very French holiday home. The same team is now working on our B&B next door to the gite on the village square, Sonnac sur l’Hers. Our maçon is missing from the photograph, now there’s a surprise, he’s been AWOL for weeks since taking all the tiles off the roof in fact. Hope he shows up soon, opening date for the B&B is fast approaching. *The towel radiator in the bathroom is not where I wanted it to be, a metre thick stone wall was in the way – seems so trivial now but last summer I wanted to kill someone.

Artisans exceptionnels


B&B shaping up

Much proof remains that the back of our ancient, rambling bed and breakfast in the south of France started out as shelter for the beasts sometime during the 1700s. Thick stone walls of what is now our dining room and bar onto the terrace leave no doubt about the orginial functions of these rooms. Old French furnishings that retain the character and an iron chandelier are all that’s required to complete the transformation into unique eating / drinking rooms in our B&B. Nick is enjoying collecting 50s / 60s paraphernalia for his bar, photos of neon signs to follow.

Restoration of our B&B in the south of France

The bedrooms of the B&B are receiving our full attention this week. A cause for celebration this morning when the electrician turned up, Yippee! We have been waiting on him since September, another artisan exceptionnel who worked with us on our holiday cottage, next door to our bed and breakfast. Upstairs is being completely rewired so the 2 gorgeous bedrooms overlooking the square in Sonnac sur l’Hers will be ready for the spring. Just the ancient parquet to re-oil. We are hoping to have another ensuite room ready but that depends on the Maçon who has been AWOL for sometime now, since he removed all the tiles from the roof in fact, just before the heavy snow…


My lovely Maçon

Recent heavy rains exposed more weaknesses in the vast roof of our B&B and holiday cottage in the south of France. Over the years it has sprouted leaks as fast as He Who Won’t Be Rushed has succeeded in sealing others. I always suspected Nick cracked as many tiles as he repaired as he shuffled across the roof … We succeeded in tempting our maçon to the house in September to prepare a devis for a complete overhaul of the roof. He then promptly retreated to the far realms of the Languedoc, I think to recover from the restoration of our holiday cottage, but finally reappeared a few days before Christmas with a very reasonable quote. We have become very fond of our maçon. We worked with him for a year during the restoration of our gite in the south of France and he is undoubtedly an artisan exceptionnel. All the advice is to get 3 quotes for any work but in my experience, this would take about 4 years, so I will stick with my maçon.

A date with the electrician, yippee

Finally negotiated a start date with our electrician – sometime during February – as good as it gets, and he retains the right to change it. We agreed the devis for works in the B&B in September so I am hoping a six month lead in time will prove sufficient. The electrics on the ground floor are new however, previous occupants obviously lacked sufficient interest, time and money to continue to the first floor. In some of the bedrooms there is only 1 plug socket – directly under the light switch halfway up the wall. He assures me the work will be completed in under a week so we should still be well on target for opening our biker friendly B&B in March…surely…

There’s a stone wall in there somewhere…

Today, He Who Won’t Be Rushed finally got around to a job in the b&b that I have been pestering him about for years. The back wall in the kitchen has rising damp, like many ancient stone houses built without foundations. For reasons known only to themselves, many [French] compound this problem by adding layer upon layer of any type of cladding, usually plaster board, hoping it will go away. However, our humidite was going nowhere except up the wall. Unfortunately, previous occupants had thought a block wall would do a better job than plaster board, and added a layer of concrete just be sure, the type they use for resurfacing the M6 I think. So this is the state of play currently, He Who Won’t Be Rushed having taken refuge in a part of the house where I can’t reach him with his nice bottle of Corbiere, definitely not for sharing it seems.


The spiral staircase in the kitchen of the B&B is a lovely feature that no-one has had time to pay any attention too until today. Was it bolted into the stone wall or into the brick / layers of cement that we were dismantling?  This part of the house was once a separate dwelling which explains this second staircase; the old villagers refer to it as the Priest’s House. If the old stones could talk they would be thanking me for letting them breathe again. The wall is not a particularly pretty sight, they were never meant to be exposed, they are literally cobbled together, which is probably why they are a metre thick, the torniche, (wattle and daub) still visible in the deep recesses. How I would love to know about who built the wall hundreds of years ago, wonder how I would go about that?

B&B in the south of France

August 2006

I love my French country home in the foothills of the Pyrenees in this beautiful, unspoilt region of the south of France. It is almost the polar opposite of what we set out to find – it’s not small, it’s not manageable, it was partly derelict (still is) all the things we said we would avoid during the planning stages, many of which took place in various licensed premises in Workington, my home town. Mmmm, maybe that was it.

Nick had put in an offer for another house on a recent visit that he had made alone, and so confident was everyone that it would be what I wanted, the vendor had set off from Holland to sign the necessary paperwork. So despite the consternations of the agent having made assumptions about what I would and wouldn’t like despite never having met me (not sure what Nick’s excuse was) we continued our search.

Which led us to our house in Sonnac Sur l’Hers on the border of the Aude and Ariege in the south of France. Really 2 houses that the previous occupants had begun to knock together, i.e. bash 2 holes in the wall between the ground and first floors. The main house had 6 bedrooms, all in various states of repair, and with potential for at least 4 more in the attics (bed and breakfast?) a brown bathroom suite in a bathroom “big enough to hold a tea dance” according to the agent, and a huge sunny terrace with views across the churchyard, fields and hills.

Oh, but what a lovely feel there was. The huge blue shuttered house standing on the ancient village square with its church and beautifully restored stone walls of the Marie – our taxes obviously stretch to proper, authentic, lime render. The church bells chime right outside the bedroom window that Matthew and George shared on one of their many snowboarding trips to the Pyrenees. So no sleeping past 8am although thankfully they don’t ring through the night. We have stayed in some of the most remote, picturesque villages in the south of France and returned home shattered, each night’s sleep ruined by the incessant tolling of church bells.

The purchase was fairly smooth and the house was ours within 3 months, although where the log burning stove was that would keep us warm during the cold winter nights of the Aude, was a black hole. There was a cat in the secret garden, which didn’t concern me at all, and a bat in the corner of the mezzanine room which concerned me a great deal. (We left the door open taking a chance that it would fly out rather than all its mates fly in).

Our first few days in the house were spent in a daze, wondering what on earth had possessed us. The house we discovered had been 3 houses in the more pragmatic days of the 1700s. There was evidence of 3 front doors and 2 staircases remain, lovely winding oak stairs from the main sitting room all the way into the attic (derelict) and a spiral staircase tucked away in the back of the kitchen. The third probably crumbled away sometime in the 19th century. So, completely overwhelmed, we spent the week drinking wine then set off to catch our flight home.