Follow me on this adventurous journey renovating an 18th century French country house after its difficult passage through the 1980s.

We unravel layers and let a house breathe home.

Researching and bringing to today natural materials and primitive methods.

We embark on an unexpected adventure, combining low budget with a profound love and ethos of all things natural and simple.

Finding Home

Where why how when

It became France, in the midst of European detachment and towards the tail end of a global pandemic, we engaged our feet and heart forward.

It may seem an obvious choice to move to France given that I am French.

It was not my choice, not really, I love Scotland and the parts of France I can remember what I love them for is not where we have arrived.

G, the man my husband stopped work during the pandemic, as many of us were forced to. It gave him time to taste the sweetness of freedom on his sun-warmed back.

I had spoken years prior of leaving the UK to return to the ‘homeland’.

Nothing concrete happened.

G decided to leave the UK, find more sweetness, to find sweetness in a place where it perhaps seems to be in easier reach than in UK.

For ease, that I am French contributed to the wind that guided our sail.

So, we set off with our load of administrative papers and anxiously cross the now non-European border to land that neither G nor I knew. We drive and arrive on the continent. We stay with family and we drive again in search of what one day may become home.

We find nature we fall in love with but no house there to be our hearth.

We find land we appreciate but do not fall in love with. Yet there is a stone floor that catches our heart and a compromise must be made as time flies by and a house must be found.

So we enter in the months of winter what may be one day home…

Sunday 1st May 2022

From Wood to Earth

November 2021

The weather is still clement.

But the cold months of winter will soon be here

Our home has arrived from Wales.

Now loaded into one room, mostly, a space that one day will become my studio and finds itself above the cellar.

A cellar that is now supporting much weight, a cellar that feels warm in the cold of winter, a space to be cleared but where I can see my vegetables living happily in the fresh during the warm summers and our wine and preserves in their glass jars and bottles glistening in the dim yellow light of the old cellar light bulb, those we are no longer allowed to use or produce but of which many still exist here on the French flea markets.

It is missing stones

It is missing mortar

It is vaulted and well-built, but it is also now given to handle so much weight form above, weight it has not sensed for a long time if ever.

It is primordial to attend to it, to make this our first major work on this old girl. We have little time as the mortar will not dry in the cold months of winter.

My first experience of stone walling and earth mortar was way back as a child of not yet 10 years old in the Cévennes. An old friend of mine, his grandparents owned an old farmhouse, a handsome place at the end of a plateau in the wild hills of the Cévennes.

A mud track to get to it, woods, and fields all around, wild boar tracks down the flanks, hunting for the river source early morning just us two free no fear, parents in bed still asleep, those years…

We helped fixing a stone wall, the sides and support to a stone stair way leading to a small side door possibly used as an old barn/storage space.

Now, in Creuse I learn to fix a vaulted ceiling once more with earth, mixed with sand and lime, the old way the local mortar. There are many ways to create natural mortars, many recipes for various conditions, locals, and purposes.

We mixed lime and sand, the regular 1 to 3 ratio latter being for sand former for lime and added clay/earth and then at times when the mix needed to be a bit fluffier, we added some soaked brown paper.

Mortaring takes time to have a good gesture of the hand a good rhythm to be done well and efficiently, on a vaulted ceiling, defying gravity is not the easiest.

First the surface must be cleaned up, any loose mortar must be removed, loose stones removed or hammered in and locked into place with more stones. So, we become stone masons, I am reminded of one of the things La Creuse is known for, Les Masons of Creuse, they built the homes of this region, they left to the big cities of France, built palaces, museums…across Paris and many other cities. La Creuse was left empty when these men returned less and less as work was found elsewhere

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2J-oQ5HyHd8

I will never become one of them but amongst stone earth and lime inside a cellar that is possibly about 300 years old, I am attending humbly to the craft of our elders.

Off I go to dust the vaulted roof add stones, to wet the area I prepare to work on, mix the mortar and throw and catch it and throw again and smooth, until I feel joyous to be making a bit less of a mess of a difficult craft.

The cellar is sound

The walls will have to be taken care off also, but they are currently less of a concern, they are strong and sturdy and just need some fresh mortar added. The cold days of winter are upon us, this task waits for the warmer days of summer.

Until next time dear friends,

Keep warm and enlivened by the Hearth that is your home

Maud

Sunday 24th April

THE MONTHS OF WINTER…

November it was, a neighbour reminds me, we arrived at La Faye in Creuse, central France, north of Massif Central, a rather large region of France, spanning from here all the way south to the Languedoc.

November it was.

Winters are long here we hear.

They get cold but not heavily in that way nor in the way of snow.

We feel disappointment as we, both artists and lovers of extremes and flavours, love seasonal differentials.

We find undulating hills in place of magical unreachable mountain peaks, green pastures with four legged friends happily grazing, big, large birds, wild boars, deer, and other wondrous and wonderful creatures. The world here is much more clearly owned by nature. And for that we are joyous to have found our farmhouse to make a home here.

Since the pandemic upsurge of urban folks escaping to the land and smaller communities, just as we did, finding a home with some land and space for 2 studios and all the other requirements we originally put on a list, and within budget, without being too much of a project, became quite a feat!

Unknowns and errors pave the way of all the doubts we had and still wonder about but, there is something special here. I often see this place as thick soil with all its ecosystem happily living below, invisible until you begin looking bit deeper, until you begin planting and then you reap and harvest and find the magic. Afterall, it is a place of magic, centuries of white magic has been and is practiced here.

The house.

It is wonky, it slopes backwards from first floor up.

We are concerned at first then we learn, from local elders, of building habits and purposes in the times this old girl first grew from ground, late 18thCentury. Bringing light on all things historical takes time, slowly we discover from those that know as we load wood to get warmth back into the old girl and our wintered bones.

In the cold of winter, we spent time considering and observing this old girl more closely.

A functioning home but a home that had been through the 80s, original gorgeous chestnut floorboards were forbidden breath by layers of PVC flooring, horrible synthetic carpets, and a large amount of poorly finished jobs and unattended ones.

All the woodwork, and much of it there is has been varnished or dyed, losing some of its natural charm in the process, making a house quite dark and separating the full entity that a room can be when less disjointed by extreme colour alternance between walls and wood.

A mixture of the marks of a time, a culture, a people, that disregarded the handsome-ness of ancient craftsmanship with little clue of style and certainly little care for the earth.

We begin doing what we can in the cold months of winter. We had not planned for this amount of work. Nor is it a full renovation, but I wonder if I had known would I have chosen a home more bare and less affected by the 80s and taken on perhaps what would have been a bigger but cleaner kind of project.

All doubts aside, lets take you on this project of compromise to restore this handsome kind old girl.

Renovation compromise had to be made even before we arrived here.

The furniture,

The wooden furniture I had inherited from my mother had been kept in a cold old barn for a decade or more, it also needed care before it could safely enter our home and not bring devastating damage to its wooden structure.

I had amply researched a kind and safe way of treating our wood-wormed furniture it but became filled by fear and decided on a product that goes against my fundamental ehtos. We used a treatment called Xylopehene, it is what is used by most for this kind of treatment of wood eating beasties.

It is composed of Cypermethrin, a synthetic pyrethroid (A pyrethroid is an organic compound similar to the natural pyrethrins, which are produced by the flowers of pyrethrums (Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium and C. coccineum). Pyrethroids are used as commercial and household insecticides. In household concentrations pyrethroids are generally harmless to humans.) used as an insecticide in large-scale commercial agricultural applications as well as in consumer products for domestic purposes. It behaves as a fast-acting neurotoxin in insects. It is a highly toxic product, provoking long term harmful effects particularly to aquatic life.

Issue:

Treat a situation that could essentially become devastating to the structure of our home

Consideration:

Using a toxic product to eliminate that risk

Using an environmentally friendly product which could eliminate that risk but not absolutely.

We are led by fear in this modern world. Fear is a custom in which our consumer world is very well versed.

I have acted here at first out of fear and made a choice which was not the most ecological and for that I feel shame and sadness. We treated this worm riddled furniture with the Xylophene compound.

Since, I have used in less actively worm-eaten wooden structures, a kinder compound. Galtane HM1made by Galtane. A natural treatment. I am working on my approach to risk and to its real tangibility, educating myself further both in terms of ecological solutions but also spiritually, cognitively, adjusting my personal approach to fear, often led by our lack of knowledge of a situation.

A house renovation project brings so much more than the mere uncovering and fixing of building issues. It awakens the structure of our own human foundation.

Until next time for more on inner outer exploration through our French farmhouse renovation….

Be well

Kindly

Maud