The Thursday Three- “un peu tôt”

???????????????????????????????There  is an interesting rapport réciproque” or mutually beneficial exchange of antique and vintage pieces between the UK and France that is currently enjoying another surge in popularity right now.

Nostalgic fabrics, textiles and homewares with a vintage French feel are everywhere in the UK and in France, one of my favourite affordable French shops  http://www.maisonsdumonde.com has been making an English cottage style armchair in a range of linen covers for a couple of seasons.

I noticed last year that they are running British vintage style themed features in their catalogues and French buyers are looking for quintessential pieces to create that English country cottage or 19thc gentlemen’s club ambience.

A number of recent French interiors mags have featured these circular white cotton crochet cushions-above- which are still easily found in the UK and  look great in any period interior.???????????????????????????????

Genuine faded French vintage textiles like these square pillowcases -left- are much sought after by Brits.Unfortunately this is pushing prices up on both sides of the channel , so I am now widening my searches in France and the UK to include vintage clothing with great prints  that I can use for cushion covers and pillows, like this painterly linen-below.

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I love the idea of  French chic finding it’s way to Britain and British vintage finding it’s way into stylish French homes .

So, those of you renovating and/or restoring rooms  on both side of “La Manche” keep looking for those perfect home pieces that make the difference between so-so and sensational.

Vive l’entente cordiale!

The Thursday Three- country cottage prints and classical engravings

DSC01604I am fairly sure that this unsigned print is from a watercolour by artist and illustrator Helen Allingham. Whilst generally known as the “country cottage” artist (her work is so detailed  that it is studied by architectural historians ), I have a soft spot for her landscapes which are an amazing evocation of the English countryside. Take a look at  http://www.helenallingham.com. On a pioneering note, she was the first woman to be admitted to full membership of the staunchly all male Royal Watercolour Society in the late 19th century.

Apparently she travelled to France to paint, but I have been unable to track down any of  these pictures, but I would really like a print  from one of those!

As far as prints go, I rarely buy mass produced ones unless they have real merit and quality paper as I prefer original artwork. However I have posted a few exceptions in earlier blogs and today I showcase this pair of large engravings in classical style and  good, old frames. They depict a pair of royal princes dressed up as a fisherman and a hunter respectively, real kid’s stuff and good fun at the time I expect.

I like their solemn role play faces, a look I recognise in my similarly aged grandson.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

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Why buy in the Languedoc Roussillon? Part one-country village life?

TitleTen true reasons why we bought a village house here in the Aude region of Southern France

1) For a small price we can live in an ancient village steeped in history and local culture

2) We can live simply and cheaply and minimise consumption of precious resources

3) We feel better when the sky is blue for at least 300 days a year, and the temperatures are several degrees higher than in gloomy BritainDSC01343

4) Because even though we are atypical and a bit quirky, we  fit right in

5) The pace and rhythm of life suits us

6) We have amazing views and walks and architecture on our doorstepDSCF0087

 

7) Around every corner is a photo opportunity

8) I feel that I will be able to paint again in this place

9) Because one-upmanship  is rare here (amongst the French people that is!) and people value a bit of diversity and enjoy the simple pleasures of life

10) The moment we step over this bridge, we are in a different worldDSC0015820140727_175347

The Thursday Three- It’s all in the detail

???????????????????????????????Whilst we are a still a long way from finishing touches and putting the personal into our French village house, I am already mentally editing and allocating our stuff room by room for when the fun bit starts.

Whilst “finishing” or “dressing” a room is a no-no to me (unless it’s for a photo shoot) and I firmly believe that rooms should evolve over time to suit the folk who live there, I do think that the little details speak as strongly as  the grand piano or the priceless painting or the designer sofa in creating a mood.DSC03012

Be assured that we have none of the above, this is still the bargain basement blog, but you get my drift.

Character is created by putting the things you use and the things you love where everyone in your world can see themDSC03011

 

Above left-family heirloom books, boxes  and bits- all with a story

Right-collection of vintage and modern repro chandelier drops

Left- antique satin stitch hand embroidery edging

Every possible convenience?

20140727_175232So.. what do we think this little building down by the river Aude might be?

We found it in September during one of our evening promenades though I am not sure how we managed to miss it before.

It’s not a look out post (no windows, just a decorative metal air vent)

It’s not an electricity substation (no big cables going in)

A hut for the fishermen  to pull on their chest high waders?

The Rafter’s fast food bar?

No..

The outlet pipe  straight into the river gives the game away. I think we may be looking at Campagne- sur- Aude’s public conveniences.

Now we don’t have the trauma of having to use a toilet that isn’t fixed to the floor and flushed with a bucket it’s no longer of personal interest, but in the dark days of earliest renovation and restoration at the French village house it might have been very, very  tempting………………..   20140727_175245

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The Thursday Three- it’s curtains…………….

 

DSC03008  because we are near the end of the French village house project (and because I am obsessed with textiles)  I am applying what is left of my mind to CURTAINS!

I bought these chunky cotton canvas ones- Left & below- with French grey/blue and aqua stripes on white for the hall. We have an old wooden front door which I want to keep , so we will require draught exclusion properties.

The antique early 19thc botanical  drawing is one of a pair that will be hung in the hall also.

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The yellow and white curtains-Below left- are a vintage Dorma design called “soleil”(very apt!) and I have chosen these to bring in some sunlight to the cave bedroom which is the darkest room in the house and needs all the light-reflecting tricks we can introduce. The fabric is a lovely crisp cotton self- stripe with a feathery overprint and little rose medallions . Gathered up it looks like an 18thc  toile.$_57

Because these curtains are only about 72 inches long, I am adding a deep bottom border in this heavy linen union stripe fabric (Awning stripe Camomile-  http://www.lauraashley.com ) which I had in their 30% off sale$(KGrHqF,!pUE7BcvgQHkBPj78YsZZg~~60_57- This introduces the pale French grey again

 

 

 

 

I have been looking for antique/vintage taupe and white linen curtains (or monogrammed sheets that I could adapt) for the salon for ages, but the few still about are commanding exorbitant prices so I was very happy to find this pair at http://www.laredoute.com reduced from £158 to £38 in salefrench linen monogrammed curtains

They look authentic, French , simple, gorgeous, and will maximise the light coming into this sunny south west facing room. Loving the embroidery324447694_0_CL_2_324447694-54dee6e8-e355-4e46-9cd6-20badc330e3e

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All curtains will be finished slightly overlong as I like that tumbled-on-the floor effect and it adds to the insulation factor

Episode 91- In which I wrestle with renovation & restoration related guilt

???????????????????????????????Renovation, restoration, reflection….

So,  I found this old photo of Trev with signs of his original brown hair colour  still evident and realised that, in just seven years of double property renovation & restoration projects  in the south of France, his hair has turned white!

Is this as a result of living with the renovation stress-witch? (me)

Did the herculean task of trying to drive two projects 1,000 miles away in another country give him a heart condition?( also driven by me)

 

Well maybe not option two, as his latest check ups  show that his heart is fine, it was just one ****ed up artery that nearly killed him this year. I still wonder if he would have been so picky and driven about these projects  if I had not been so obsessed with both the detail and the final flourishes. I wonder if he wishes he had picked a partner  with a less acute vision of what she wants from the village house and the seaside apartment?20140917_195525

Well, you ask, why don’t you ask him? clearly you haven’t met the man or you would know what a silly question that is …………………………..

On a less soul-searching note, the “jackandjill” shower room is bloody bright now with two Veluxes and a pale floor. We will need sunglasses to enter when we have painted the joists and boarded out bits (just off) white  shower room in progress

 

 

Do I paint the vintage wrought iron wash stand to match the antique mirror?

I think I need a break from any house related decisions for a bit  or I will go grey too

 

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Episode 90- The Pipework of Doom-The Return ( down the drain)

023Renovation , restoration, evacuation…

Regular readers may recall that we had a plethora of pipework down the front wall of the salon already, dropping from the room above which had a basin and shower ( but no toilet, naturally)

Short of dropping a waste pipe down the front of the house ( an absolute no-no  given the fact that I am trying to LOSE all the draped utility feeds that decorate the front of the house like grotty necklaces) the only solution I could come up with was to drop a new waste pipe inside the front wall from the shower room and insulate and box this in. I patiently pointed out to my many detractors (including the plumber, initially) that this scenario of special utility duct spaces was quite acceptable in modern buildings  and hardly an issue. ???????????????????

It was dead space anyway and we had to visually lose the existing water feed pipes and the doorway to the kitchen was over four feet wide and we could stand to sacrifice a bit of that to run the new pipe across and down through the kitchen floor to what will be utility and wash room below.

sept13 120(2)Unfortunately the new pipe from the loo dropped down an inch too far left to allow me to hang the pelmet  symmetrically.

Was this an issue for Trev ? no!

Was this an issue for me ? yes!

After DEEP thought, I came up with the idea of continuing the boxing in of the pipe horizontally along the whole front wall and mounting the pelmet slightly lower, within the new framework.

This way it was central over the window and the new structure  literally looks structural as it echoes the existing boxed in beam that runs parallel with it as above. Genius..

???????????????????????????????We had a few teeny, tiny teething problems; like the curve in the ceiling, which has very old original chestnut lathes and lime plaster which I would like to preserve, like the  curve in the front wall  which I think was constructed by medieval myopics under the influence of  strong ale and as usual we have to balance what LOOKS straight with what is ACTUALLY straight.

Trev is inordinately proud of the part finished product of his new plasterboarding skills and I am proud of Trev’s first post cardiac episode DIY

The day after Thursday Three

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What are these little gems?

Left & Right-

Crochet wool with silk linings, at about 9″ x 6.5″ way too small to be nightdress cases.

Maybe made for handkerchiefs  or funky clutch bags?

I have to find a use as they are in terrace bedroom and la cave accent colours…

???????????????????????????????  Below- My latest  picture purchase, wonderfully simple hand painted image of two cranes, signed by artist and in a lacquer frame. Beautiful proportions and colours- for le salon.

Right-DSC03003 This beautiful piece is in silk with an intricate hand knotted fringe. It is the most wonderful jewel shade with a sort of classical  design border. I should part with it in the spirit of my current “purge” of anything that is surplus to requirements of French house but it is hard to part with pieces like this.

 

 

Always the collectors conundrum……

 

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Episode 89- A Surreal September in the South of France

Renovation, restoration, hallucination…September 2014

French country vide-greniers & brocantes are very civilised.

1) There is no requirement to get up at the crack of dawn to get the bargains and…

2) I have yet to witness mass hordes of dealers descending to fight over  stuff before the stall holder has even unpacked . This used to happen all the time when I did antique markets and car boots in UK and I found it extremely uncivilised.

I left Trevor in the land of Nod  and wandered up to the Mairie square about 8:30 to find a very leisurely unpack going on.

Most stall holders were passing round fresh coffee and the odd pastis ( to keep out the cold, it was only 30 degrees) and eating  croissants. I found a couple of treasures and had a little chat. People actually asked what I might be looking for and if they didn’t have it somewhere in a box, helpfully  alerted the next stall to rummage for rideaux (curtains) which were my main mission as I have one more window to dress. I also spotted what looked like the perfect washstand for my Chinese basin (see last Thursday Three) in the shower room at village house and the nice lady agreed to hold it whilst I went home for breakfast. I love this place.

It was a beautiful warm, sunny Campagne morning. Having spotted a few old tools earlier that I thought Trev would like, we  both wandered back  an hour or two later.

???????????????????????????????As we walked up the street  a French brass band, spanning at least three generations  struck up a rousing opening number.

We stopped and looked at each other with growing recognition, followed by a total temporary suspension of belief as they broke into a stirring and surreal version of “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys ???????????????????????????????

Thank you Les Z’O Doigts of Les Hauts de L’Aude for making my month.

Featured blog on InterNations.org

20140728_111524Hi guys

I have been lucky enough to have my blog selected by InterNations.org for their French section.

They have members in many countries and offer a good support network and social events etc, so if you like their philosophy of  connecting global minds to the benefit of all, follow the link on my blog or click the link below for my featured “interview!”

 

http://www.internations.org/france-expats/guide/recommended-expat-blogs-france-15621/gill-blog-sur-aude-15

The Thursday Three- “Any old iron?” some scrap it, some give it house room……

???????????????????????????????Three French wrought iron pieces today- tat or treasure? you decide

Left- dinner bell for dining room- My daughter will have fun with that, she has a thing about bells ever since she was “number ten bell”  in the sonic line up at primary school

Found at our annual vide-grenier??????????????????????????????? in France where I also found this table-Right- which reminds me of an antique washstand. Trevor will adapt top to take my chinese bowl basin and there is plenty of room for waste and plumbing.

Will be fixed to wall in shower room with two metal brackets, simple, stylish.

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Lastly-Wrought iron and glass pendant lamp for reading corner in cave bedroom

All quintessentially French

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It takes two days to put up a pelmet in France?

Renovation, restoration, frustration

 

wpid-wp-1410610737874.jpg

wpid-wp-1410533641389.jpgIt has taken two days to put my antique wood pelmet up.
First there was my announcement that it must have a pole for voiles and a track for curtains (curved at the ends of course) that made Trevor’s eyes glaze over.The pelmet is hand made  and carved and very decorative, but Trevor does not care about that, he cares that the wood is b****y hard to cut and drive screws into, that it has to be mounted on  a literally rock hard stone wall and that there is only one choice of “flexible” curtain track in M. Bricolage, and sadly, it is not very flexible.
Screws provided with this track will not even consider going into this hardwood (oak  I think). So, then we manage to snap our only  appropriate drill bit  and then we trail back to M.Bricolage for better screws, then we break to eat my pot-au-feu and drink wine and then it goes dark and we have no light in the salon yet, so we may as well sit on terrace and stargaze ….
Then we get up the following day and put the damn thing together.Then we argue about whether it is straight or not.

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This is a constant point of contention as nothing in the French house is straight or level. We try the spirit level but straight according to that looks wrong. We decide to go by eye( my eye as I am only person likely to be gazing at pelmet in awe).
By now Trevor is on point of mutiny……
Does anybody else live like this or is it just me?

The Thursday Three

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I am having a bit of a ‘mare getting camera on my phone to use flash, so I hope these photos aren’t too dark.
Top- linen mix kitchen/diner curtains.New, although they certainly look authentically vintage!wpid-wp-1410428597242.jpg
Middle- heavy linen with  folk embroidery for bed cushions tulip bedroom.
Bottom- first piece bought for French house, Osborne & Little fabric made up into curtains by French designer and found by me in charity shop- wayhay!!
Oh and it is 40° here in the south of France……wpid-wp-1410428837903.jpg

 

Episode 88- in which I go a bit GaGa and entertain the natives

sept13 084renovation, restoration, mortification……………….July 2014

Yes this is a “morning after the night before photo”, and no, I don’t normally look this rough….(she lied)

I know, I should know better at my age, but there are a few things that I can’t resist and having a bit of a boogie to a really good live band is one of them.

It runs in the family, my mother, sister & daughter all have the same inclination( or it goes back to  my groupie days………….)

So, on the third weekend in July every year, our village in France has a three day festival, boules, fishing competitions, rides, stalls, vide-grenier, food, wine and  a local band or two  – this year it was Mission and they were REALLY good.

I could not persuade Trev or my sensible British neighbours to get on the dance floor, where half the village youth were giving it some welly, so I bopped over there on my own.

I enjoyed interpreting a couple of Lady Gaga  covers and came sashaying back to my friends only to find my French builder and his family stood with Trev and politely applauding.

(O…….M……..G………..!)

20140728_111739

Episode 87- French street names in a little village in the Languedoc

renovation, restoration, appellation

We have a number of ancient street names here in Campagne-sur-Aude. Perhaps because this is a backwater frozen in time, we seem to have avoided the mass renaming of streets that occurred following the French Revolution. The history of the village is in these ancient walkways and names. Above-header- “Promenade du Chateau Fort”- is the circular walk around the fortified chateau/church in the heart of the village. This was the moat a few hundred years ago.20140727_174656

Left- Rue de la Radellerie-“rafting street”-runs down to the banks of river Aude and  presumable is the spot where the rafters launched. We think the river was much higher years ago before  the   dam was built upstream at Quillan20140727_175128

Right Rue du Pountet -“Little bridge ” street in the Occitan language, also leads down to the river and the site possibly of another, older bridge.

Left- Rue d’Occitanie-“Occitanie” being the region where the Occitan languages are spoken. Note the strong yellow render, one of our builder’s favourite shades on one of his house renovation projects!20140727_17501520140727_175012

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right above- Place des Templiers-

“Square of the Templars”. And finally, below, we have a relatively recent  street name ( only  a couple of centuries old)-Rue de la Republique-DSC00061

The Thursday Three – antique crochet, vintage embroidery, perfect finds

???????????????????????????????A late post today, it has been a crazy couple of weeks.

I finally found a perfect shower curtain for the French village house -left, Sainsbury’s home collection- http://www.sainsburys.co.uk . It picks up the pale fig ground colour on the walls above the painted panelling in the top floor shower room.DSC02974

I have also been doing a strict edit on all my collection of vintage textiles & pieces that are destined for the house.

 

 

If it doesn’t have a definite place in France, then it is going on ebay (see my ebay  link on sister site http://www.coteetcampagne.com )

Going through stuff from my collection that has been packed away for years is great, a bit like Christmas because you never know what gems there might be in that big box in the attic/garage! I have rediscovered  -right above- this beautiful 1950’s cotton and silk voile Indian scarf with embroidered motifs. And -right- this stunning heavy white cotton bedspread executed in simple crochet stitches and with a 19thc laundry mark .??????????????????????????????? I like it because it isn’t fussy or twee and it will bring texture  and contrast to the smooth cotton bedlinen and antique white linen embroidered pillows in the tulip bedroom.

This is on track to be the classiest renovation and restoration project of the decade!

 

 

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

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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 embroidered 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

http://www.rangemaster.co.uk

Rose-taupe, Latte,  Royal Pearl

Yum…yum…yum….

Classic-Deluxe_90_Dual-FuelClassic-Deluxe_90_Dual-Fuel_LatteClassic-Deluxe_90_Dual-Fuel_Royal-Pearl

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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

smeg-vintage-ranges-cc9gpx-and-cc9gax-with-classic-vintage-cortina-hoods

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!

 

20140727_174705

 

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, beautiful, hand made piece  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

wp-1406299579749

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.
Gill

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

 

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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 outside 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, replace the sagging lead painted shutters and fit the “petits balcons” that have been languishing in the garage for five years.

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.