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Renovating the old French farmhouse – the start

As a project manager in a previous life I am inclined towards being organised. The Other Half – despite having been in several jobs that have required it – is not remotely organised. This can be a bone of contention when it comes to the work schedule in our French farmhouse – and that is putting it lightly.

In our approach to this massive renovation job in France – I favour lists, target dates, milestones and tick boxes – he likes to be creative, a free spirit, laissez-faire.

When we first started to renovate the house, we tried it my way. I made lists, created tables of jobs with dates for completion and dependencies. For instance we couldn’t install a bathroom until the septic tank was dealt with, we couldn’t set up the tools we needed to do the work until a floor was laid in the workshop – that sort of thing. He thought I was being bossy and controlling. He does not take well to instruction or, frankly, suggestions.

So, we tried it his way. We would buy materials – get them home and on occasion store them for weeks, months, years in some cases when it became apparent that we couldn’t progress some jobs – until others were done.

My French House the hall - the reality
The hall – the reality

Eventually we worked it out – after a fair amount of arguments and trial and error. I have my huge book of work schedules, very detailed, every job that needs doing on a room by room basis. I release the work in stages onto smaller worksheets and try not to be bossy and order things to be done! I do all the targets, dependencies, timelines etc quietly and in private and I don’t bother him with them – I don’t use any fancy online tools that he can’t use. I use simple excel and it works perfectly.

I also act as chief ‘gofer’ – go-fer this and go-fer that. He is firmly The Guvnor when it comes to renovation work and when we’re in building work mode – I don’t argue, demand or suggest anything – we do it his way! That is unless I feel very strongly about something… he has a tendency to want everything tidy and straight, I think that there should be some acceptance of the fact that parts of the house are 400 years old, it used to be an animal shelter and we should accept and acknowledge its quirks. To be fair, he usually gives in as I can argue my case til the cows come home (in the field at the bottom of the garden!).

I fetch and carry his tools, breeze blocks, wheelbarrow loads of sand – whatever is needed. I tamp down the concrete floors while he mixes and wheels the heavy loads about; I paint the walls and ceiling – not the Guvnor’s favourite job, in fact he hates it but I actually enjoy painting. I think its probably a legacy of going to work with my dad when I was three years old – he used to paint advertisement boards. I am also chief tea maker and I make lots of it – we get through about 120 teabags a week between two of us. I get to decide the look for the house.

My French House the bathroom
The bathroom – dreadful reality

I choose  all the colours, I take pictures from magazines and books and show him what I want – whether it’s a look for a room, a style of cupboard, a table or desk – whatever. If its furniture – he can pretty much replicate whatever I show him and often comes up with new ideas to enhance pieces.

My main influences are Nina Campbell and Terrance Conran. Mr Conran had a home in France and I came across some photographs of it in an old book years ago, I’ve kept the book and used to hanker after a gorgeous kitchen like his – I love his country style approach but with flair. Nina’s style is very English and very chic. Years ago I worked for a millionaire in Mayfair and one of my jobs was to manage a project with the designers and decorators who were doing up his Mount Street flat. Nina designed the curtain fabric – it was magnificent. I have all of her books and read them over and over trying to absorb some of her know-how and flair. I scour ebay and the website for her fabric at a price I can afford and it takes a while but I have managed to purchase some which I will make into curtains and cushions.

My French House chandelier to be re-wired
Chandelier to be re-wired

The OH is very talented and skilful and almost completely self-taught when it comes to renovation. He is also determined that we carry out every single piece of renovation and restoration ourselves, this includes such diverse requirements as rewiring an old chandelier that hasn’t been used since pre World War II.

Before we came to France he undertook several building courses and qualified in all of them – plumbing, plastering, bricklaying, electrical installation, roofing and rendering so that he would be able to do all the work without help. He was already a qualified carpenter but he took specialist courses in cabinetry and routing so that he could build the armoires and pantry cupboards I like the look of.

We still have a long way to go but I really believe we are actually making some progress…

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