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To the Manoir Born | Running a gite business in France

 Deni and Doug Grand Design French house

Denise (Deni) Daniel and Doug Ibbs purchased a house in the Creuse Region in Limousin, France. They had found it while browsing the internet on a whim and two days after they first saw it, they flew out from the UK and bought it on the spot. In part I of their story we saw how the  manor house was a total wreck, they had limited funds, they spoke little French, had no income and had to learn many building skills… and they were followed by a film crew as their progress was recorded by UK TV Channel 4 series “Grand Designs”.

Almost at the start of their journey to restore the ruined manor house to its former glory Deni and Doug told their local Mayor that they would be ready to take in paying visitors within an unfeasibly short time. Leaving themselves just months to lay floors, get a new roof on, put in electricity and plumbing to say nothing of decorating. “They’re mad” said Kevin McCloud, the host of the TV programme.

Viewers watched as Deni and Doug (in their fifties) laid 80 huge floor joists, learned to make a stair case, tiled bathrooms, painted, heaved heavy material, repointed walls and generally worked 15 hours a day, 7 days a week for months on end.

I shouldn’t think anyone really thought that their plans were achievable. They had an excellent local builder to rebuild and repair the granite walls, plus an equally good (if not so reliable) roofing contractor. But … the rest was down to them and the work load was enormous. Occasionally their neighbour would lend a hand. They taught themselves to speak French and endeared themselves to the local community with their tenaciousness.

Deni and Doug Grand Designs French House

They taught themselves the skills they needed – Doug learned how to plumb and installed bathrooms and a kitchen; he made a staircase from scratch; Deni learned how to tile – 5 bathrooms in total – and they toiled with their bare hands until they were exhausted.

Every time Kevin McCloud went back to see them he was amazed at their progress and declared “they have a mad glint in their eyes” but he and we could all see that they were winning the battle, their hard work and determination was paying off and they were putting the soul back into the house. He spoke to the residents in the village – “Do you think they are mad or brave?” he asked. Their neighbours said “a lived in home is better for the village than a ruin” and thought them brave. They and millions of viewers watched as Chez Jallot was transformed into a beautiful home.

In November 2004, Deni and Doug welcomed their first paying guests though the house was only completed up to the first floor. Doug confided that it was “time to put the staircase book away for a while… and get out the recipe book”…

True to their ethos in life, Deni and Doug set about becoming the best they could at looking after their guests and running gîtes.

Deni and Doug Grand Designs French House

A new era was about to start for this intrepid couple who had put blood, sweat and tears into their new life in France…

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