Updated: Feb 28, 2019
On the chateau grounds are various outbuildings or ‘dependences’ as they call them in France. As we were unlikely to have any need to house cows - or carriages (although a few footmen would certainly be useful) we thought it would be a good idea to convert some of these outbuildings into self-contained accommodation. Not only would it make good use of these spaces and could generate income that could go towards the annual chateau upkeep as it does take a few dollars to keep the old dame looking good.
We decided to start with the barn and our initial thoughts were to create a number of smaller studio style spaces. But, upon doing some research we felt creating a larger space that could accommodate couples travelling together or families was a better option for the barn and there were plenty of other spaces we could still convert into smaller accommodation options. By turning it into a proper 3-bedroom house we also opened up the potential for longer stays or renting out as permanent accommodation.
The barn is a two-storey structure and we started with the upstairs level which was a hodge-podge of small rooms with very scary bathroom facilities that were all in a very dilapidated state. It had obviously been modified for human habitation over the years but underneath it was still a building originally built to house animals and so the work required may have been a tad more than anticipated. Optimistically I had thought, “well at least the electricity and water are already connected” but that proved to be somewhat of an illusion as complete rewiring was required as was lots of plumbing to accommodate additional bathrooms. There were damp issues to resolve so one of the first jobs was to replace the beyond repair slate roof and ensure the building was watertight. The floors were a myriad of different levels and rotten in some places with the majority of walls and ceilings constructed of every material imaginable, some of which disintegrated when you touched them. I was also keen to uncover the beautiful oak beams hidden behind the cladding so the building ended up being pretty much stripped back to the bones. But what fabulous bones they were and we realised the space was going to be even more amazing than we had imagined with amazing views from every window.
The good news was we didn’t need any building permits but were required to ensure all work complied with current building requirements re thickness of the insulation and plasterboard etc. The company engaged to do the work seemed to interpret this as covering up everything that looked old whereas I wanted to keep as many of the rustic features as possible. This meant plaster boarding around beams and window alcoves and accepting that not everything was entirely square. Close supervision and daily negotiations were required to ensure our instructions were followed. Unfortunately, we had to sacrifice the fireplace as it was not safe and the cost to rectify wasn’t justified. The to-do list was huge but our budget was not so we also had to try to be as resourceful as possible.
We used the same woodblock tiles (as used in the chateau kitchen) where possible, repaired the existing tomette tile floors in one of the bedrooms and entry and kept the existing tiles in the salon/dining area. Paint wise we used Little Greene French Grey throughout as being super reflective it goes with any colour you put against it. Using simple inexpensive bathroom tiles from local suppliers Leroy Merlin/Castorama and buying the majority of fittings from Reuters, an on-line plumbing supplier whose prices are around 50-70% of what you pay in the store, then left some scope to have some bespoke vanities made. Our Plumber was very surprised as to how much you could save by buying on-line. The kitchen was from Mobalpa Laval who did the chateau kitchen and once again they did a fantastic job.
Once the building works were finished there was the challenge of furnishing the space and adding all those touches that make a space feel special and that guests appreciate. Fluffy towels and crisp linen only get you so far. Similar to the chateau the interior is a combination of new, old, repurposed and Sunday brocante market and Emmaus finds. We were, however, limited by what would fit up the stairs, through the narrow salon doorway or via the salon windows and a few items- no matter how hard I pushed and squeezed- just didn’t fit. I am loving my visits to Emmaus (Frances version of an op shop) – you never quite know what you are going to find but you always bring home some treasures. It’s almost become a weekly outing. The old trunks in one of the bedrooms were from a woman I met at Laval Emmaus who was selling up and moving to Spain. Sheets and towels are from UK linen supplier Richard Haworth who have fab hotel quality linen, the bed valances were made by myself whilst the toile de jouy quilts came from a lovely market in Honfluer Normandy.
Personally, I think it all came together well and has the ideal mix of rustic and luxe and I’ll continue to add more artwork and decoration as I find it. All our guests last summer loved the space and so it was well worth all the work and effort. We are now taking bookings for the 2019 summer. You can find further information on our website www.ourfrenchcountryhome.com and don’t forget to follow our adventures on instagram.