Episode 86-Some thoughts on dust, squalor, chaos & the psychological phenomenon that is “project syndrome”

cave ground  floorRenovation, restoration, indoctrination

I am recognising a syndrome that may affect those of us undertaking major builds, renovation and restoration property projects.
We have been living in our “every room a half finished building site ” French hovel for so long now we have got very blase (can’t find my accents) about housekeeping and are bumbling along in a sort of sub-student house squalor situation and now accept this as the norm.
It is very disheartening when you scrub the shower room and come back a few weeks later to a light dusting of antique debris dropped from the asyetunfinishedceiling and bits of old wasps nest on your towels, but at least we have a shower room and a working toilet and nearly a bathroom too!

The builder’s dust has just about settled on the first & second floors.

Let me tell you, just in case you virgin renovators are under any illusions,

IT TAKES AT LEAST TWO YEARS FOR THE DUST TO SETTLE PROPERLY !!! The last major building work on the ground floor was done last year and I still can’t even put a darkish coat or anything dry clean only down ANYWHERE on that level without it picking up muck.
I decided last month that we were going to try and tidy up and clean the bits we could more often and get in training for the “b****y hell, we’ve finished” stage we hope to reach next year.sept13 134
Sadly Trevor (who never had the whole student experience) is now utterly ingrained with the whole “why pick up that peanut, you can’t tell I dropped it anyway?” & “why can’t I just drop everything on the kitchen table or down one of the many gaping holes? “ habit.
I see some retraining is in order, as I am also guilty of same syndrome to a degree. Maybe you recognise this?
I am determined to keep the light at the end of the tunnel switched on….We have got used to camping out in chaos and that attitude stops now. Things HAVE moved on, and apart from the imminent reintroduction or reinstatement of a few ceilings and floors, the big changes are completed and the rest is mainly cosmetic.sept13 101
When I stop for a second and look around me, we have achieved so much on our mini-budget and are only a few month’s work and about twelve thousand GBP short of a completely finished house, outside and inside, and we haven’t borrowed anything yet.

I will buy a lottery ticket next week..

From Camping out in Chaos to Chic,Cheerful and Cosy here we come


The Thursday Three- French Chic & Perfect Period Pastels

After lots of thought and a few experiments the palette for the village house in France has  been set.

Although we have increased the total area of usable/habitable rooms from 90 to 125 square metres approx I still feel that the spaces need a related subtle palette of pale neutrals and faded pastels with the odd deeper shade as an occasional accent, for impact.Below left- This bed throw is actually a giant linen tableclothDSC02734

Right- this 1950’s linen cushion fabric has been bleached to softer shades. If the fabric is robust, try a weak mixture in your washing machine, you can always run it through with a little more bleach to get the desired faded-by-time effect!DSC02733







I am furnishing the terrace and courtyard as outdoor rooms and can get away with slightly stronger shades out there as the strength of the sun visually washes out paler tints. Above (header)- my favourite vintage granny blanket

Cooker Contenders- Colour me Confused!

Oh no, not MORE choices

Having been dragged on a 100 mile round trip by Trevor to look at MORE range cookers for The French Kitchen, we now have two MORE contenders “AAARRRGGGHHH><{}_%^/’#)*++**&^!?”

The Bertazzoni   AD905mFE http://www.uk.bertazzoni.com AD905MFEVIE-Right

Trevor likes it, I do like it’s  chunky top & little legs (no muck can hide underneath) but it comes in only three colours, none of which are the least bit exciting OR suitable for the kitchen in the village house.

The I saw the choice of enamel finish on the Rangemaster Classic Deluxe, with three new drool-inducing colours -below


Rose-taupe, Latte,  Royal Pearl




Episode 85- Loving the Languedoc, crazy for Campagne

renovation, restoration, realisation

Sometime I need to remind myself why we started this big adventure to rescue a sad village house and why this is, in a very literal way, rescuing us. Time I think  to focus on the many upsides to our quest

Why are we still pursuing this almost primal need to finish the house, find a way to work effectively here and escape to France full time; and why is it that our “French fix” can keep us going through the toughest times?

Because a series of mad coincidences led us to this  little corner of France

Because it’s a working village, not a picture postcard tourist trap that dies off in the winter.

Because people here have created a profound character, a strength and a spirit of place that has echoed on almost unchanged  for centuries

Because  what you can achieve here with a little money and a lot of work is worth it on every level

Because stepping out of your rut/fate/comfort zone is good for the soul

Because  the sun shines more often than not ???????????????????????????????

Because  we have found something special

Because life here is still lived, not simply endured

Because it brings out the best in us

Because we love it




Because I walked into Primark yesterday and saw this very timely, very apt & very appropriate cushion

The Thursday Three- more hot topics and VERY EARLY

Whilst I spend many happy (and some less than  happy hours) considering exactly what we are going to put into our French “desres” WHAT, you may well ask, does Trevor think of all this pondering & soul searching?

Well, I can reveal that the only element in which he has shown any signs of animation or interest are appliances, i.e. the range cooker, the monster fridge he wants, the outdoor waterproof speakers to play his vinyl collection.. etc.

The preoccupation with picking a cooker has been going on for months with forensic investigations into a number of options (see earlier post “Hot,Hot,Hot!”)    but I think we may have narrowed it down to a shortlist of THREE

elise-110-induction_china-bLeft-The Rangemaster Elise (based on Lacanche) http://www.rangemaster.co.uk-which only has induction hob option, He likes ..but I favour Right-Bertazzoni HeritageH36_6_GGV_crema_lg-http://www.bertazzoni.com



But  I also like the shape of -Below-SMEG Vintage- http://www.smeguk.com


Then, of course we have to agree on a colour………….

But let’s face it folks, what I really, really want is something like this$_57

*Is it completely impractical and uneconomical? YES

*Is it so heavy it will fall through kitchen floor and land on sleeping guests in the cave? YES

*Is it beautiful to look at it and absolutely authentic  YES

Episode 84- What changes can be made to an old building?

village of Campagne sur AudeRenovation, restoration, regulations.

If you are planning to buy with a view to restoring and/or renovating an old building in France, I have three pieces of advice for you-

1) Do your homework

2) Take the advice of, or better still involve a reputable local architect or master builder/draughstman

3) Do not rely on casual statements from friends, neighbours, the current owner (especially!) or fellow expats etc such as “you can do what you like inside the house” or “just do it, no-one will notice, just don’t ask the mayor round for a drink”.

Our French house is in an ancient village with a historically unique  fortified “chateau” whose twelve sided structure consists of a Templar church at it’s heart, surrounded by what were the Knight’s houses, stables, blacksmith, armoury, servants quarters etc. clearly visible on the photo above.There was a single entrance on the far side of  the church and what is now the circular “promenade” was then a moat. Beyond that, in the outer ring of buildings were the hangers-on, locals, farmworkers, general peasants &  opportunists whose livelihood depended on serving the big guys in the fort!

Our house was cobbled together a long time ago from bits of the original buildings in the outer ring(side on view of sloping roof of the main house is visible about  half way up this pic and about a centimeter in if you zoom in!)

The church and fort are NOT listed (I am not sure why)  as historical monuments under  the Architects “Batiment de France”whose  role is to protect & preserve historic buildings and they must be consulted for any project located within 500 metres of a listed building.20140728_111524

However, whether listed or not, you may need to apply for both local and central government permissions (certain rules take precedence over others!) and/or a declaration of works for specific interior or exterior changes.. It will be useful to check initially with your local Mayor and his committee if the property is in a village or small town. (if some changes don’t need permission, fine, but do please check before you wield the sledgehammer)  Contrary to some suggestions I have seen on expat forums, the rules are complicated and they apply whether you are French or not! It is possible to prepare for and seek these permissions yourself, but it can be a long and arduous process and misinformation and misunderstandings can occur that will throw your plans into chaos or force you to undo costly work and start again.

Don’t try and fly below the radar, if you are choosing to live or spend time in another country be respectful and be prepared to embrace their restrictions, rules and culture… or forget it.

Permissions and regulations have tightened up and changed significantly in France in the last few years and will certainly change again .If you only take on board handy hint number (2) above, please do that! even if you plan to do some of the work yourself.

Whilst we may not have listed building status to consider (which brings it’s own issues as, in the absence of official guidance,  we must decide ourselves how best to carry out the restoration and renovations sympathetically and appropriately) I  cannot emphasise enough how critical and how reassuring have been the local knowledge, expertise, contacts and communication  that our French builder has brought to our project.

Don’t try to cut corners or bypass any of the proper stages of the process.  Be brave, but be careful too.



French Doors – a few more from a little village in the Languedoc

20140728_111338(0)Renovation, restoration, prime location in France-As my readers seem to love photos of wonderful old doors, I have been out and about around Campagne-sur-Aude and today I bring you a new selection.

Left- This is the side door of the Master’s House which is part of the 11th century fortified centre of the village, wrapped around the original Knights Templar Church here.

A local resident, Yannick, who has had much of the oral history of the village handed down to him, tells us that under the Master’s House are two graves with very tall skeletons in (The Knights were , of course, tall by legend!) This has not been further investigated yet, but the whole village and surrounding areas are steeped in history with relics going back as far as the Visigoths and earlier. The Templar’s presence is just a chapter, albeit a significant one, which I will write about more in future posts.Right- The first floor balconies on the Master’s House-Note the stonework MASTERS HOUSECHURCH DOOR










Left above – the present church door-I understand that this entrance was part of additions to the original rectangular Templar church20140728_111356fl DOOR.DOOR

And a few more gorgeous & original doors for you!




The Thursday Three- A floral theme today

DSC02947I really should stop buying stuff that does not have a definite use yet, but I saw this heavy vintage  runner-left- with the right colours for the terrace bedroom and thought it could be mounted as a panel on the wall as a great contrast to the pale pastel paint finish.

I could then hang my collection of small Edmund Dulac illustrations on it in pale frames. This would really make a feature of them.

The decorative hand-wash dispenser-right- came from the BHS saleDSC02950… and


below left- This 1940’s Dorma cotton throw has the French blue of the tulip bedroom accent colours. I plan to embroider the orangey sections in the middle with cherry red six strand cotton chainstitch, with a flavour of crewelwork & Jacobean style; I am just waiting for my colour fast mercerised cotton embroidery thread to arrive!DSC02946

Episode 83- My Right Foot

20140810_130122renovation, restoration, inflammation

My right foot has been thoroughly traumatised this week.

On Tuesday I stepped on an eviscerated slug (in bare feet- me, not the slug) that had crawled under our ill fitting back door ) vile sensation.

On Wednesday I stepped on a spring from dead clothes peg hiding in our uncut lawn while hanging the washing out ( bare feet again, a picture is emerging ) which poked a hole between my toes


On Thursday  I was foolishly carrying heavy shopping  in a flimsy carrier bag from a well known supermarket (designed of course to split and make you remember to take your own reusable bag in future) and just as I put my key in the front door, the bag split and the corner of a wine bottle base landed right on the joint of my third toe.

Apart from the fact that this was probably my mother admonishing me from beyond the grave for buying wine on a Thursday, I knew instantly that I had broken it by the crunch, the colour and the incredibly sick-making pain.

As toes are not generally plastered, merely strapped together to heal on their own there was not a lot I could do but hobble around for three days. It still hurts if I put any weight on it, but now the strapping has been replaced with a strip of plaster and most of the bruising/swelling is disappointingly invisible in today’s photo I feel slightly more positive that I will be able to wedge it into one half of a pair of corporate court shoes on Wednesday when I have to leave the house and appear sensible &  sentient in a public place . Wish me luck with that.

DSC02944The upside  of having to rest is that I have spent some happy hours stitching dyed vintage cotton lace onto some large 20’s style French square matte satin pillow cases and some oblong feather stuffed linen ones for terrace bedroom. This pulls the slightly glam sequinned lace square cases together with the country style embroidery/ linen ones, & the antique bedspread and curtains from recent posts .

Is this what they call “rough luxe”?

Suits the French house then, it is pretty rough right now and a long way off lux(e), but a girl has to have something to aspire toDSC02943

The lace came from “Crafty Trimmings Haberdashery- find them on ebay.

The Thursday Three- C is for chic: crochet lace,ceramics, chinese characters

crochet lace and mesh bedspreadWhilst it may be true that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, it is also true that you don’t know what you want until you see it!

I have been looking for a light antique or vintage (even I don’t know the current definitions and I really don’t care) bed spread or “couvre-lit” to suit the terrace  bedroom for years with no success. Then I find this unique, exceptional, beautiful hand made piece.


Then I find this-left and right- when I wasn’t really looking and it has the cream, amethyst (parme) and period pink colours of the paint finish that I have just completed in the terrace room in France. Reminds me of the delicate lace, crochet, tatting etc at which my great aunts, Ethel, Maud & Annie excelled, my mother too. Here it is chucked over bed in UK. It was probably missed by other bargain hunters as was listed under “tablecloths” ( I don’t think so! or maybe our meals are messier than most?) ???????????????????????????????

Then we have this French faience serving dish from a vide-grenier DSC02758and one of a pair of large embroidery on silk pictures for the dining area. Somebody PLEASE tell me what the symbols mean!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!DSC02327

Episode 82-In which we lay our cards on the table and realise that we are way short of a full pack

collinerenovation, restoration, desperation

First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is..”

That’s a line from a Donovan song (showing my age now) and is currently highly relevant to our situation re moving to France.

When we bought the village house, we could see this mini-mountain from the tulip bedroom, then the trees grew and now we can only see it in winter. This whole project has been defined by stages of dangerous naivety, smug achievement, financial fluctiations, unexpected critical illnesses, complete confusion, potentially fatal misunderstandings, stress-witch tendencies (me), job redundancies, enforced changes of plans….etc etc

Are we mad?  what will it be next?

Thanks to Mr Cameron I now have to work for another seven years to claim my UK pension pittance (reduced of course to reflect my years at home looking after my children)  Trevor’s company chopped employer pensions contributions years ago, and though now obliged to reinstate these it is way too late for him  to catch up now.

We both have tiny pensions from years back ( lump sums already gone, spent on plumbing and electrics!) which will not support us in France, even though fresh food, logs, wine & diesel all way cheaper here.

Having put all our eggs in French property basket we no longer have a UK house to rent out or sell.

Most of our fellow expats of our age group have good pensions/savings/property investments/lucrative businesses. We have none of those. We have just found out that Trevor’s employer insurance package was chopped years ago too and nobody told him.

Excuse me while I scream


Episode 81- Food for thought

Kirstens phone 342Renovation, restoration, alimentation….

Fresh trout from the river, vegetables that taste of something, cherries, peaches and naughty patisserie, home made ice cream, cuts of meat that you would not normally touch even with a robot arm, a drop of violet or chestnut liqueur in the bottom of your blanquette glass……………..

Food here in the Languedoc Roussillon is an adventure, encompassing local flavours; and classic  recipes like cassoulet and the best goats cheese salads I have ever eaten are mixed and served up with Catalan cuisine  and  Mediterranean fare.


Of course, if you are sawing wood, laying tiles, pointing acres of stone wall or creating  complicated paint finishes  you develop a ravenous appetite and sorting lunch and dinner becomes a  critical part of the daily routine!

So what do you do? If you have been organised enough to throw something together in the electric slow-cooker (which comprises my current kitchen as I have no oven, hotplate, grill or barbecue) and a delicious daube or pot-au-feu is gently simmering away (because you  remembered to plug it in and no-one  has accidentally unplugged it in favour of the drill or the hairdryer ..HA!)- then  you take a bowlful up to the terrace and enjoy the sun and the sound of the rushing river below.

If you didn’t plug it in or you decide to blow the enforced economy drive and eat out, then you scrape off a few layers of  ingrained builder’s dust and undercoat and scour off as much of the grout under your fingernails as is possible with an impatient man in a clean shirt tapping his watch and rubbing his rumbling stomach within audible distance. cafe2

One of our favourite local restaurants presents as a pizzeria from the outside with a rather noisy and riotous bar underneath; but upstairs is a revelation. Cool, calm, perfect service, great fresh food, (chic & charming lady’s powder room furnished with antique ceramics and furniture..)

We take my grandson. We have had a long and energetic day out and about and he is starving.

The waitress takes our orders, and we are certainly hungry enough for three courses. The grandson selects from the menu enfant. He normally behaves  with perfect decorum in restaurants and likes to use a little French with some prompting. He declines a starter, hoping for double-pudding, but when the the waitress brings our chevre-chaud(warm toasted goat’s cheese) and walnut salads she brings him a small green salad so he won’t feel left out.

Nel looks down at this plate with an expression of stunned disbelief – he turns a peculiar puce colour  and promptly bursts into tears….

“That’s not MY tea!!” he wails “There’s no MEAT in it!!”

Our horrified waitress comes running over and I explain with some embarrassment that it has been a long time since lunch and he is a big animal protein fan. Five minutes later she is back with his “special” main on a giant plate. As well as the steak hache he ordered there is  small mountain of pasta with a comprehensive meat sauce steaming on the side. She is rewarded by his best smile and a heart felt “merci beaucoup madame”




Episode 80- Then and now and when and how?

20140727_174818Renovation, restoration, contemplation

We have just had a great break in France. Very calm very chilled very tempting to just burn all boats and stay here but this is simply not possible quite yet.Or is it?

Question-What happened to my adventurous spirit, where I would just pick up my portable possessions and move on to wherever I felt like going next at the drop of a hat?


Answer- Kids happened, mortgages happened, break-ups & divorces & economic crises happened, accumulating piles of (mainly) unnecessary “stuff”happened. In short, life happened & I grew up.

We only had one disagreement and that was mainly as a result of Trevor’s (prescribed) drug “rage”- i.e. the cocktail of chemicals getting him through the next 12 months following the angioplasty is affecting his moods adversely. Even so, Campagne worked it’s usual magic  and brought everything back to the simplest basics. Being here is priceless and our needs and our outgoings will be less than in UK.

BUT-we know that we cannot subsist on the revenue from holiday lets and we also now know that the nearest thing to fibre-optic broadband we are likely to get in our little village in the next decade is the satellite option being considered by the Mairie. Why didn’t I factor this obvious shortcoming into my plans? This is a traditional working village on the edge of the countryside; why on earth did I think that it would or could accommodate me working from home whilst living full-time here in France?

My dream is to work on the terrace and listen to the river. Our neighbours are taking the plunge and coming here full time; are we just being overcautious?

Sadly, I am the the only one of 600 villagers  who will need a reliable internet link in order to work. B****r!DSC00171

The Thursday Three- Mission impossible?

DSC02937The year we viewed the French village house, before we had even bought it, I went into a UK chain of shops called “The Pier”, now sadly defunct.

I bought a wonderful long patchwork table runner made up of heavy silky Chinese machine embroidery fabrics in vintage pastel shades reminiscent of 18th & early 19th century chinoiserie textiles and wallpapers and the revival of this look in the 1920’s .

Basically , I loved the colours and the style but had no idea what I was going to do with it ( I have been doing  this sort of thing for over forty years!)

After spending time at the French house I realised that the colour palette of this piece would work perfectly in the terrace bedroom ( see decor on previous post) so I started hunting for a second runner to edge the grape crushed taffeta fabric I bought for the curtains. Could I find one? no…..I looked for eight years …. then finally spotted one on ebay and bought it.

Then I started bitterly regretting not buying the matching, very long, tab top curtains when “The Pier” was still trading, although the price had put me off originally.

Then (drum roll) I FOUND A PAIR ON EBAY!!!) so I bought them and they will go up as a simple canopy over the bed in the terrace room.DSC02936 Below left- The curtains will hang from the high apex of the bedroom ceiling from this chic cream painted iron frame that is actually a “batterie de cuisine” designed to dangle your cooking utensils from.DSC02889

Episode 79- two weeks of life in France- a little bit of work

20140728_102859Renovation, restoration, relaxation-

As we need and must have a proper rest we didn’t do a lot on the French trip.

I did finish the seven layered paint effect in the terrace bedroom and yes, it was worth it. The picture isn’t crisp as taken on my phone but will take my good camera with me next time and do a detailed post on the technique which I made up as I went along – as per usual.

Gives incredible depth and character to the walls and really works with the feel of the house as we get to final stages in this room.20140727_202837



Trevor also cut some tiles to finish the top of the terrace wall which has degraded due to sun etc since the building work finished.

Locals often use a terracotta roof tile for this scenario, but I wanted it smooth and flat to lean on when I am admiring the view and somewhere to put a coffee cup or wine glass when there are a few of us up there. If I ever reach the stage when I am not too embarrassed to let anyone other than workmen in! We found these stony, dragged  finish tiles as large floor tiles in M.Bricolage and cut to fit, they look great and it took exactly one box of eight  62cm x 32 cm tiles and cost 15 euros in total.

Naturally we have laid with a infinitesimal  slant at back so water from here will run onto our terrace and not next door’s roof. It is illegal here to do work to your house that allows water to be diverted to a neighbour’s house

The Thursday Three- from deepest France


Sorry it’s a bit late today but yesterday I had other distractions.
Today I am using my shiny new wordpress mobile app to bring you three more French chic gems.
From left to right-
Enamel towel hook, probably early 20th century ( from local French street market)
Large wall light in leaded glass, difficult to date but fairly old and hand made with the look of Tiffany, from proper junk shop in UK.
1920’s glass shade with little chinese / oriental figures and scenes in grape, pale green and gold- ebay
Hope you enjoy …

Back soon.

Newsflash- July 2014

designcertRenovation, restoration, certification!

Two very positive developments this week





Firstly, after squeezing in a distance-learning course on Interior Design on top of my demanding day job, renovations to village house in France, running the French holiday let & nagging Trevor to take it easy and take his medication I have finally completed this!

Secondly, I have been invited to submit a blog to the on-line UK publications “Period Living” and “Real Homes Magazine”  hopefully from next month’s issues

At last we have  positive developments



The Thursday Three- Arts & Crafts Embroidery and Silkscreen printing

Every now and then, my treasure trawling pulls up a knock out piece-see above-

If this very large hand embroidery in wools on a woven felted wool background isn’t an original , mid 19th century, Arts & Crafts piece from a disciple of Mr William Morris, I will eat one of my many hats. LOOK AT THOSE MOTIFS!

I have also reviewed my dating of this wool embroidery -left- I did think 1930’s , now pretty sure that it is older.

Both found on ebay for peanuts. It beats trawling dodgy overpriced  antique fairs in the winter months.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Right-as a complete contrast, how about this photo-silkscreen on raw canvas of George Harrison, executed by the (soon to be) famous Dan Bladen (my son)


Remember, you read about him right here, first.


Episode 78- “Always live in the ugliest house on the street”…

DSC02794….”then you don’t have to look at it”. Apparently the artist David Hockney  said this. I can vouch for the veracity of this sentiment as our French village house is unspeakably ugly by anyone’s criteria.

For the sake of our long suffering neighbours in their charming houses, who wonder what we have actually been up to inside Maison Grotty, we will be changing that very soon, if Trevor & I can agree on the front paint colours.

I have already decided, he is just lagging a little behind.

Renovation, Restoration, Navigation is today’s theme.sept13 155

Let’s start with the entrance to the village-above- a bit deceptive for two reasons -1) the camera angle has widened the road and lulls the casual visitor into a false sense of security as once you hits the old bridge, there is a whisker between the average car door and the walls; and 2) the plethora of signs make the village look like a hot, hip & happening little place (not true, thank goodness!) . Then we have some great street names, a  mix of the old  (Impasse du Souleillou) the unlikely (Rue de la Plage)  the informative (Impasse des Jardins) and the historically commemorative (Rue de la Republique)DSC02776???????????????????????????????








This is our corner of the south Languedoc Roussillon & we LOVE it

The Thursday Three- bluebells, shells and boats

???????????????????????????????Two pictures today-

Left- a 19th century watercolour painting with wonderfully evocative, glowing colours. I am fairly sure it was painted in Scotland evidenced partly by the drifts of bluebells, dark forests and distant mountains. It just has that Scottish feel(?!?) and bluebells are usually found only in Northern Europe.

I like landscapes with mountains in the background , reminds me of our adopted French home. The frame it came in was hideous, the one pictured was customised by moi. Right- A hand coloured French print of London. At least I am fairly sure that it is a print, although there are tiny indentations on it that look like the mark of a pen. I daren’t take it out of the frame to check as it is a bit fragile so I will never know .French print of London

Below- A moulded resin scallop shell from France . This will hopefully form the pediment to crown the decorative antique wood panels that we picked up in Bristol. These were taken from a Georgian bookshelf built into a late 18th Century house and no longer wanted. (?!?) These will frame our deeply inset shelf alcove in salon at French village house.

This moulding has a very French feel, the scallop shell design is a common motif on old furniture in France.scallop shell moulding

The panels may have to have a little added to the length, but I have every faith that Trevor can achieve this under my instruction!

Bonus Post- Le Tour de France , traversée de la Manche!

As the major logistical nightmare of getting a bunch of cyclists and their entourage across the channel kicks off, I thought I would share something from  my treasured photo collection .

This shows Le tour de France flying through the outskirts of our village, Campagne-sur-Aude, in July 2007  en route to the Pyrenees.Just amazingDSC00223.

On  an educational note-

“Le tour” means just that- a tour as in “around”someplace

“La Tour” means  the tower..

another little linguistic subtlety.

Episode 77- The sunny side of the street- “en plein soleil”

DSC02770renovation, restoration, orientation

A little advice for French house hunters……..

I like this photo, it shows a portion of the our French village house to the right- bathed in sunlight ( I can’t get it all into any shot, street too narrow) I advise you to consider aspect seriously and don’t be blinded by a pretty looking house in a lousy location (many have)

Amazing how a bit of sun improves the look of even our tatty, yet to be painted part-medieval  hovel.  We are fortunate to have a relatively straight frontage- the lean on the house near left is not a trick of the camera!

Bear in  mind we saw it on a grey April day-Scan0003jpg Right- about 3/4 of frontage-

It looked even worse in the faded photos in the estate agency, in fact it looked so unappealing that they wouldn’t even put it in the window. You will all  have to wait a wee bit longer for the amazing “reveal” as Trevor is convalescing and won’t be swinging any giant tools for the rest of this year. Like I said, things (life) happen.

If you are viewing property to buy, don’t make any decisions in the sunshine; viewing on a dull, dark day, preferably with a bit of monsoon rain thrown in to highlight the leaks is strongly advised. Trust me



The Thursday Three- Felt appliquée & Petit point embroidery

DSC02904Today’s gems are- Left- three small vintage (14cm square) petit-point tapestries in subtle colours and silver gilt frames


Felt appliqued  cushion hand made in Hungary




Below- the clocks are ticking.. toward what? and why DSC0290614:20 hours??????

Episode 76- Panic in the Pissoir!

sept13 093renovation, restoration, vegetation-September 2013

The trees are coming in!!!

Let me explain- the big house behind Maison Priest was owned by an English lady who  has decided to sell and had been unable to visit as often as she would like recently.

Her property backs right up to our little courtyard, which is bordered on one side by what used to be her barn but has now had the roof removed to make a courtyard (keep up) which involved someone sawing through the barn’s supporting cross beam (no comment). sept13 073

Over the last three years we have watched, from our terrace, the progress of this courtyard from needing a bit of weeding, to numerous little saplings taking root and finally establishing themsleves as serious trees-Right-May 2013

This is the South of France, we get lots of sun and lots of rain (mainly at night- very civilised) and everything grows at least three times faster than in UK; so now these rogue  trees have gone from peeping attractively but slightly worryingly over her wall- above right- to hanging over our courtyard wall and  looming alarmingly and spreading their branches almost as far over as our terrace. Bearing in mind that this is a roof terrace on a three storey house you can do the maths as to how high the trees actually got from zilch to majestic in just 36 months!-below left-September 2013 (spot the difference)

sept13 089We knew that if they  continued at this rate they would block the light from our morning sun trap corner, and worse, bits of our mutual  wall were dropping off  into our picturesque pissoir (regular readers will know that our other neighbours told us that when the house behind was the village cinema , our courtyard was used as the pissoir because it had the ancient gulley to the river running through it- hahaha!!!) sept13 096






So we reluctantly had to email our neighbour and ask her  if she knew how bad things were. She didn’t, of course, as she had not visited her house for some time and had to arrange for the trees to be exterminated ASAP. Please note, I would not normally advocate tree extermination, but if they had been allowed to expand further, the roots would have succeeded in achieving what several centuries of intermittent benign neglect has not- i.e. bringing down our house.

So- another Handy Hint for all you prospective and actual French house owners- Green Stuff grows super fast over here and unless you can be here full time or frequently the Triffids will take over!

Episode 75- Papier peint, oui ou non? to wallpaper or not to wallpaper

tulip roomI had absolutely no intention of using any wallpaper anywhere when we bought the French house. Almost all my recent decorative treatments have been paint based. I liked what was left of the wallpaper in the  tulip bedroom, but it was way beyond preserving & the other wallpapers in the house were dark and dreary and I have no wish to duplicate that look, though I am aware that wallpaper is both authentic and traditional in French interiors so  perhaps it can be re-introduced into your renovation projects with a bit of thought and care.

I analysed what I did like about this vintage tulip paper, and it is it’s simple, traditional hand printed design and the slightly pearly, light reflecting ground which keeps it from overwhelming the space. Other SENSIBLY priced wallpapers with this vibe include-Left- Emperor Paisley DSC02891and DSC02894-Right- Marchmont – by Laura Ashley-look out for sale prices.


I have bought this wallpaper- below- which has a linen ground, and is produced for the American market, but Laura Ashley have a version in other colourways and it is very reminiscent of the historic wallpapers produced in France in designs influenced by 18th century “chinoiserie” wall paintings created by hand in grander French homes (and in other european countries !) and the classic “indienne” designs, which appear in both antique and contemporary textiles all over France, with bird, animal, paisley and floral motifs . Right- this more contemporary “Indienne” is by Crown wallpapers DSC02528and again has that pearly/metallic sheen that will reflect light around the space.

I am using this  as a single feature wall behind the bed.









I also love this chic American paper for a grander house -Left- “Norwall Grand Chateau”from MonsterMarketPlace.comnorwall-grand-chateau-beige-grey-yellow-jacobean-wallpaper-gc29829-page-1-600x600 or -Right-this great Graham & Brown paper (grahambrown.com) which is a true chinoiserie50-763-main .







All the above are reasonably priced. I have found some lovely upmarket French traditional wallpapers but the prices are eye-watering. If you have a large chateau and budget to match, great, but this is the bargain basement, style on a shoestring blog!

The Thursday Three- three French interior design essentials!

$_1bbHow about these for village house in France?

From ebay, carved, painted and gilded  pale French blue corbels

How can the rest of the world  have  missed these? Someone has glued felt on the back to turn into bookends but I will be using them to support something as originally intended-        beam? shelf? lintel? doorway?…………………..$_1LOVE THEM






Below left- Lovely hand carved wood panels. The rose one is being mounted as pelmet for shower curtain in 2nd floor shower room. Leaf and  vine panel perfectly matches kitchen  dining room “buffet de cuisine”DSC02845

Below right-little hand printed cotton rug???????????????????????????????




Looks perfect in terrace bedroom on lime waxed floor and matches inside of my ballet pumps, have tried three other rugs here, none of which looked right. Love it so much I bought two (at 99p each!)

I am the queen of bargains

“One of those days in England”

20140622_161547With thanks to Mr Roy Harper, who provided the title, I would like to share  some great photographs  taken as Trevor and I had a healthy but sedate country walk along the canal by Stourton Junction where the Stourbridge canal meets the Staffordshire & Worcester canal in a beautiful setting.There is a seriously gorgeous white painted Georgian cottage down there that I wouldn’t mind finding in my Christmas stocking.

My son’s partner Anne (who has just attained her Midwifery degree after three tough years of hard work and no money) tagged along

Hats off to her, she got a first!!! We are so proud of you Anne.20140622_16355220140622_163243


The River Stour ambles alongside for a while then passes under the canal as it meanders over a tiny aquaduct not far from Stourton Castle.


There is still a Georgian brick bridge here  close to the road bridge constructed in the 20th century.

It was  lovely calm, warm, bright day and the views are wonderful over these quiet backwaters.

A perfect English summers’ day



A Georgian cottage in England- a look at our UK house (shoestring budget)

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Episode 74 – In which we reminisce on deceased vacuum cleaners..

kitchen dining arearenovation, restoration, suction (or lack of it)

We have  managed to wear out three vacuum cleaners since we started the French village house project.

The yellow one glimpsed left- in our scary kitchen/diner/guest bedroom was part of the three essential first purchases for our project, the other two necessities were a  pump for the sagging airbeds and a box of wine to get us through the initial push.

This vacuum died some time ago and has gone to the great déchèterie (rubbish dump) in the sky. It could not cope with the builder’s dust and rubble. So we bought a new, expensive one – though promoted as all singing, all dancing and capable of coping with “DIY waste” it didn’t. Perhaps our waste is worse? SAMSUNG

Despite it’s credentials this  second one is now sitting sadly in garage waiting to join it’s little yellow friend-right

The only vacuum cleaner to survive our long project is my son in law’s ancient upright Dyson. I guess it had lots of practice as it lived for years in his bachelor boy pad ( British readers think “Men Behaving Badly- tv show”)

It will pick up anything, but now only works for about ten minutes at a time , then it shuts itself  down and goes into a sulk until it’s core temperature has stabilised and cooled to normal range.


So, this messy and drawn out project has worn out two vacs and brought a third to it’s knees. I am very relieved to report that it has not worn out Trevor, as we feared.

He has three titanium stents and a balloon inserted yesterday by inspirational Portuguese/South African heart doctor. He will be back to work next month….


The Thursday Three- Light fittings and Lions (GGRRHH)

The annual vide-grenier in our French village has thrown up some real gems over the last few years.DSC02756

I purchased a pair of these Empire style  appliques (wall lights) from our Mayor. If he ever comes round for an aperitif, it will be interesting to see if he recognises them! These had been rewired for electric and to hold glass globes, but I am going to mix it up a bit with some simple little white shades with a red rose print.


“French Empire” describes a move toward classical style and cleaner lines in the very earliest part of the 19th century; I guess it’s English contemporary would be Regency style. These are going each side of bed in tulip bedroom and will act as bedside lights.

Monsieur Mayor’s stall was also the source of this enamelled wall light destined for terrace bedroom.DSC02757 (The bit of masking tape is to identify what goes where for the Electrician.) I have a 1920’s turquoise glass shade with little flower garland on to go with it. I like the fact that the evident wear and tear on it is genuine and not someone’s ill-judged stab at “shabby chic”  .

No idea how old it is, but again has been wired for the very earliest electric supply about a century ago and given a shade fitting more recently.

I suspect genuinely vintage! Just seen one near identical in French brocante chic interiors  magazine featuring very posh renovation/restoration.???????????????????????????????


Lastly, we have my old faithful cast iron doorstop inherited by me (along with, according to some of my relatives, some of her less socially acceptable tendencies) from my eccentric great aunt Mary, daughter  of great grandad Sheffield featured in “Looking back” post below. Was in terrible rusty state and lovingly restored by me.

Ideal for wedging open our big heavy front door in village house in France, which has a disconcerting tendency to close itself when you are part way through it.



Maybe the whole house leans- toward the sun like a sunflower…………..?

Gallery – Finds for French village house

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Looking back-over my shoulder

scan0014[1]Feeling nostalgic today so have posted some vintage pics.

I love black and white  photos. There is something spare but subtly expressive about the absence of colour. Snaps like this heralded the beginning of the casual shot and a significant shift toward the informal & the normal in photography for the masses in the 1960’s.


The ready availability of cheap cameras meant that  there was one in everyone’s holiday suitcase.

(In case you were wondering, I am the one in the hat; the little sister to my right is being a great support this week, Dad is no longer here but I am sure he is keeping his eye on me from somewhere )

I love sepia photos even more; they almost have the quality of a painting  for me. Maybe it’s the necessarily protracted posing   and the fact that back then, you dressed up to have your photo taken and had a choice of painted backdrops to pose against! My mother used to say that she dreamed in sepia- so here she is below-???????????????????????????????

Left to right top-

My glamorous maternal great aunt in 1920, shame she didn’t pass the effortlessly chic gene onto me!

My fierce, strong great grandmother and my  paternal great aunts Annie and Maude, whose antimacassars I used to straighten and whose exquisite embroidery, tatting and lace making left me with a lasting love of antique linens & hand embellished textiles.

My great uncle Frank Sheffield, boy soldier, who enlisted before his 16th birthday and died in France

Left to right below-My paternal great grandfather Sheffield, master decorator and later Mayor of Clayton-Le-Moors in Lancashire.

My mother and friends posing on her 1940’s hen weekend, in their home made swimming cossies!

( V racy back then)

My mother (left) and cousins (including Joan, daughter of the glamourpuss)

Episode 73- ” A light in dark places”

renovation restoration, considerations-

César Manrique

Apart from my admiration for Mr Manrique’s paintings and sculptures, our visit to his home/studio/gallery on the Canarian island of Lanzarote threw up some more inspiration for dealing with dark  places in style. http://www.cesarmanrique.com/fundacion_i.htm

I love the slightly retro James Bond feel of his 1960’s house, but aside from that and the great art of his friends and collaborators (including Picasso and Joan Miro) which is on display,20121123_121139


I like the way he has lightened these small  interior courtyard/ cave spaces, some of which have even less natural light coming in than our cave at the French village house, which will become a guest bedroom.

Although the cave is double aspect, it has low beamed ceilings and is 30 feet long, opening onto a little interior courtyard with high walls . We did consider a light well, but would have compromised the kitchen space and fittings immediately above. 20121123_120800


These photos show how Manrique  the artist mixed white with bright colours and the result is not at all oppressive. Love the idea of him and his  creative mates sitting around drinking wine and eating tapas ( and my favourite, patatas bravas!) till four in the morning!




The Thursday Three- Serendipity and waterlilies; les nénuphars

DSC02788 I have hung the first picture” Les nénuphars” (waterlilies) up at the French village house, in the terrace bedroom, which is not far off completion. This feels like a big step.

I found this in a troc (junk shop ) in Argeles-sur-Mer and not only is it a really lovely watercolour of a French house but it has all the  pale pastel 1920’s colours we are using in this bedroom- amethyst, birds egg/aqua, pale lime green and mimosa.

I thought the frame might be too dark, it looks like bird’s eye maple, but it works well.

This is a slightly fuzzy shot, but it does set the scene in here and also highlights my “boirofibred” wall which I am very please with & you can see a hint of the door and shower room accent colours.

As you might know, the Lloyd Loom stool I bought for the dressing table was half an inch too wide! but I found this “curiosity chic” vintage looking stool in faded grape linen  with luggage tag appliques in maisonsdumonde (www.maisonsdumonde.com) my favourite French home store and it looks perfect.    I don’t want to get too sugary in here, but these colours really work in this room, which is small and dual aspect so light enough to take something alongside the neutrals. The little stool was Trevor’s as a boy and ideal for reaching the Veluxes.

.DSC02804 DSC02803







I don’t want to wear out the fabric on the base of the stool by dragging it across the floor so I need to make two handles. Serendipitously, two years ago  I bought the vintage trim above, hand stamped with flowers and the word “Paris” which is perfect for the job.

If it wasn’t for recent events, I could say that everything is falling into place.

Episode 72- Hot, hot, hot!

charlieu-v1-lrenovation, restoration, conflagration

Trevor is now, as I predicted, bored to tears sitting at home whilst he awaits further tests.

Watching old episodes of Columbo & Murder She Wrote have lost their charm  and he is all kindled out, so he has decided to apply his forensic mind into researching the pros and cons of various range cookers for the French village house. We want a traditional design


Trevor being Trevor, he not only pores over the internet for hours on end but we have to go look at various shortlisted models too.

I left him for five minutes outside Laura Ashley yesterday (I went in for samples for my Interior Design course assignment but ended up spending half an hour designing a random lady’s entire living room around Gosford Cranberry wallpaper) When I came out he was drooling over an Aga display, I have to admit that the “pearl ashes” colour  (warm pastel French grey) is almost edible.chablis-v1-m(agaliving.com)

We are also considering Esse ranges (esse.com) and Lacanche (lacanche.co.uk) which we can easily get delivered in France. I do prefer to support our local businesses. These come in a range of mouthwatering colours and I am tempted to have one of these rather than white or cream


There is ONE minor consideration. Our kitchen is, of course, on the first floor, up a set of narrow twisty stairs…..

Bonus post-three more treasures

I should either be wrestling with one of my piles of files or doing my Advanced French homework before class tonight, but I am putting both off for  a quick bonus post right now???????????????????????????????.

Left-brass coal scuttle with wonderful patina         ( why does everyone seem to mis-pronounce that word now?)DSC01268 - Copy





Right- Petitpoint embroidery, images in style of classic “blue willow pattern” ceramics. Not coming with us to France so has gone to appreciative homeDSC01143




Left- very simple, very classy linen tablemats and napkins, make me think of meals on the terrace under blue skies with the sound of the river rushing by.,, for the village house

Everything is going to be fine, I have just been blessed by an ex- monk…


The Thursday Three- Three colours : Red (Trois couleurs: Rouge)

An early Thursday Three as tomorrow is shaping up to be a very full day.

20131013_151935Today’s gems have a red theme. First we have this piece of fabric which amuses me enormously, just look at the two grumpy birds! Looks like it should have  a little speech bubble (suggestions welcome)

It is by GP & J Baker, a UK firm  who have been creating iconic prints since 1884

As well as this fragment, I have another on which the previous owner has lovingly embroidered each flower and bird in matching coloured wools. I cannot decide if it falls into the kitsch category but I like it and am planning to display in dining area.

Right-  a small linen mat with handmade lace edging and embroidery. The deer image is an iconic Art Deco motif and could date it but the style distracts me slightly. It doesn’t “feel” English   anyway.DSC02848

Last of all we have this red linen mat with simple white embroidery, which cost me 5p  many years ago and has been waiting for the right room and the right use for decades! ???????????????????????????????


Episode 71- In which I make a few decisions…

20140531_190718Renovation, restoration, visualisation- It’s June 1st, the sun is blazing down outside and I am  feeling  much more positive and determined to be proactive: I will meet the next obstacle head-on.

Decided to get into French mode this weekend as that always cheers us up. My grandson stayed over & I showed him the photos of the new loo in the shower room at the French house , he was suitably  impressed.


We cracked a bottle of Southern French vin rosé, though I bitterly begrudge  paying English prices for something I could buy for under three euros in the village.( should the thought police be checking this out, the grandson did not partake)

Today I am cooking scallops with pasta, pesto, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes for  dinner- a few black olives too I think.

I am sorting out and putting on ebay anything we don’t need now and isn’t going to France with us.( I bought some oatmeal linen blinds thinking I could make them work with inward opening windows, but I can’t!)

This means refining exactly how I am going to do the rooms and what is going into them. This has been a slow organic process as have changed my mind a few times. My usual modus operandi is to buy  things I love that feel right for house and then decide 1) where they are going and 2) what needs to be done to get them looking right. The house & I are deciding the look between us.

Gloriously OTT  chateau  chic will NOT work, nor will an overly rustic pastiche, or the screamingly  bright American version of French  Country with bright red, blue and yellow thrown into the pot.sept13 103

Colours need to be subtle for this house, and  a linking colour/theme has finally been set as only about 125m square in all, however, both sides of the house have a distinctly different character which creates a challenge as far as a cohesive style goes. The chalky palette in the terrace bedroom, which is closest to completion, reflects that it is the newest bit ( 80 years old) You may detect a hint of 1920’s styling, but more Chinoiserie chic than Art Deco.

DSC02650These perforated zinc doors from an Edwardian house were going to be the boiler cupboard front  but now I think will use to create a “garde manger ” (pantry/food store cupboard) All the wood in here will have a light finish, no heavy treacly varnishes, and at least half the cupboards/furniture will be painted in a neutral  matte finish. I am edging toward a pale stone colour  which exists only in my head at present.sept13 125  Here is the kitchen now- don’t laugh..

Episode 70- part two, where are we now? five “facts”

Renovation , restoration, stagnation…


I am really rambling now. If a picture paints a thousand words, then the photo posted for episode 70 (part one- below) might well confirm the current state of play on the France project :-

1) We still haven’t agreed about what to do with the grotty kitchen ceiling- we are definitely putting off  a lot of decisions now and not just because Trevor can’t DIY

2) We are drinking vin rosé in  half pint glasses- in our defense I would just like to clarify that these were spritzers!

3) The dining table is still has  horribly marmaladey  orange  varnish finish-see above (1) I have lost all capacity to make decisions about anything relating to France at the moment

4) My Persian rug is getting trashed- But I am fed up of living in a building site so it is staying out

5) Trevor does not look ill- It is all unreal 

Well, I have answered my own questions from Episode 62… I just knew something was going to happen to thwart us further. As my friend Pam once said, being telepathetic is a right drag……