House Renovations in France: The Original House

Moving into the House

The second in the Series on House Renovations in France.  We didn’t start with a blank palette.  Our house was habitable but for a few years we enjoyed making do in a lot of cases.  This post describes our experiences of moving into the house and what the house was like prior to any major renovations.

We travelled back to Europe for the summer of ’93, picked up our Parisian bought 205GTi from my parents in the UK and headed off to move into our house.  We had both changed jobs in Singapore and were due back late August to start work.

This series of posts deals with our attempts to renovate and extend the house we bought back in 1993.

Posts on Buying Property

No Room at the Inn

We arrived in Cahors just about on midday Saturday 9th July and planned to spend a few days in a hotel while cleaning up the house before moving in.  Alas that wasn’t possible.  We called in to a hotel that we had used for an evening the previous year only to find that the Tour de France was coming through on the Tuesday and there was no room in any inn for at least 100 km.

No Electricity

Original House Salle d'Eau

Original House Salle d’Eau

So we picked up the key to the house from our new friend, an elderly farmer from our village.  We rushed back down to Cahors to an Intermarché to buy provisions.  When we finally go into the house we found there was water ok (I was taken to the water company the previous summer by the estate agent) but no electricity.  I went around to the counter to switch on but to my surprise there was no box where there had been one the previous year!  That meant we couldn’t have electricity until Monday and we would not have hot water until then.

No matter we had a nice meal cooked on our Campingaz stove, blew up the mattress for our tent and slept on the kitchen floor.  I even managed a very cold shower the following morning.  We boiled water on the stove so a caffeine fix was no problem.

Monday afternoon, after doing some sorting out Sunday and Monday morning, we headed off to Cahors to organise the electricity.  We eventually got into see the people at the EDF office mid-afternoon (they weren’t open twice when we passed!) only to be told that nothing could be done until Thursday at the earliest – ‘you see the Tour is coming to Cahors on Tuesday!’  Luckily I wasn’t alone that day as Denise, my wife, pulled out the trump card to soften any French man’s heart!!  She dutifully broke into tears sobbing that she couldn’t possibly wait until Thursday for a warm shower!  Amazingly he was able to contact a colleague out on the road.  This gentleman appeared at the cottage at 10 minutes before 5, by 5:10 we had electricity and soon thereafter hot water.

The Layout of the House

Original House Plan

Original House Plan

Our cottage dates from about 1830 to 1840 apparently.  We haven’t bothered to find out exactly – perhaps thats a job for the future.  It’s design is typical of that for a shepherd.  We saw a design similar to ours at the Ecomusée de Cuzals in the first couple of years we were there.  The design comprises of one living area, a barn and a tool store.  The design here shows how it was used when we purchased it.  Clicking on the image will open it up in full-size.

The original living quarters where all the family would have cooked, eaten, passed the time and slept was now our kitchen area.  It has a large fireplace and came equipped with a very old gas stove and oven.  There was an old sink unit and the original stone ‘évier’ (hand-basin).  As in olden days this was our main living area.  We even slept in there on the occasions we needed to clean throughout prior to sleeping elsewhere.

Underneath the kitchen is a large cellar (‘cave’) and above it we found an attic (‘grenier’) in our second summer there.  We got in initially via a ladder and went through a small window opening.  I am not tall, in fact I’m quite short, but I could only stand up fully in the centre of the attic.  It was only after a couple of trips up the ladder that we discovered a trap door in the corner of the kitchen ceiling.

Original House Lounge looking towards the Stairs and Shower Room

Original House Lounge looking towards the Stairs and Shower Room

The original barn which still has the manger block was basically the lounge when we bought the house.  In fact the block can just be seen in the photo to the right.  It has a mirror standing on it.  The mirror isn’t ours it belonged to the previous owner.  The lounge had an old smokey stove (poêle) and a basic stairs leading up to a mezzanine.  There was an upstairs window just below the roof.  We could only open it and its shutters by climbing over the balustrade (guard de corps) onto a beam.  Consequently we tended to leave it once we had opened it.

Finally we come to the salle d’eau (shower room) which would have been amazingly cold in winter!  It was non too hot that first summer when I took my first shower without hot water!  It had all we needed for the time being although the wooden panelling had started to blacken with damp.

View other photos of the house in our Gallery. (Alternatively you can view them in a ‘lightbox’ from our Photo Galleries page)

We felt we had the best of both worlds.  We could live in the house immediately but there was plenty to do to make it what we wanted.  The only question was; …

What did we really want?

I guess you’ll have to wait until the next episode….

Have you ever wanted to do renovate a house either at home or abroad?

Have you ever wanted to live abroad?

Have you already taken the plunge?

We would love to know your story too!

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