When I bought the old French farmhouse it wasn’t the hall that sold it to me that’s for sure!
A horrible dark, damp and smelly room consisting of breeze block and chalk block walls and a rather unattractive tiled floor which had been covered with ugly carpet.
There was a 40cm high step into the kitchen and the door way was very low – you had to climb up to the step and then crouch down to get under the door frame. As I am very short the climb was hard but I never hit my head. The OH is very tall so he simply high stepped it – and promptly hit his head every time.
A boxed off entry to the front door made from bits of old wood was hung with enormous and thick spiders webs interspersed with peeling, random pieces of ancient wall paper.
There was a small, bricked up room to one side which was termed a “utility room” on the estate agents particulars. No ordinary utility room this, it came complete with an open pipe to the outside which let the cold air in along with all manner of hideous insects and small creatures. The OH hung an old basket hung over the end to try to stop the critters getting by but they just knocked it off with a Gallic shrug no doubt and let themselves in.
A tiny windy staircase built for Hobbits led to the next level and was completely unsafe. The steps were uneven, very narrow and steep and led up to a wooden landing – everyone who attempted to climb them found them unpleasant and dangerous – the OH fell up them once and hit his head at the top on a beam. He had a neat cut right across the top of his head – for ages afterwards he looked like a human money box.
The saving grace in the hall was the huge beam which ran the width of the room with smaller beams coming off of it. It was so bowed it looked like an enormous boomerang but the beams are very old and were really the only thing that were worth retaining in the whole sorry mess.
When it was time to renovate this area, we had no choice but to gut the whole room
We took down the wall that separated the hall from the living room – it was in the wrong place, it was badly constructed, the doors were in the wrong place – it was easier to just take it out and start again.
The front door was in the wrong place – the path to the front gate was to the left of it so that had to come out and where the door had been became a window and we bricked up the bottom half. The doorway was moved to the centre of the hall where previously a window had stood. I cannot tell you how much fun it wasn’t to have ten tons of dust cover everything from cutting out a new doorway.
We replaced the windows and doors with new ones – this was a big bone of contention. I wanted to keep the old ones and restore them but the OH (who is a builder and Guv’nor when it comes to this stuff) said we had to have new if we were to keep the drafts out. This was enough to win me over – the house was very cold in the winter as there were so many holes in the roof and the walls and round the old single glazed windows, and I knew he was right even if it wasn’t aesthetically as pleasing.
Our first winter in this house left me in tears and wanting to go back to London. We would sit and read with two oil fires and a wood fire in the room, covered in blankets, and still have frosty breath – you know when you breathe out and the air is so cold you make patterns! The bed sheets would be damp every night despite the dehumidifier going 24 hours a day; condensation ran down the walls and mould formed on almost everything – we felt permanently cold. I knew that making the house damp and draft proof and warm was a priority.
Our first job in the hall was to build a new fireplace – we decided to locate it in the centre of two rooms – between the hall and the front room – a double sided wood burner which would heat the whole of the downstairs. It took several weeks to do as it involved building a brick fireplace and hearth – in which we set my two little stone lions from Lassco, the salvage yard in London. I’d had them stored for years waiting for somewhere for them to go and they looked perfect either side of the brick hearth in what would be the front room! Then we installed the huge wood burning fire and a stainless steel, double skin chimney up through the centre of the house – we used that style because its safer, cleaner and fumes are trapped inside.
When it was eventually finished, we lit that first fire and it felt like all my Christmases had come at once.
But it was still only the start of our renovation odyssey, the next job was to make a stair case – with salvaged wood that Winston Churchill once walked on!