Bonus Vintage Treasures- four more

DSC01992I actually find myself with five minuteDSC02113s spare tonight so

I have opened the archives again.

Left- Pictorial fabric- an English version of toile-de-jouy design?

Below right- I have a pair of these embroidered linen  cushion covers. I put them away carefully and now I cannot find them! Maybe they will turn up when we empty the house to move to France….?




DSC02169DSC01857Left- French quilt in  charcoal colour way

Rightcross stitch tablecloth with hand made lace inserts

An early Thursday Three- Antique & vintage embroidery


DSC02010I could open a shop with my embroidery collection

Left- French tea towels (torchons)

Below right- English embroidery on white cotton pillowcases



If I thought it would sustain us in logs, seafood and wine in France I think I would……..

Is this an alternative use for the garage (post renovation)?

Below- framed fragments of 18thc dress fabric


Episode 61(part 2) French Country Kitchens without tears….?

sept13 123renovation, restoration, a bit more rumination.

2013- We now have a neat and tidy ceiling in the dining end of the kitchen at the French village house. We cannot claim credit, JM’s boys did it following construction of the terrace, but it does throw into sharp relief how awful the rest of the room looks!

I am all for neatening up the ceiling at the kitchen end as is already insulated to muffle  footfall from the bedroom above  but Trevor is having none of it. He wants to expose the beams here. My concerns  include insulation issues and visible wiring runs so we must make a decision ASAP before the wiring is finished in here.

We have FINALLY finished panelling the 30 foot wall in here-top left-just requires finishing cornice, skirting boards (yes Trevor is getting his way on these although I am not sure how authentic they will look) I have  chosen to use ungraded wood here as I want some imperfections to enhance the aged look. We need to decide on paint colour , but will again be a matte finish.french country kitchens-french country kitchenstraditional-French-country-kitchen-

So … another $64,000 dollar question arises..what  IS a French country kitchen???

Left and right- we have fine examples of the archetypal style, all beams and ochre walls, dark tiled floors.


Elements I like are the displays of copper plans, rustic earthenware & open shelving. I also love the carved wood, painted panelling and vintage kitchenalia . ( I found an antique breadboard under the sink  but may have to treat with caustic soda to get it clean!)

Not keen on the paintings of dismembered flesh and fowl  or hunting scenes which would have traditionally decked the walls.

Overall it’s all a bit dark and gloomy so we need to consider “French country lite” - see leftphoto 1French Country look

I like the pale scheme,  zinc table tops (already a definite) and the linen curtains to conceal boring modern additions like dishwashers, but those white tiles just make me think of gents toilets! (How do I know? I fished my baby sister out of one in Scorton )

Trevor looks pained when I talk about charming little curtains made from vintage teatowels but he likes other elements eclectic-kitchen










This long kitchen- above- is a similar shape and layout to ours, like the painted panelling,chairs & table and boxed in fridge (remember Trevor wants a monster!) and – right- and I also really  like this cool recoup-chic white kitchen with amazing antique, reclaimed and vintage piecesRustic-Dining-Ideal-Home-Housetohome.Think a light painted or lime waxed wood floor and pale wall colour is the way to go, cute French country dog too ..


Episode 61- Cuisine- creating a French country kitchen

cuisinerenovation, restoration, procrastination

This was our kitchen when we acquired this little  French gem (haha!)sept13 125

Left- the delightful character features included sticky (with grease) wallpaper sporting a rather gory hunting scene, plus the ubiquitous ochre coloured tiled splashback (also sticky- no extraction facilities here). Faux laminated wood panelling to lower walls , Formica cupboards only one electric socket.

I have no doubt that it represented cutting edge village house chic in 1953, but it is now 2013 and it is questionable whether we have improved the facilities much- see right.

The necessary, eventually invisible basics are mostly in place. A reliable and safe gas supply (we are VERY lucky to have town gas here at the edge of the countryside) new electrics with lots of sockets, “the best boiler in France”. But we still have a sink on bricks set so low no one wants to wash up (we are generally a tall family) and no oven, hob or freezer and the work tops consist of a single camping table from Argossept13 1222

We both love to cook and eat and chat whilst we are doing this, so getting this room exactly right is critical140










We need to stop procrastinating and start planning. easier said than done as Trevor’s only real interest so far is whether we can squeeze in a very expensive supersize “La Cornue” cooker(put that out of your mind boy, they are over 20k!) or a slightly more affordable “La Canche”- still around 4k plus and we have spent all the budget .

There are bargains to be had on ebay, but we also need to consider getting the damn thing up the stairs or through the window (remember the sofa drama?) I don’t know how he is going to get the giant American fridge freezer up here either; stop drooling over monster appliances Trevor and start being practical………….


Episode 60- Tall Tales.. A journey toward terrace chic

DSC01624Renovation, restoration, elevationDSC00067

The most dramatic change, to date, in our ongoing project to renovate and restore a village house in the far south of France  has been the genius addition of the roof terrace.

We started (see episode 2 of early posts) with the view from the small, high window at the back of the smallest bedroom on the second floor - below

Planning permission has changed recently, but the first stage in establishing the likelihood of permission being given was for our estate agent to approach the village Mayor  and get and idea whether permission was likely to be granted in an historical village. Fortunately Campagne -sur-Aude is not (yet) under the auspices of “ bâtiments de France” heritage body which  would have restricted where and how we could change the building.Dining Room Ceiling SteelsAlthough few of the village houses here had terraces built, the Mayor saw no issues in principle.

We were originally advised (by English house owners) that it would be a simple matter of providing detailed drawings of the back elevations “before and after”  and filling in a few forms.House Roof TerraceI suspected this was inaccurate and I was proven right, so we put the matter into our builder’s hands and he navigated the maze of planning and building permissions effectively and professionally as he is also a trained draughtsman.

The old crumbling roof was removed and to support the new structure, steels were cut into the dining room ceiling and the house walls-left and above- On this base concrete block work and metre height walls  went around with drainage spouts at the back which will eventually feed in to a gutter and  downpipe to the courtyard below. New hardwood double glazed French doors and shutters were installed with traditional black metal fittings

The terrace was finished with a heavy duty, non slip tile and the walls rendered  IMG_0069018

Handy hint- Don’t try this yourself!

Unless you are experienced in constructing exactly this type of project, I believe this is one for the experts. A mistake could compromise the whole property ( a family in Provence found that their roof terrace was pushing the walls of their new house out and  down and the whole place had to be reconstructed from the ground upward!)

Jean-Marc achieved engineering perfection, although the terrace appears perfectly level and flows virtually seamlessly from the bedroom, it has a subtle slope exactly right for allowing water to drain away as it should.

Handy hint- Consider carefully position and aspect of your proposed terrace!







South facing in full sun might be OK in the UK or other cooler countries, but as summer temperatures here are high and there is no natural shade at roof level, you may find your new outside space unusable in July and August! Our terrace is oriented east-west, so coffee and breakfast and evening drinks are pleasantly sunny- at noon, the parasol goes up or we can move to the shady spot by the French doors.

Because the terrace isn’t actually at the  highest point of the roof, we have the low pitch of our neighbour’s wall and roofs offering  protection  from winds and we have our own little micro-climate up here which will be perfect for the plants that we will add when we move here.

I have ready to install traditional style black metal scrolled screens which will admit all the light but provide privacy on the one aspect where we  might be slightly overlooked from a couple of windows in the next street      sept13 072


The Thursday Three- latest

DSC02696 Today’s vintage three are..

Left- rather baroque tall footed table lamp, loving the finial above the shade.

DSC02695Right- chic ceramic candlestick with butterflies and flowers, cannot translate stamp on base!DSC02694

Crazed glaze, reminiscent of famille rose style pieces





Below- four linen  napkins -inky blue colour

Faded to perfectionDSC02693

Episode 59- The Lost Weekend….

sept13 135renovation, restoration,  frustration

Well you don’t mind me using today’s blog to vent the pressure cooker that is my head do you??


I have just, scarily, lost two days of my life.

Not sure if it was a chronic migraine or some weird virus or the Sahara sand smog over the UK last week, but I woke up at 5 am Saturday morning feeling like I was being crushed from the inside  (not nice) I was feverish, headachey, nauseous and the slightest exertion left me with  a racing heart. I basically went back to bed for 36 hours.

When I dragged myself back to some semblance of normality on Sunday evening,I  realised that I had lost the whole weekend, the only two days each week when I am not obliged to work my socks off.

Then my new English neighbour, who bought a house in our French village of choice  five minutes ago, rings up  to tell me that  they are basically good to go- house in UK rented, income sorted, move to France full time planned for a date just a few months away. Am I a little green with envy?

I am  chartreuse.

Their kitchen is nearly finished too! Our kitchen is still conceptual with components stacked in both UK & French garages  and no nearer completion than it was last year.

This is it… we have got to get to France … now….


The Thursday Three- TT3 (on wednesday)

DSC02687New, but in the true spirit of French vintage chic

Today’s gems are -left- powder coated metal hook with crystal knobDSC02688

£3.99 from Store Twenty One

They have some amazing stuff at amazing prices, but you cannot order online

so if you don’t have a store near you, drop them a line & hint!

Right- glass bottle with bird stopper £2.99, has green tint and certainly  looks vintage

Below- technically two, but can’t split, gorgeous cushions;  from Aldi (!) stopped me in my tracks as I pushed my trolley round yesterday-£4.99

  • Lovely heavy cotton union weave, proper zip, beautifully made DSC02689
sept13 101

Episode 58- Further changes, French bedroom chic on a budget

DSC00071renovation, restoration, delectation


So at the other end of this little bedroom we haveDSC00323

this small, high window with a pretty good radiator underneath- we will keep this

First we move the radiator to  a more practical position in the room leaving that wall free to install French doors on to the new terrace ( next post)

The French windows are amazing value, beautifully made of a local hardwood with a light finish these cost only a few hundred euros, including the sturdy frame. The terrace level is exactly that of the wooden floor in this room so leads almost seamlessly outside.IMG_0083

The room is still dark until we paint the ceiling and walls . The floor is mid 20th century but good, despite the roof leaks prior to purchase. The grain has softened a little but is still sound so , once entirely dry, I lime wax  it which blurs any discrepancies and gives a soft, natural , light reflecting finish. one can of Liberon wax goes a surprisingly long way and was on sale at B&Q for under a tenner anyway! The ceiling linen matt paint came from  BRICODEPOT – a little like Wickes in UK & geared more toward serious builders and renovators than the “hobby” DIY shops here.DSC00322



sept13 104

The birds egg flecked “sable” sand  paint cost 8 euros in the sale at M.Bricolage and, with the paint and two colourisers used to mix the pale amethyst we spent a further 20 euros.

So, for under a thousand euros, we have our first taste of how this house will look as a finished project. The French windows, the light vintage pastels and the terrace (which now feels part of the space) has expanded this little bedroom from a depressingly dark, leaky box to something with charm and character . We love itsept13 101.

I can’t wait to hang some of my antique embroideryDSC02319


Episode 57- Light and space; part two

DSC00181renovation, restoration, demolition & decorationIMG_0063









So we now have an opening into the shower room from this little bedroom. A couple of steps are cut into the thickness of the wall; these will be wrapped in reclaimed hard wood from the house, where possible..

Trevor constructs new door and frame in the local vernacular style010  sept13 105


We paint the ceiling wood in a light linen shade with the merest hint of soft sheen to bounce the newly admitted light from the French doors (see next post)



The walls are now dry and the three flattish walls are painted with a “sable” (sand finish) matt French paint that gives the mottled effect and subtle blue-green tint of a birds’ egg.

I cannot buy the dead flat matt finish pale amethyst shade I want for the lower walls in our corner of France so I buy a very good trade style white acrylic for only 10 euros a tub ( not all French paint is expensive and watery!) I buy colourisers in blue and red and carefully mix the exact shade I want.

Plenty left over for later touch ups ( sod’s law says you will batter your new finishes as you finish off the work and there is always something you will curse yourself for overlooking) We  lime wax the floor for lightness and protection (Liberon)

More on the decorative flourishes later…


Episode 56 – Light and space:creating an illusion Part 1

rmrenovation, restoration, illusions

This is the smallest room in our French village house renovation project ( with the exception of shower rooms etc)

At about 12 square metres,  it  suffered from the usual malaises of small windows and dark brown varnish on every wooden surface which can be pretty typical of bargain basement properties here.Scan0002


There was also a tiny window at the rear (more of that in next post) and a light and open view across the rooftops to the hills around our village.

This room also suffered from the only serious damp problem in the house as the roof tiles had slipped and water was pouring in and threatening to push the roof joists and wooden panelling on the ceiling past the point of no return. We started by demolishing the curious wardrobes which were incubating the damp.



DSC003212The next priority was of course was  to restore the slipped and broken tiles on the roof and let the room dry out gradually over the usual hot summer we have here.

We then looked at accessing the shower room. Although handily sited next door, we had the two foot thick original  spine wall of the house between! Whilst we are happy to demolish walls, even load bearing ones, this wall was not just holding the house and the roof up, but was made from massive river pebbles and what looked like small boulders ( no dressed stone here!) so this job was passed onto our mason and his boys who are used to knocking medieval houses around without seriously destabilising them .

Episode 55- all kinds of nothing…

032renovation, restoration, subtle French distinctions!

Try as I might I cannot get a shot of the whole house frontage because the street is too narrow.

That is, too narrow for sweeping hovel shots! It is perfect for mock battles with small boys as being flanked by tall stone buildings prevents said small boy from unsportingly sneaking behind you and  attacking from the rear.

He is well versed in computer/x box game knightspeak and solemnly invites me  to play by offering me the handles of two large plastic templar swords  whilst saying in  a deep and rather menacing voice


“choose…………. your ………………….weapon!”


This is all a bit academic as I have to choose the one that isn’t red as that is his favourite and his grip on that option is vice like.

We commence some thrusting and parrying, or whatever one does with broadswords and are engaged in a particularly heated battle when I accidentally reverse into the nice young lady from the delicatessan who was trying to quietly slip behind me  on our very narrow street .

I apologise and she says ça ne fait rien”, which I now know means “don’t worry about it”

Later that week I confuse this phrase with “de rien” which means “it’s nothing” when used as a response to a ” thank you”, and I get a confused look

All these untranslatable subtleties, every time I think we are cracking it language wise I put my foot in my mouth again ( and that’s not easy when you have builder’s hip!)



The Thursday Three- And I do know it’s monday!

DSC02684An early Thursday Three, as I won’t have time later in the week

All new vintage style today

Left-enamel jug from The Range

words highly appropriate today with latest France related development!

Right-wonderful coasters from

Home Sense (home department of TK Maxx)DSC02685






Below- cream enamelled hooks – Sainsbury HomeDSC02686

Talking of coasters, I was going to keep these for the apartment but so cool think they should stay at the village house

Episode 54- Tiling, tadaaaahh!!

sept13 1162Renovation, restoration, mitigation..

As a follow up to Episodes 49 & 50 I would like to announce that we managed to hack out the hairline cracked tile without damaging it’s neighbours and finished the floor.

I have even grouted it!! Trevor does not grout, nor does he “cut in”, plaster, fill cracks or do anything the least bit twiddly. (see earlier posts) he did however ensure that he laid the tiles level and that they were evenly spaced (that’s a laugh as b****r all else in the French house is on an even keel!)

The shower room floor is very very old and slopes eversoslightly and know what..? IT DOESN’T MATTER  and if I wanted perfect we would have built or bought a featureless box.

The Thursday Three- In which I have the blues again..

DSC02663Three more treasures.. yes, the favourite colour is creeping in again

A very cute and comfortable little stool  with a bit of a Moroccan vibeDSC02665

Right- A very beautiful, very large pot currently acting as umbrella/walking stick cache-pot.

The glaze is amazing and the blue impossible to do justice to in a photograph

Very 30′s, very Sylvac but marks underneath gives nothing away!

below- Lovely evocative little oil painting in nicely shabby frameDSC02648(2)

Episode 53- In which the fickle finger of fate waggles a bit..

sept13 036Renovation, restoration, trepidation

Things are happening….is this good? can I cope?

Or are we reading things into a series of random coincidences?

I am trying to take a leaf out of my favourite French chef’s book and be master of my own destiny.


What happens now? well I have a choice of lying down in a dark corner and waiting for the next bombshell or  taking  a break from work and going downstairs to make myself a real cup of coffee


Episode 52- OMG what’s happening!!!

sept13 037renovation, restoration, trepidation

We haven’t been able to get over to France since October last.

Naturally I am worrying that:-

1) The roof has blown off Maison Priest and all my new decor is ruined

2) The neighbours think we aren’t coming back and the mayor has invoked some ancient by-law  and flattened the house to create a new car park for the fishermen

3) The house behind has been turned into a hostel for behaviourally challenged youths

4) The apartment at Argeles has been flooded by the eccentric neighbour next door and because all the floors are tiled and skirted up to the walls, we won’t know until we open the front door and get washed down the stairs

There are some even scarier scenarios that I daren’t even articulate on this blog!

I think I have inherited the ” imagining extreme and unlikely scenarios” gene from my mother. When we went away on holiday, even for a weekend, she would dread the return journey , covering her face with her hands as we turned into our street  and begging my father to tell her if the house had burned down in her absence.

AAARRRGGGHHHH!!!!! calm down calm down calm down……..

The Thursday Three- concerning kitchens…

Whatever hook  we  hang our projects on, be it  recycling, upcycling, renovating, restoring etc, the kitchen is a critical room, particularly if it includes the main dining area so-

thursday three today are original wood cupboard doors with perforated zinc panels (to complement my as yet unrealised concept of zinc worktops).

For our unfitted kitchen in French village house. Lovely pale close grained wood same shade as the buffet de cuisine (dresser)DSC02650

From a kitchen being demolished in an Edwardian house in Midlands

Saturday, saturday, saturday, saturday, saturday, saturday…..

Thank god it’s Saturday..


Too much to do, too little time, too many irons in the bonfire. Need a tranquil post today to manage stress levelsDSC02608

Oil painting by my great uncle Arthur Sheffield, professional artist and designer.

(Lucky man) Unfortunately in order to go down that route will have to dump Trevor and find rich sugar daddy.

I like the fact this was clearly painted outdoors and quickly and as is Lake District, probably squeezed in between showers. Underpainting still visible-wonderful!

Yes I am having major life wobble today, can you tell?


The Thursday Three….06/03/2014

I love plaster casts and statues.

They remind me of my time at Art College- 1971-1974- where I think we were probably the last generation to be tutored in the disciplines of drawing both from life models and from these pale reminders of the art classes of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Generations of art students learnt to  draw from both plaster casts and fragments of real classical statues where live models weren’t available.They were a memorable feature for me and I cannot imagine a workshop or studio without them.DSC02645    DSC02644







I do like this proportionately accurate lady who was clearly modelled  from life and this pair of startlingly realistic hands which actually have hooks at the back for wall hanging. It took me two years to convince my grandson that there aren’t a pair of real hands inside.

Every detail, even the broken fingernails, are apparent.

Almost certainly an art school project as we all did it as part of the classical curriculum. There are probably a pair of my hands out there somewhere…

Episode 51- Letting your holiday home “for fun and profit”!

sept13 058renovation, restoration, make it a destination

The title of today’s post is inspired by a series of little handbooks published many years ago and which I recall from my very distant childhood. Unless you are under 50 and UK born, you probably won’t recall such literary gems as-

“Rabbit (or pigeon/budgie/fish/chicken) keeping for fun and profit” 

Maybe I dreamt these, I often wonder if much of my life has been a dream, as life shoves me in increasingly random directions, but I clearly recall the titles and may one day write my own (suggestions on a postcard most welcome!)  I do not pretend to be an expert on letting holiday properties to paying guests, but here are a few thoughts which may save you time, money and hassle.

As first timers, we made a few mistakes and omitted some basic necessities, but after three years of letting our French apartment we have learned a lot.  Wish someone had clarified some of these issues to us three years ago.

1) Does size matter?sept13 055

It will to some guests, be careful what descriptive words to use in your advert and avoid terms such as “spacious” unless it is.

If your place is compact and bijou, say so.  Make it clear what permanent bed space  it offers and  any day beds, studio couches, pull out mattresses etc should be clearly stated as such.sept13 041 Some people will not mind roughing it a bit, some will be affronted if they have to set up their own sleeping quarters.

2) Won’t they be out all day anyway, isn’t it just a place to sleep?

Maybe so, but what if it rains or someone wants a relaxing day in?

3) Will guests actually expect decent storage in a holiday let?

Yes, they need to stash clothes, suitcases, beach or sports equipment,outdoor coats and footwear. Often a challenge in a tiny space. Beds on legs not only make cleaning easier and more hygenic but are great for stashing suitcases and skis under. We have little floor space in hall, so deep shelves over doors help. Put up some coat hooks.

4) How should I furnish it?

Up to you, but try to work with what you have. Look at why you bought it and dress to emphasise it’s plus points.

Most guests will be disappointed by an old, character property that has been  furnished with cheap modern furniture or with someone’s cast-offs.Those days have well and truly gone. They will be equally underwhelmed at attempts to dress a screamingly modern  urban style place with faux antiques . Don’t attempt the old rustic country look unless the property is both!

If you bought the property just because it was cheap rather than also considering location, convenience or potential for making it attractive to guests, you may live to regret it.

5) What about the “extras”? Whilst some guests may be happy to bring their own linen and towels, most would much prefer to find these provided. Offering price plans that include/exclude bedlinen, cleaning, welcome packs is confusing for them and you. Provide good quality bedding and towels  as these will be washed repeatedly and treated by some without due care.

We provide two pillows, top sheets and duvets so guests can use whatever combo suits them. In winter we provide quilts too.

If you don’t want your best bath towels ending up on the beach provide beach towels!!

Episode 50- April showers part 2 “Am I in the right house???”

SAMSUNGrenovation, restoration, shocking realisation………..

I wake up, I open my eyes, where am I?

I can’t be in our neglected  part medieval, several years spent in the slow restoration of hovel..can I????

No, I can see straight walls (never!) tasteful Dulux pale chalky heliotrope grey painted panelling…OMG it IS Our French House after all!



I get up and gloat over the second thing in the house that is finally level, apart from the petit balcon that Trevor built last year to stop my grandson falling out of the window. He has constructed a perfectly executed, perfectly straight new wall in the shower room and painted it perfectly too. We have a partly tiled floor also.

It is very warm and we left all the windows open to dry the floor dab last night, another last minute job as once floor done plumber can install toilet. I gingerly poke one tile, it seems solid enough, I put my weight on it to stand up….

Tclonk…a hairline crack appears..?!@~:{}+_)*!”$%^><!!!???…

Episode 49- April Showers- Part one

DSC00328renovation, restoration, saturation

2012- Whilst we always remember to close all the shutters when we go out, we  seem to have a mental block when it comes to closing the Velux windows in the shower room. We have come home to a soaked floor several times.

We have the original, possibly chestnut floor in here and as the room now has four walls, albeit only one door, the time has come to start tiling the floor.




We wander over to M. Bricolage, my favourite French DIY/building yard- mainly because our friend Laurent (See post “The Stove”)  who used to manage our local Weldom store and is now dispensing his pearls of wisdom in Limoux is there. For once he has not got Dad in tow, which is a relief as I am still convinced that delivering our stove  must have caused him grievous bodily harm!

We fall lucky again as they are selling off an end of line light stone coloured oblong floor tile with a subtle textured surface which is just perfect.  SAMSUNG

I have no problem with mixing modern and functional with authentic antique and characterful at the village house, we certainly do NOT want medieval washing facilities! So we start laying……

The Thursday Three- Botanical prints

Another ebay find for France, we collected these antique prints from “down south”.

The previous owners having swapped their classic Victorian style sitting room decor for  what the French call the “Indu-recup” (with an accent over the e) style, so they  no longer suited.


Impossible to do these justice in a photo-hand coloured engravings on heavy, watermarked, embossed  paper -around 1828……For cave at French house

below, more recent but equally gorgeous vintage print – For entrance hall I think… DSC02583

Episode 48- In which we begin to see the light…….

SAMSUNGRenovation, restoration, progression! 2012


As per post “Episode 41″ we have finally resolved the cave access and layout issues. It is now  simple matter of sorting out the final plumbing  runs and the prospect of having two working toilets  is the glimmering light at the end of our renovation tunnel.

Regular readers will know that we lost hot showers at the village house when the new plumbing for Baby Beast went in two years ago and the necessary re-routing of all our water supplies meant that the only toilet (situated by the front door!) was “off grid” for a while and we were  running up and down stairs with buckets of water to flush. None of this is our French plumber’s or builder’s fault and is mainly due to everything being held up by the loss of our first two electricians.

We are now on number three- who is mature, sensible and has decades of successful installations behind him so fingers crossed he will get  the wiring runs in over next few months, then Monsieur Plombier and Monsieur Mason can do their final bits and we will actually have a functional kitchen, shower room, washroom/utility and bath in place and can get on with stairs, floors, doors, windows, kitchens, tiling, panelling, plastering, painting,decorating, developing the courtyard, fencing the terrace etc!

My eureka idea of dropping new pipework for shower room down through salon, into kitchen and thus down to mains supply in cave  has been approved and implemented by our plumber ( don’t think he is used to assertive, interfering female geniuses but has learned  to cope!)This leaves us with more boxing in headaches but as front wall is to be panelled anyway, it’s no big deal.SAMSUNGSAMSUNG I see a glimmer……….

Episode 47- In which Trevor lives dangerously….

DSC01343renovation, restoration, potential hospitalisation…August 2012

We land at Carcassonne airport EXTREMELY early.

As we had to drive down to Stansted airport in the early hours of the morning, we have had about an hours’ sleep. Well, I  had an hour or two’s sleep, Trevor, being “a man” decided not to go to sleep in case he doesn’t hear the 2 am alarm call.

We jump on the train at Carcassonne and by time we get to the village house I cannot keep my eyes open and  even Trevor is looking a little glazed and hollow eyed though he would never admit to such unmanly weakness ( Lord preserve me from old fashioned  and unpolitically correct men who cannot admit to human frailty!)

It still early morning but over 30 degrees already and shaping up to be a typical Campagne scorcher.

I give the house a cursory inspection, no apparent leaks or collapsed masonry and no visible wasps nests ( they had a colony until we moved in and started blocking up entrance and exit routes)  Trevor opens the French doors to the terrace, throws a few cushions on the bench, strips off and lies in the sun with a deep sigh.

“Don’t fall asleep, you’ll fry later!” I said….no response….so I lie down on the bed and close my eyes for a minute.

Three hours later I wake up and the sun is at it’s zenith. I wander outside and there is a very pink thing basting lightly on the bench.

Having slung his arm over his eyes, said pink thing has a white stripe across his face but the rest, ALL the rest, resembles Tonto twinned with grilled pork.     I shake him awake proffering after sun lotion or aloe vera   and try to persuade him that a cool shower ( we only have that kind anyway!) would help.

He declines all assistance, just fetches a cold drink, throws a shirt on and goes back out to sit in the sun…..I give up.DSC01717

No, Mr Casual did not suffer sunburn and turned brown within 24 hours

No, I can’t post the pictures or I will be arrested…


Episode 46- South of France, colour inspiration

sept13 036renovation,restoration, colours and  inspiration-May 2012

I am beginning to understand why artists who have spent time in the South of France have rhapsodised about the quality of light and the way it creates the unique colours here.  left- Snow topped Mount Canigou in May,rising behind Boulevard de Canigou of course!

Blue sky and sea, sable sand and stones, terracotta roofs, rich but nuanced greens on plants and trees, a particular rusty bronze on the trunks of umbrella pines, slate grey and blue/jewel purple mountains.

You will recognise the colours and the names by which they are described, but these terms barely do justice to the crisp but layered shades we see all around us here. I can see that I am being subtly influenced by this unique palette when I choose fabrics, paints & styles for our new interiors. sept13 045

I have repainted the dull dark brown wall on our little loggia in a clear turquoise which has opened up this small space.sept13 064

left-view inland from loggia

below- wild end of Argeles-sur-Mer’s Plage Nord which is inspiring the kitchen colour scheme at the village housesept13 071

Episode 45- Angst and Anguish at Apartment 45-AAARRRGGGHHH!

2011-03-23%2010.39.53[1]renovation, restoration, bureaucratic frustration…..Summer 2012

It is a truth universally acknowledged ( As a famous lady author stated in a somewhat different context) that just when you are are congratulating yourself on how swimmingly things are pootling along, at last,  on your double renovation project, a crisis is sure to rear it’s ugly head. I made a solemn promise to you all to tell it how it really is on this blog- so here is the sorry saga.


We were dwelling in smugsville as we had made significant progress in two areas this year-

Firstly, we had learned by trial and error that there are a number of dos and don’t for letting out a property as holiday accommodation which you won’t find on “holiday home hints” websites. so here are a few new “handy hints” from me:-

1) Make sure everything  is washable-even the rugs, as some of your guest may feel the need to have  “let’s chuck red wine and cooking oil about” parties.

2) Don’t thoughtfully hang your curtains on “easy open tracks” with pull cords as some of your guests will ignore that and yank at them till they rip open anyway and break all the little plastic hooks.

3) Assume that at least once each season, a guest will leave a non- metal spatula on a gas ring and go out, leaving it to smoulder enough to set off the fire alarm.

4) Don’t buy matching sets of anything with a pattern on as at least one of these lovingly co-ordinated items will mysteriously disappear ( rendering the rest of your carefully chosen colour co-ordinated set redundant) or will be used by someone to clean their black shoes.

5) Do not  buy anything with tassles, be that cushion, lampshade or throw,  as some guests may feel irresistably compelled  to pull these off, even though the sun is shining and the beach is beautiful and there are all manner of wonderful things to do on your doorstep which are more fun, surely?sept13 049

Secondly, we had learned that good French registered second hand cars are expensive in France . We found the perfect French registered car here in UK , on my favourite internet auction site, and travelled down to the English Riviera to purchase same.

We were happily driving it down through France in August 2012,  happy to have a full season of guests booked into the Argeles-sur-Mer apartment. The phone rang , it was the current holiday maker Monsieur X, calling to tell us that an official looking man had just turned their gas supply off and threatened them with dire consequences if they turned it back on again!………….whaat??!!

We were still several hours away, so I assured my guests that I would sort it, fast.

I rang our changeover lady  and she offered to shoot over to apartment and find out what was occurring. Ten minutes later she called me back. Apparently there was an official “urgence” red stamped letter hanging out of our postbox in the foyer (very recently dated!)  stating that the latest gas supplier were coming to cut off the supply to the apartment today, as we had ignored their warning letter re an unpaid bill. As all our utility suppliers had been given our UK address & email for contact and had been advised that both the village house and the apartment were not occupied year round, we were mystified. The original warning letter, which allowed us precious little time to comply was squashed under the final demand. Both appeared to have been hand delivered and must have been obvious that no one was picking them up!

To cut a long and stressful and expensive tale short, we EVENTUALLY discovered our apartment address had been duplicated when the gas supply had passed to not one but two other companies and although both  were recorded as supplying the apartment, in fact only one was actually supplying us with gas and they had not collected on the existing direct debit. I telephoned the company for a reconnection date and was basically advised that we were now considered to be serial defaulters and that we must pay a vast sum that they said we owed and then they might re connect us next month.

With bookings to be honoured, and having of course had to refund the current guest in full, we were frantic, I was prepared to pay anything and argue the odds later.

As there was money in the bank to be collected  and we had not caused the confusion, I had the bright idea of going to see our manager at Banque Populaire and ask them if they could reason with the gas supplier on our behalf and guarantee immediate payment. In the end it took most of  our lovely lady manager’s working day (and sacrosanct lunch  break!) to sort the matter. She could not have been more helpful, even postponing other appointments to make sure that all was now in order, personally guaranteeing and transferring the monies deemed due and I am not sure what she said to the company, but the gas was back on the following day!  ……phew……!

She even set up the new direct debit herself. Vive La Banque Populaire !!

So here is my last Handy Hints of the Day-

*Check every French bill and bank statement  with a fine tooth comb.

*Make sure you have someone check your post regularly.

*It doesn’t matter if you supply a UK  home address, if any correspondance regarding your property in France is issued, it will almost always be issued to the French  address.

*Our experiences with our bank have always been positive.

The Thursday Three- Treasure post today instead!

DSC02538Yes I know it’s only Tuesday, but

1) I have my Intermediate French class tomorrow ( for which I confess I haven’t done my homework yet- don’t tell Professeur Dora!) and..

2) I have to put on my special outfit and save the world on Thursday ( the day job is very serious and about  a million miles from what I blog about!) ……



So, we have today -above- 17th century hand coloured parchment map of the Languedoc- Bought on ebay from nice Italian cartography expert. Now need the right vintage frame for it.DSC02540

Right- 90 ish year old parasol- Although Chinese, flowers and butterflies are very much in  stylised 1920′s colours and shapes- one of my very favourite periods ( check out latest terrace bedroom updates) …and….

below- nine foot string of little velvety bobbles on silver cord-  Sold as Christmas decorations, but I picked them up because they have chic tulip bedroom accent colours of red & French blue; so will drape them artistically over something in there!-post renovation & restoration of courseDSC02541

Episode 44- Is it a bird? NO..Is it a plane?’s the best boiler in France!!!!

View to kitchen from third bedroom

View to kitchen from third bedroom

renovation, restoration, hyperventilation… France 2012

Our kitchen used to look like this-see left

Then the dining end ceiling came down and the steels went in to hold up the terrace-see belowHouse Dining Room Ceiling Steels

Then we started eco-friendly insulation of and panelling (endlessly, it seemed) the one breeze-block party wall-see belowDSC01709

Then the day came when we had to lose the beast in the cellar (big, floorstanding boiler that could heat the street) because until we did that we couldn’t work on the cave. So  we left the job with the plumber & builder over the winter because we don’t do gas.

Our plumber solemnly promised that he would take heed of my criteria of low noise levels, miserly fuel consumption, reasonable price  and discreet styling so we could box it into the kitchen without building an extension.

Then back we skipped in the spring all excited and looking forward to a safe, friendly, French boiler that lit and worked all the time, not just when it felt like it…….



Episode 43- French restoration, let your imagination run riot!

sept13 152(2)renovation, restoration, use YOUR imagination..

You may not have  a resident nutcase in the attic (I zoomed in on this photo and found a deranged looking Trevor peering through the tulip room window!) but if you are buying a modestly priced renovation project there are still likely to be some character features worth restoring or reinstating hidden behind that dodgy brown  mid 20th century vintage makeover which can be the scourge of the five figure price bracket!


We had drifts of 50′s Formica everywhere ( there was a Formica factory down the road and this material features heavily in the local interiors, we even viewed a house with stairs and landing constructed entirely in Formica- see earliest posts) but once these lovely fittings were removed from our French house , we found original cupboard recesses cut into the thick stone walls, some with terrazzo or marble shelves that clean up beautifully.DSC00327

The tulip bedroom  and shower room also had custom made terrazzo marble/granite skirting boards with lovely pearly quartz chips in pale greys and pinks which we will reuse in the new shower room configuration.We also found very old and very gorgeous wooden boards in the tulip room which we will clean and wax, no shiny varnish in unsuitable colours wanted here, a little colour variation and an honest bit of wear and tear is good !DSC00326



I am creative genius, born of necessity ( i.e. no money but high aspirations for my potentially chic  interiors!) and this project has made Trevor think more creatively; so we cleaned, filled, sanded, attached mouldings and painted our existing yucky sapele doors in the two second floor bedrooms and they look GORGEOUS.DSC01731

Can I get my big head through them?…

Episode 42- TULIP FEVER!

IMG_0073renovation, restoration, yet another explanation ………….







Why oh why? -you ask- do we call  thebedroomthathadnowindowandasaggingceiling the tulip room? Because, dear reader, it has the unrestorable (sadly) remains of vintage hand printed authentic French wallpaper with red and aubergine tulips on the walls!   DSC00187Lovely innit?

So, it got christened as the tulip room and it stuck, mainly because when we got home from our first viewing trip to France with this place at the top of the list, I found a pair of curtains in an Osborne and Little fabric with a design of red and aubergine tulips and chinese porcelain knick-knacks in a local charity shop, and they were  SPOOKILY created by a French designer!! They fit- Call me spontaneous, I hadn’t even bought the house at that point…tulip rm

As you may glimpse here -right- and top left-a false ceiling of vile tiles had to be demolished  ( see DIY gets dan-ger-ous post) at great risk to life and limb, which revealed one of the three beautiful beams/tree trunks that hold up half of our hybrid house.sept13 100

Then Trevor sawed through the false ceiling joists and we have an airy room, open to the rafters. We will insulate and plasterboard (painted white) between the roof joists which are lovely wood and retrievable with a good scrub and sand.The beam will be waxed.  Demolition of the old shower room wall has accessed the original window-topmost left.

I have hunted down and found a chic wallpaper with a hand printed look and a traditional design of exotic birds and branches printed in French blue and very soft metallic antique gold on a true red ground.

All other walls will be the right shade of white. DSC02528

Once the old ceiling had been completely demolished, we could see old truss holes in the stonework and remnants of joinery which support our theory that there was a sort of sleeping platform up there with ladder access. We will be reinstating this as a narrow mezzanine for my grandson to sleep on with glass balcony for safety and to keep the opened up view of the stone walls above.sept13 112sept13 109

The Thursday three- (bit of a blue theme)

DSC01865I carry around the following three items in my handbag



1) A list of nearly every possible measurement to be found in the French house; including a list of window sizes, floor areas, ceiling heights and other useful dimensions that I might need to check when I come across a picture, mirror, piece of furniture or fabric that screams “French country chic!” to me.


2) A folding wooden “metre rule” that was left behind by our builder who doesn’t know that I have it yet, hope he isn’t reading this! This is extremely useful for checking stuff that might fit the above design brief for the house.

3) A little book of “to do” jobs on the house and the apartment, which never seems to get any shorter because as soon as we tick off one job,  my over-active imagination comes up with another.

The first two  of these essential tools are supposed to prevent me from buying unsuitable pieces for the house.

It doesn’t matter how you plan and prepare , somethings just don’t work out. The lloyd loom bedroom stool looked perfect for the dressing table in the terrace bedroom and the perfect shade of faded turquoise but when we got it over to France, it was half an inch too wide to fit between the legs of the dressing table.. GGGRRRHHHH!DSC01952

I carefully measured for the size I needed to make two large square cushion covers in this wonderful Voysey design fabric -right-which is based on the wonderful original Tennial illustrations for Alice in Wonderland which I love. The nameless ebay seller who sold it to me cut the fabric at an angle ( and not an artistic one!) so I haven’t got enough…


BUT this beautiful cotton & linen tablecloth, also from ebay and in my favourite colour ( have you guessed it yet?) fits our long narrow farmhouse dining table and overhangs by just the right amount all round and I didn’t even measure it!!

Is that another sign? I like signs…DSC01887

Episode 41- La cave

Scan0004renovation, restoration, drastic intervention!

This was the cave, or at least about a third of it, when we first bought our village house in the Languedoc Roussillon.

In French, a cave may be loosely translated as a cellar (as in wine cellar) but is one of those words with many meanings such as storage or utility area and not necessarly underground! My father was convinced that it actually was a hole in the side of a hill and questioned our sanity accordingly when we promised to let him sleep in there following renovation!

Although narrower than ideal, it is over 30 feet long and has it’s own front door and a little internal courtyard out back which is the pleasantest place to sit when the local micro-climate pushes the temperatures up to the high 40s!!

The second entrance and private outdoor space was one of the quirks that swung our decision to buy this particular house as we could see the potential for perfect, separate  accommodation for friends, family or even paying guests SAMSUNG.

The only access from the main house to the cave was a narrow door behind the picturesquely situated toilet lurking left of the main front door ( see “how bad can it be” post). An even narrower door (18 inches) gave access to the courtyard.

It still retains the lovely original stone walls, low door lintels, old hand made nails and a big heavy hinge pin from the original gates at the front, where remnants of an old archway herald the entrance to what we believe was a walkway access through to what once were  animal shelters and storage buildings behind.The big old thick stone wall you can see above is basically now the spine wall of the house .

The large neighbouring house became the village cinema in the early 20th century and our neighbours took great delight in telling us  that the old stone gutter that runs through our courtyard made it the perfect “pissoir” for the cinema clientele. Nice!!  SAMSUNG

left- the cave after some major rejigging-yes it does look like a mystical light to the right!!

A new doorway  on the left allows internal access under the stairs from the  main house via the  workshop/garage. The original toilet corridor has been blocked off and turned around and incorporated into a larger new washroom which will have basin, loo and washing machine and access to cave only.  

My beautiful black slipper bath ( from I-bath UK) will sit in the right angle between the new washroom wall and the original spine stone wall. The cave will be the epitome of French country chic with a palette of washed creams with taupe/ochre yellow and black accentsbath

Let’s just drool over that slipper bath one more time-

Episode 40- A brief recap …………from the Lang(our)doc

renovation, restoration, explanation…..

A number of questions have continued to vex us since we started working on our less-than-lovely French house/hovel in the lovely Languedoc.

Some have been answered,  and some remain a mystery

1) What exactly is FCVT (French Country Village Time) ?

Answer- This is what kicks in when you spend your down time in a sunny and languor-inducing spot in southern France where no-one has any sense of urgency or any native need to consider timescales . As the plumber said when I told him my stress levels were through the as yet unfinished roof ”  why? there is nothing to stress about”

And, do you know what? he is absolutely right.

2) What happened to the Funky White Golfing Cap?(see episode 5, “Le Camping, roof optional”)

Answer- We have no idea, if my grandson knows, he isn’t telling. The schoolgirls of Carcassonne liked it. Maybe he is hiding it until he can wear it on dates in ten years time.

3) Where are we going to put the bath?(see episode 1,”Haunted Hovel funds French Folly!”)

Answer- Forty episodes later and we have finally decided that it will sit at an arty angle in the corner of the cave bedroom.  bathRight- how languorous does THAT look?!

4) Why do we always leave the veluxes open when we go out for a long lunch and the only downpour all week starts immediately we sit down to eat?

Answer- I don’t know, but at least we now have a tiled and grouted floor which makes mopping up easier.

5) Why are all the most delicious wines impossible to find again?

Answer- no idea, but the wonderful “Fut” and the amusingly named “Cotes du Brian” wines are proving elusive

DSC00146 left- wow, that shows up my broken builder’s fingernails a bit…

6) Why do we have France’s most hideous fireplace in our sitting room?

Answer- After seven years we have discovered  that this was not a bizarre sixties design statement, but is in fact half of the orginal kitchen fireplace  from what was a double height open cooking area in room below-centuries ago. Suddenly seems a charming bit of character worthy of keeping and plastering carefully around as a “feechur”salon 2

Stumpwork, goldwork, woolwork-lovely!

DSC02409I thought my  fellow vintage and antique embroidery fans might like to see some more of my pictures destined for the French village house.

-left woolwork Jacobean style embroidery . Tough to date, but the ground fabric is old style rayon/viscose woven to look like linen, which narrows it down to 20′s-30′s . Colours are subtle but beautiful and the old oak frame suits. It has aged with style

Will be going on stair wall at bedroom level as echoes the shades in the glass chandelier which will hang there. DSC02408

below- stumpwork and goldwork on silkDSC02407

Much older, I think

early 19th century? style is that of Jacobean embroidery again & is on silk fabric.

Jacobean embroidery is a generic term for the swirling stylised patterns of flowers, leaves, beast and birds  seen as crewel work on linen at it’s height in the 17th century, and revived many times since, most notable in the early to mid 20th century. Still made today, though less often in the UK due to time intensive process & costs! I love it.

Stumpwork is raised and/or padded embroidery, highly popular in the 16th century and often used along with gold thread work on clothes and bed hangings for the affluent. I have tried to photograph the whole piece, which is huge, below: but although I can’t do it justice, it’s a great picture of my 150 year old wooden floor !(in UK)


Episode 39- Village life and soul!

DSC00223renovation, restoration, location…..

The Tour de France came through the village in summer 2007. Not the twiddly little medieval bit, thank goodness! ( that WOULD have been a challenge) but along the D118 route on the newer outskirts as the racers wove their way up into the Pyrenees.

I think the entire population was there, even our very elderly friend Marie who generally does not venture beyond the bench in the square, although she did arrive by chauffered car! Last seen cheering on the boys vociferously and wearing sponsor’s baseball cap with her traditional blue apron! DSC00221

right, view to the old water mill from D118-

I loved the anti health and safety vibe with  the supporting sponsor floats and vehicles hurling toys, confectionary , hats & other goodies randomly in all directions! I got hit by at least two mini model vehicles and several large sweets but am not complaining  as there was such a brilliant atmosphere of happiness, pride, triumph and community spirit.

Afterwards, of course, almost everyone congregated at the Auberge de Saint Sebastian for a little light libation and to follow the next leg of the race. Some amazing views around the village for your delectation below.               Yes it’s pretty perfect………………..n’est ce pas?….Mmmm, why are we renovating a house here?



sept13 141sept13 144

Episode 38, part 2- A little more about a little street in France

DSC00173renovation, restoration, rumination…

If you are thinking of buying a house in France  I do believe that the head has to be engaged first! A little check list……

1) Budget – critical of course (including running costs & necessary works, improvements, furnishing/fittings etc!)

2) Location- and I know that I keep repeating this, but you MUST narrow your search down to the areas you really love before you commit to anything.

3) Aspirations- what do you want from this house, this community, this life?

4) Heart- Yes, it is true, home IS where the heart is and whether you want a holiday escape or something more permanent, you are choosing a home.

So.. my advice is to engage the heart too, it is just as important as the first three!

I have just realised that the acronym /abbreviation for the above reads.. BLAH..BLAH..BLAH……oh dear!

sept13 136

So, did we take our own advice when we embarked on our adventure, well, yes we did though we were very naive but fate took a hand, thank goodness! You can always give fate a little hand by writing down a list of  criteria.

Decide where you will compromise, can any faults be fixed? Character or modern lines? You won’t find instant perfection unless you have a massive budget, but that’s all part of the adventure!

-from our front door, look left- sept13 137




What are you looking for? seaside views, country walks?

When we first wandered down our little street we certainly didn’t expect to find a beach at the bottom of it!!DSC00169

sept13 143







We didn’t expect, as we explored the house, to find that the southern sun streaming down the tiny “Impasse du Jardins” opposite banishes the inevitable gloom of our narrow street and lights up our house.

We didn’t expect to find, as we climbed the stairs to the bedrooms, views of the stunning ring of hills around the village. We have created a whole new view never seen before simply by building the roof terrace!

As our Estate Agent friend said at the time “how did I miss this one?”

There are still gems out there which  will give you priceless quality of life for a small price tag.  Fling open the shutters, give it a chance.

Follow your French dream.