A French property renovation - something I have always dreamed of. Well Denise Liebermann is living her property renovation dream in France! In her free time she pops across to France with her family to work on their long term French property renovation.
Denise and her family took on the French property renovation four years ago in a terrible run-down state from an elderly French Gianan woman who had lived there all her married life and had not been able to maintain the French property. I spoke to Denise to find our more…
About the French Property Renovation
“The property consists of a main house; if you can imagine an L shape, the house is in the corner of the L with two barns attached on either side. To access the house you have to go into one of the barns. When we first went there we were immediately hooked because it was so different to anything else we’d seen and believe me, we saw some sights!
This house was set in a tiny hamlet, 5 kms in-between two small towns. It was in a National Park so we knew no major development could take place. It was also about 45 minutes from Limogue so flights from the UK weren’t a problem. As it’s about 17 hours door to door we knew we didn’t want to drive, France is much bigger than you realise until you start looking at maps!
When we first saw the house there was a huge roaring fire. Although it needed a lot of work, for us this French property renovation just felt right. It was only as we were leaving I realised we hadn’t been shown a bathroom, it was in the barn! Still is in fact, another job on the list!
When did you start renovating the French property?
The first thing we did was get a French electrician in - the wiring was hanging off the walls like spaghetti. My husband, two sons, (16 & 18) and I can do just about everything needed in renovation EXCEPT electrics; too risky to take a chance on. I remember at this early stage trying to tell the electrician where we wanted all our plug sockets, it was a hovel - strong vision and belief in what we could do was definitely required!
I remember one of our first nights in there - Martin tripped the lights. He asked me to look outside to see if they’d gone off in the street - we were in total blackness! I was panicking thinking what an awful start, we hadn’t even met our French neighbours yet and already we’d plunged them into darkness. After a restless night thinking that we’d sorted our lights out but nobody else’s, we realised that that’s how dark it always is!! With no light pollution the blackness is almost a brick wall.
What other renovations have you been doing?
The main room is huge with rock walls and a tiled floor. There wasn’t much to do in there until the electrician cut through the stones for his wiring - now it looks like there’s been a massive earth quake! We ripped the fireplace out and took it back to the original stone, then just added a huge wood burner, it now looks amazing.
The kitchen had a small room with a stair case next to it, on closer inspection, the floor was rotten, the ceiling was ready to cave in and the walls had been stippled with lumpy red, green and yellow paint! Add running grease marks down every wall and I think you might start to get an idea of how bad it was. Her fridge had actually fallen through the floor!
We took the wall dividing the two rooms down and ripped the rotten stair case out - there were some good bits of oak we were able to salvage for the French property renovation but most of it was fire fodder! We took the floor up and replaced it with pine boards. We then took the ceiling down and replaced it with pine slat which we’ve now painted white. Today it’s a million miles away from what it was - an agar helped seal the country feeling, it’s beautiful now.
Upstairs was even more of a disaster. Madame had sectioned rooms off with what seemed like large Lego bricks - the walls rocked if you pushed them. She’d also pine-cladded every ceiling - it was only when we ripped it all out we realised how high the apexes went and what a difference it made to open them up. We redesigned the spaces into three bedrooms and space for a bathroom, (eventually but not yet!). It took over a year to insulate and baton all the ceilings and we’ve only just finished plastering them. We also rendered most of the walls apart from a couple which we took back to the stone (after we got all the green gloss paint off the stones!).
What’s next for the French Property renovation?
In four years we’ve only had about five weeks a year to cram all of this in! It’s been absolutely exhausting at times.
At the moment the walls are half boarded, it’s work in progress! The floors upstairs are also in an awful state so we’re considering options for those.
The barns are there for future development if we decide to go that way, but at the moment finishing the house is more than enough. The French property renovation has been a fantastic family project though, our sons could virtually rebuild a house from scratch now I think!
Advice those considering a French Property renovation
We have faced some issues, for instance, do you have any idea how many diameters of copper pipe they have in France?! Nothing as standard as we have here - I’d be sent off to get a certain elbow joint or something and have to go to three different places, taking a full afternoon because we’re in the middle of nowhere!
Also, paint is really expensive out there - I don’t know why. If you use the budget brands it takes about 8 coats to cover anything because it’s so transparent.
Communication has obviously been a challenge. It’s very rural and no one speaks English so trying to buy materials has sometimes turned into a nightmare. One time we wanted PVA to put on the walls before we rendered them. They actually laughed at us, saying that’s not what they do in France, they just tape the joint up and crape (a thick plaster stuff almost like external render)! We were keen to work in the French way but sometimes we overruled them - we brought PVA (cole in French) from England!!!
Huge thanks to Denise for telling us all about their French property renovation.