In 2003 British couple Denise (Deni) Daniel and Doug Ibbs bought a French ruin – their dream was to escape the rat race and run gites in France…
However, this wasn’t just any house and Deni and Doug weren’t just any couple.
What they bought was a totally derelict manor house – and they bought it on a whim having first seen it on the internet and then sealed the deal when they saw it for the first time two days later… and then they set about rebuilding this once magnificent property with their bare hands.
Having bought their house they then signed up to take part in the UK TV Channel 4 series “Grand Designs” hosted by Kevin McCLoud. The TV series follows the lives of those who buy unusual properties and reinvent them and some of the property renovators and builders fired the public imagination, few more than Deni and Doug of Grand Designs French House fame.
When Kevin McCloud arrived at the manor house in the village of Vidaillat, Creuse, in the rural countryside of the Limousin region (one of the least densely populated regions of France) he stood stock still and said to the cameras “There’s getting away from it all – and then there’s… this”.
Kevin walked around the grounds of the property accompanied by an enthusiastic Deni and Doug. He was clearly flabbergasted which was unusual since this was a man who had hosted many TV programmes and seen it all, wrecks, damaged properties, families split up by the relentless difficulties that can be encountered in restoring a property. Some TV programmes featured homes where the stress of renovating had caused the owners to have breakdowns, divorces, heart attacks – it’s fair to say he’d pretty much seen it all.
“You don’t know this part of the world. You don’t speak the language. You bought this house on a whim” he said to the couple. Deni and Doug simply smiled and told him they weren’t worried. Their mantra was – “if you want to succeed at something, you have to work at it” and that is precisely what they did.
Off camera Kevin confided “I don’t think they’ve grasped the scale of what they are attempting”.
The house was really a ravaged shell, it wasn’t structurally sound, there was no roof, and there were no floors. It had sat there in the tiny village of Vidaillat for 60 years, unloved, untouched and unwanted until this hardy (some might say foolhardy) British couple arrived and attempted to restore it to its former glory.
Although once the pride of the village the house had been abandoned for decades. During WWII it had been used by resistance fighters as a hideout for allied escapees and for secret army rendezvous. When German troops discovered evidence of some of the villagers participation in anti-German behaviour they retaliated by destroying buildings in the village including the manor house, leaving just a burnt out shell. It had been untouched since July 1944 when the fateful action took place.
Deni and Doug had every intention of returning the manor house to its former glory and named it Chez Jallot after the former owner and person who built the house in the latter half of the 19th Century. Their plan was to create gîtes and open the house up to paying guests while they lived in another part of the house.
They had no building experience, they spoke hardly any French, they had a small budget and no income. They were relying on being able to renovate to a high standard if they weren’t ready to run their gites in France soon it would all be over. Their progress was being filmed for all to see and the Grand Designs TV camera crews and sound men followed their every move… it seemed like a crazy fantasy, but they had to make this work – or go home with nothing.
Read what happens in Part II…