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.



About coteetcampagne

Artist, period home maker, renovator, restorer, Francophile. My mission is to save the old stuff, one beautiful piece at a time
This entry was posted in Renovation and restoration diary- France, What we did, how we did it and what we used and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. Osyth says:

    Really good advice and guidance. I am amazed that the Church and Fort aren’t listed. It would be interesting to find out why … possibly just that the village haven’t approached the Architects who will be based in your Prefecture as I’m sure you know. Our mayor has a very close relationship with the chaps in Aurillac and as a result is gradually getting his way over other buildings being renovated even though they aren’t monuments historique.


    • I think Campagne, and it’s inhabitants, exist in their own time-slip bubble, which is one of the many things I like about the village.
      Our new (4 years ) Mayor has been very proactive in cleaning up and organising the village and getting funding for projects, but I think that they wear their incredible history lightly and don’t see it as anything exceptional.
      I must admit that when I first set foot in Campagne, I could not believe that such a jaw dropping chunk of historic semi-rural charm did not mean inflated house prices!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        Of course, what is important is that the villagers are happy. I think in our case, the village was beginning to die and the mayor (17 years in office now) took the initiative to give it the ability to attract artists and artisans who in turn would attract tourists. Different set of circumstances and I can only say Chapeau to your village for being able to really live in the old way without being bullied into the 21st Century 🙂


      • Well, it’s surviving and we still have a school, a post office, a bar and a shop, but I know a little forward thinking may be needed in the future. I can only hope that these little villages will retain what attracted us to them in the first place when they have to change

        Liked by 1 person

      • Osyth says:

        Tout a fait! It’s a hard balance and I hate to see the rise of supermarkets because it is the eve of destruction in my view 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. bizzyella says:

    Beautiful photos. So they care about the inside of your house? I am fixing up one of the nicer houses in a conservation area. They still only care about the outside. I agree about hiring someone who knows how to deal with the building department. My architect probably paid for himself just by working with them to reduce VAT charges. Plus, really, in these tiny towns, sooner or later you’ll probably get to know the mayor. Just tell yourself it’s worth it, in the long run, to do things correctly now.


    • Very true, do it once and do it right is my motto, I don’t want to be twiddling with the house in my extreme old age.
      Because internal work, particularly “habitable ” space may now be affected by the latest planning & building permissions it is wise to check and saves a lot of grief later.
      As our local historical buildings are not yet under the direction of Batiment de France we do not have to tick that box, but we still have to consider, along with getting permits where necessary what external work, colours for render & shutters etc will be in line with the views of the Mayor & his committee.here. Our latest Mayor has done a great deal for Campagne & I have great respect for him anyway.
      Unlike your lovely house, our house isn’t nice, pretty or even cohesive externally (yet) so the outside work is going to lead to a dramatic improvement!

      It seems to me that those who run into ongoing and/or retrospective issues with work on their house are those who either do the job themselves or don’t use a local expert.


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