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Rescuing a ruin


Saturday 17 January 2004, by John Platings, Theo

When I first saw the house, I knew I had found my next project. A village house with a barn attached, with a little outside space where you can take coffee in the sunshine, and so close to the river you can hear M. Magret and his wives loudly quacking for their breakfast.

It seems ideal, and one day it will be. For now, it’s a building site filled with rubble and potential.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been here. I’ve endured the heartaches and triumphs, setbacks and successes several times before. Each time, somehow, we’ve managed to pull I off. And each time I’ve forgotten the agony and remembered the ecstasy.

This time, for my benefit and for the benefit of anyone who might be contemplating going the same route, I’ve decided to chart the progress of the venture. So how do you go about the transformation? How do you restore a crumbling ruin and turn it into a des res?

Step one: find your house. If you are planning to restore a property to sell on, there are certain things you need to bear in mind. The first things to consider are (to coin a phrase) location, location, location. Is it on a flood plain? Are there plans afoot to build a motorway through the property? Does it get the sun, and when? And, most importantly in these climes, is there shade to be had when the summer temperature climbs to 30 degrees-plus?

I decided that what I had, in fact, was two viable properties. For the moment I am concentrating on the house. When it is finished it will be a bijou 2-bedroom home with a little internal courtyard and a newly-built but old-looking internal staircase to replace the existing external stone steps. Once I have sold this, I’ll turn my attention to the barn. I have great plans for the barn - but that’s another project.

Step two - clear it out. It’s amazing what some people leave behind in their houses, and often there is a little nugget of gold among the dross, a little cadeau from the house to you. I know people who have found old enamel stoves in perfect working order, decorative cremailleres or interesting architectural features dating back hundreds or even thousands of years. Bitter disappointment - this house had no cadeau for me.

Next comes a serious planning session. The house as I found it had an external staircase up to the first floor where, traditionally for a French village farmhouse, the living area was. Next to the street door was a vaulted area where the betail (farm animals) would have been kept. Behind this was an identically vaulted area, because in fact the house was originally two houses built on to each other.

I decided to demolish the external staircase and open up the vaulted area nearest to the street to make a little front garden-cum-terrace. I punched through the rear vaulted area, which will become the entrance to the house. The internal staircase will join this room to the upper floor. The vaulting, of course, will make a superb feature, essential for selling on.

Demolition always comes before any construction can be undertaken. In this case, I had to take out everything the previous owners had lovingly ’restored’. This included a peculiarly French method of dry-lining the walls, which involves using 5cm terracotta blocks, stood on edge to form an inner wall. Taking these out added size to the rooms, and left the way open to lay bare the (often beautiful) stonework of the original walls.

Onward and upward. Last week I took the roof off the front part of the house because, artfully disguised though this fact was, it proved to be rotten. In fact, the whole roof was rotten - tiles, timbers, the lot - and will have to be replaced. But, knowing our splendid sunny weather won’t last forever, I only expose half of the house at a time, and only tackle the second half when the first part is watertight. Will everything go according to plan? Watch this space…

Tips and wrinkles (1)

Be prepared for surprises. However carefully you examine your property, there will always be something you overlook. I’m a professional. I’m fairly well experienced in these matters. Surely I couldn’t fail to notice that the roof beams were totally rotten? To my great embarrassment, I did. I also discovered belatedly that the house was hewn out of solid rock. Tricky when it comes to building, but a lovely selling point. "The house benefits from a wine cave built into the living rock itself…"


Forum posts

  • What an interesting article! It would be great to see round it amybe. I’m looking forward to the next installment.
    We are in Agde doing up 2 flats ian the centre of town and ffinding it far from straitforward. We are using an architect, and he keeps promising that the work will be done tomorrow, finished in one month, and it is nearly a year further on! Most frustrating ggrrrrr!
    But step one we chose was good - central and old. Step 2 we cleared it out - and got cleared out a few days later when at least one of them came back uninvited to pick up all our tools and dother things besides.
    Good luck in your project!

  • That project was finished and the happy new owner now has it as a stylish holiday home.
    John is now renovating another village house which you can buy/see HERE or if you prefer to follow his tips and renovate yourself click HERE to see the perfect starter pack at only 30,000 Euros.

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