Sunday, 18 April 2021

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Enjoying the spring sunshine
Shelley was quite right, spring always comes but it did seem to take it's time this year (bit like this blog post!) Last time you dropped into the blog, winter had just begun, as had another lockdown and I feel like not much has changed. We thought winter had finally been banished a couple of weeks ago when it was warm enough to take coffee and croissants to the river and I wore sandals. But the old saying 'ne'er cast a clout til May is out' held true as bitter north-easterly winds swept through this week. We lost some blossom on our magnolia but some of the French vineyards have fared far worse.

Nevertheless there are signs of spring all around, the days are longer, blossom is out and there is an air of optimism. I confess we did slow down on renovation work during the dark, cold months. There is something unappealing about dressing like the Michelin man to work in a freezing house but we bravely soldiered on. We also did quite a lot of planning which is always a good thing, particularly when it took place in the warm, bright, comfortable barn!

Garage & plumbing
I know you're eager to see progress aren't you? I can hear you now "stop the waffling Sharon and show us the photographs" Alright I will, but please allow me a little explanation too? A lot of the work that we, well mostly Andrew, has been doing is hidden. Electrics and plumbing are rarely seen. Old walls came down and new ones have gone up, to all intents and purposes nothing has changed. But it has, oh yes! Last time you and I had a chat we had just finished the complete re-wire of the house and were about to move on to plumbing. Now in normal circumstances this doesn't sound too onerous but it was a major job. The old house had one bathroom, two loos and an upstairs kitchen. We were moving the kitchen downstairs and adding a utility. The garage loo was staying in place (the only thing that was) and we were installing a total of four new bathrooms. Poor Andrew has been sliding on his back under floorboards, contorting in small places and joining pipes in confined spaces. The manifolds would not look out of place in an art gallery. He has worked so hard and he's also been putting plasterboard up so that I can start the slow task of prepping for decoration.

From top left clockwise: Bedroom 3; sitting room; entrance hall; sittingroom
What have I been doing I hear you ask? Well a lot of sanding of walls and multiple, and I mean at least six, coats of paint on two of the bathroom ceilings. I abandoned the restoration of the windows as the cold weather was effecting the paint but I'm hoping to get back to that soon. I did actually finish decorating a room, our tiny office which we've shoe-horned into a dead space. I would love to show you a photograph but we've filled it with packing cases!

Oh! I nearly forgot the excitement of new insulation. We qualified for the French government's one euro scheme and now have additional insulation in the attic plus the garage ceiling was done too. Roll on winter. Well actually no, hold your horses for a few months yet.

We have been enjoying some lovely walks though. Mortimer much prefers walking in the cooler seasons and our lockdowns have allowed us to continue to go to some favourite spots. Up until a couple of weeks ago Emmaüs was open so I was able to indulge in some retail therapy to keep me sane.

Watery walks
At the present time we're not sure what summer will be like, whether borders will open and what freedoms we will have. We're hoping to get enough of the house finished so that we can move in and then our barn conversion can become the holiday rental, which is what it was designed for.

Beautiful Corrèze
Well I think you're pretty much up to date now. If the wait was too long between posts then why not follow/friend us here on Facebook or to follow our photographic journey of life in Corrèze then we're on Instagram too.

Sunday, 6 December 2020

Corrèze in confinement

Just two weeks after writing my last post France went into confinement for the second time, scheduled to last for the month of November. Only essential shops and services were open and once again we were limited to one hour a day exercise and no more than a kilometre from home. It's fair to say we found it harder than the first one. In March there was an optimism, summer round the corner and the fact that many of these types of virus tend to peter out during warm weather. Covid-19 is more tenacious than most and it didn't disappear.

The view from the barn is ever changing

We have been blessed with some beautiful weather though. Crisp days with bountiful sunshine and hardly any rain. We were also allowed to travel in a car together and unlike first time round the DIY shops were deemed as essential so we could get supplies. The focus on the restoration has been on plumbing (Andrew) and window renovation (me). We both despair of the T.V programmes where everything seems to get done in a couple of months, in reality it's not like that. True we don't put in 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week but most days we are doing something renovation related. I think it's just that the scale of this project is really quite large. When we bought the Old Notaires House it was really a first floor 3 bedroom apartment with one bathroom, minuscule kitchen with an entrance hall, summer kitchen (room with carpet up the walls & a sink!) and offices on the ground floor. We've knocked the four offices into two large spaces which will become the kitchen and our suite (a.k.a. the servants quarters), the garage will also house a utility area and loo with the summer kitchen becoming a guest dining room. Upstairs two bedrooms have been combined to make one large bedroom with bathroom and a second bedroom has been fashioned from the old kitchen, a corridor and a loo. The third bedroom has had its entrance changed and the old bathroom (which was bigger than the kitchen) has become two en-suites. And we've managed to squeeze an office in too. So when I say Andrew is re-doing the plumbing it's not a case of simply replacing the pipes and a new shower.

The only loo is rather exposed at the moment

One of the joys of renovating an old house is being able to re-use original items. I'm working in the entrance hall at the moment which is the oldest part of the house, originally two rooms downstairs and we think one upstairs. It has two windows but we think one opening is newer than the other as they both have different fittings. I spent a happy few hours getting the layers of old paint and varnish off, then polishing with my trusty Dremel before a light wax. We really love the slightly industrial feel the polished steel has.


Once again we explored footpaths around our village to give us more variety of walks but it was a relief when President Macron said that we could exercise for three hours a day and up to 20 kilometres from home. We bundled Mortimer into the car and headed for one of our favourite destinations - Château de Sédières.  It's such a beautiful place to walk and it was a perfect autumn day.

Château de Sédières

We've been taking quite a lot of time with planning too. Although I had done concept boards for the bedrooms, I hadn't for the kitchen neither had I actually selected specific paint colours for rooms. I needed to get this sorted as radiators off walls gives me an ideal opportunity to paint behind them. A lot of negatives things are said about French paint but I do like Leroy Merlin's own brand Luxens and I've also just discovered that Liberon do a wall paint which is very similar to Farrow & Ball. Colours here can be quite, how can I say, primary and I want some subtlety so I ordered a RAL colour swatch so I can get some paint mixed. RAL is a European colour match system and at most paint mixing outlets you can specify one of the unique number and know that the colour is true. This system is so common in France that you will see a lot of pre-mixed paint tins with a RAL number alongside the colour names.

Kitchen concept board

My RAL swatches

Despite social media being full of images of people's Christmas decorations I have resisted being early. I just can't do it in November but will probably be a little earlier than my usual mid-December. I've also had to wait for the non-essential shops to open (particularly Emmaüs) as my Christmas decorations are buried somewhere under packing cases and it's too much effort to hunt them down. Inspired by an on-line video workshop I did on the subject of 'A winter table' I may take the opportunity of going for a more natural look this year. Watch this space!

Christmas is now just three weeks off and we will give ourselves a break from physical work for a week, that's not to say we won't be doing something. I need to re-cap on furniture requirements and we really need to nail the kitchen plans down and maybe even order it. I'm really hoping that we can see friends properly instead of doorstep conversations and chance dog-walking meets, after all we have a very large Christmas cake to share. Oh and I'm doing another online workshop this weekend baking two sorts of Italian biscuits. It's one where we bake as the we go but I'm definitely going to turn the camera off, no-one deserves to see the mess I'll be making!

I'm really hoping to show you some lovely progress shots soon but meanwhile if you would like to see what life in France is really like then feel free to follow/friend us here on FaceBook or on Instagram

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Hot chocolatey mornings

"It's the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!"*

Okay so there aren't many dropped leaves yet, they're not even really turning red. You can see a change in the colour on some trees but I think we're still a couple of weeks off. Finally after a very dry summer we have had a reasonable amount of rain, enough for mushrooms and fungi to spring up everywhere. The weather has been cooler, much to the relief of Mortimer who can once again enjoy longer walks.

Our evenings are getting chillier now so we've had the pellet stove going. Across the two houses we have three, no four, types of heating. The main house has oil fired central heating and a log burner whilst the barn has the pellet stove and some electric underfloor heating in the two en-suites. Much as I love the romance of the log burner I really appreciate the cleanliness, efficiency and speed of the pellet stove. I come upstairs in the morning, press a button and it starts instantly. By the time I've showered and am back upstairs for breakfast everything is toasty. Our local Gamm Vert had an offer on the pellets at the end of the summer which we arranged for delivery last week. Because the store is in the village the guy trundled them down to us on his little forklift and helped us unload them into the sous-sol. Such great service!

We came back from holiday with renewed energy for the renovations. I finally finished the pointing in the entrance hall and Andrew completed the re-wiring. Last Monday was crunch time as our electrician came to install the main board. It took him most of the day to connect it all but he did it and there were no errors. Andrew was particularly pleased when the earth rod registered 84  (apparently this is very good) The re-wiring has been such a huge job, so many decisions had to be made as to the position of sockets, switches and lights. Some of the rooms didn't even have all the walls so Andrew had to build these too. I can't begin to tell you the admiration I have for him. By the time we reached Monday evening we both felt de-mob happy.

We decided that we would spend the rest of the week doing some long overdue planning, well apart from a celebratory lunch. The electrical work has been such a huge part of the renovation project that we hadn't really set a structure as to the next stage  I'd already started the window renovations but that is slightly weather dependent. The next big job is plumbing but fortunately this can be broken down into more manageable mini-projects. We started by reassessing two of the en-suites and have made a couple of tweaks that will improve them. I've spent time researching bathroom fittings and orders have been placed for showers and basins, and my oh my do we have some fancy basins! 

Currently the house hot water is supplied by the oil heating system but that only had to do one bathroom and two sinks (kitchen & laundry). Once we've finished we will have a kitchen & separate utility, four showers, one bath and five basins. Not only would the boiler not produce enough for all of this but oil is a very expensive option in France so we are fitting two electric heaters known as 'ballons'. The en-suite with the bath is at the far end of the house so Andrew has decided it can have it's own. Siting of this has been a bit of an issue but, because we've had time to think properly, Andrew has come up with a cunning plan which actually improves three rooms.

This week we've got back to physical work again with Andrew tackling the two ensuites over the garage. We'd decided to give them both underfloor heating but the floor level (I use the term level very loosely!) was causing quite a headache. It's oak floorboards straight onto the joists, beautiful but so irregular and impossible to tile over. The decision was made to take these up, they will be re-purposed, and then lay a new base to take the heating mat and tiles. Another advantage to this is we can stuff insulation under the floors. Sounds like a simple plan but as with all old houses it's not proving to be quite so straightforward, at one point I was levering a wall up so that Andrew could add extra joist supports.

Yes that is the garage below

I'm back on window duty which gives me more time to think about the room designs as it's a fairly mind freeing job. I'm still on the hunt for vintage lighting as my needs seem to grow. I worked out we have a total of 17 rooms that need lights. Now a couple of them are just loos (although one of these will sport a chandelier) while others are more complicated, I think the sitting room has three separate lighting circuits plus there will be floor lamps. I'm doing quite well at the moment though with another chandelier and a pair of fancy wall lights added to my stash.

Of course autumn life hasn't been ignored. Our menu has changed, my new (old) oven dish has proved perfect for roasting vegetables. Soups have replaced salads and Andrew has already had one duck confit making session (it's the season for inexpensive duck in France). I have some figs that need to be made into jam and am even beginning to think about the Christmas cake.

So that's it, I think we're all up to date now. As always you can follow/friend us on Facebook or if you just want the pretty photographs then we're here on Instagram.

*Winnie the Pooh - Pooh's Grand Adventure

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If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

Enjoying the spring sunshine Shelley was quite right, spring always comes but it did seem to take it's time this year (bit like this blo...