24 Years at La Lune

Today is 24 years to the day since we moved into our house here in Southwest France. We had actually arrived in France six days before, but the previous owner wasn’t ready to move out. We used the time to make various purchases and complete numerous bureaucratic tasks. With great excitement we drove here from the village, where we had been staying, to rendezvous with the gigantic pantechnicon that contained all our worldly goods.

I’ve written before about that day, so I won’t dwell on it. Instead, here are some before and after shots of things we have done to the place over two and a half decades.

Already restored

We were fortunate that the house was already restored, having been brought back from near-oblivion in the early 1970s. In fact, this was one of our requirements when we were house-hunting. We were both working and travelling a great deal, so we were not looking for a restoration project. Also, a French estate agent taught us that it’s very easy to over-stretch your finances when doing up a ruin.

Having said that, two of the three previous owners since its restoration had used the house as a maison secondaire, virtually camping out in it during the summer holidays. The third owner made certain improvements, such as installing a central heating system, which we soon found wasn’t adequate, converting the top floor attic into bedrooms and installing a swimming pool. It was still in a rather basic state.

Over the years, we have made our own changes to turn it into a more comfortable all-year-round home.

Custom kitchen

First off was the kitchen. When we arrived, there were no units. The work surface was a piece of MDF board slung between a pair of breeze block pillars. It had warped and developed a distinct curve in the middle. We lived with it for a couple of years, not having the time to do much else. Then we commissioned a local menuisier to custom-build a kitchen. This was necessary, because there isn’t a straight wall in the place. No IKEA ready-made units, then.

I don’t have a photo of the original kitchen, but this is how it looks now. And it’s stood the test of time for the 22 years since we commissioned it.

Dingy bathroom

We also lived with our downstairs bathroom for some years before deciding to give that a makeover, too. The problem was its shape: it was large but narrow, and the existing units, colour scheme and lighting made it look even narrower.

That all went out. We opted for a walk-in shower at one end, a more modern bath and basin, and new wall and floor tiles. We also installed recessed spotlights, which improved the lighting no end. Fortunately, the plumbing was all there already.

Crumbling balcony

When the house was restored in the early 1970s, the bolet, or covered balcony, was in a terrible condition, judging by photos we have seen. Half of the integral pigeonnier had collapsed onto it, and the stone paving slabs were crumbling.

Although the first owner had the pigeonnier rebuilt, the original stone slabs remained. They had become an uneven hazard at the top of the steps. Moreover, the cracks between the paving let water seep into the bedroom below. We had the bolet floor redone on a concrete base (some of the paving was reusable) and the steps up to it tidied up, secured and replaced in places.

We also had the bolet completely reroofed. Here’s how it looks today.

Beautiful barn

The barn that we now own didn’t come with the house, since it belonged to neighbours a kilometre or so away. Originally, of course, it was part of the hamlet, of which our house was probably the main dwelling.

When the neighbours put the barn on the market, and people began viewing it, we decided that we couldn’t live with another house within 30 metres of our front door, even if it was only destined to be a second home. So in 2003 we bought it plus the field behind it and some woodland.

It’s a beautiful building (about which I’ve written before; link below), very solidly built sometime in the 18th century. We have no desire to turn it into a gîte. For us, it will remain a barn.

However, it was many years since the building had been used or maintained. Behind it was a completely overgrown mess, while the existence of a former house could only be inferred from a large heap of stone in front of the barn. We salvaged what decent dressed stone we could from it. The remaining rubble occupied eight large lorry-loads.

Behind barn – before
Behind the barn – after
Barn, ruin and well – before
No trace of the ruin
Our well, lovingly restored by the SF

We had the barn roof repaired and turned the rutted track into a proper drive. We also added gates and fences to keep out straying cattle, which are a problem around here.

We had to place the gates in this position to give enough room for a turning circle at the end of our lane, which stops chez nous. The gates are now a darker colour, which blends in better with the surroundings.

Wall and woodland

At the same time, we rebuilt the 82 m long wall that bordered the field and the woodland and cleared 3/4 of the woodland, which was almost impenetrable. The remaining 25% we left as a haven for the wildlife.

We have done plenty of other things too numerous to mention but not so significant, such as overhauling the swimming pool with new paving and a new liner.

We love our house. It has its inconveniences: not enough bedrooms for its overall size; the main staircase is in the wrong place; the roof insulation is poor and can only be fixed once we re-do the roof. Maybe someone else will address these failings if we never get around to it. After all, we are only the custodians of a house that has seen generations of people born, live and die within its walls. I hope future generations will cherish the place as much as we do.

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16 comments

  1. It just looks lovely. You are fortunate to live in such a beautiful part of France. Here’s to many more years in your home. We all make our homes our own and love them despite their imperfections. Home is very important in these uncertain times.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have a beautiful home. How nice to read the before and after story. The work on that barn seems truly a labour of love as you don’t live in it, but so worth it in terms of guaranteeing some privacy! Hope you enjoy many more years on La Lune!

    Liked by 2 people

    • We were fortunate that the major part of the work had been done long before we bought the place. Even so there was still a lot to do, especially once the barn was included. Had we viewed the place when it was a ruin (we have photos dating from the 1960s), there’s no way we would have bought it! We’re glad someone did, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh Vanessa, my heart goes out to you when I look at the gorgeous transformations you made to your beloved home. It really, really looks great and I was sharply reminded of the endless money pit we owned in the greater Paris region. Only when we finally were able to sell our house from our new place in Switzerland due to many, many backthrows and a tremendous loss on our investment, and when we listed all the outgoings for the sale, did we realise that we dumped close to 300k€ in a 100yr old house in only 12 years. But we HAD to leave as HH was already working back in Switzie for nearly 2yrs and our marriage would have gone had we been separated any longer…. Then, a week after our departure from France we couldn’t have gone back as the pandemic and lockdown started, so it was a wise if financially not very wise decision. But alas, marriage saved and from not seing each other for weeks and when we did, it was stressful as so much had to be done, we went into ‘overdrive’ and seing each other 24/7 for another year+! 🙂
    I hope you may still enjoy your wonderful ‘chez vous’ for many years to come – it looks utterly peaceful and beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You have really been through the mill over the past couple of years, Kiki, but I hope you are now settled in Switzerland and can relax a little. I know it was hard for you to leave your house in the Paris region. We have never added up what we have spent on this house in 24 years, and I think perhaps it’s better if we don’t! We hope to live here for a while to come. We are lucky to live in this environment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Bravo & felicitations for the beautiful photo’s and the saga of the improvements. I particularly like your closing remarks about being custodians for those who come after us. True SPAB spirit. And I am sure that the people who take the La Lune on after you will love it too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I mentioned to someone else, this is the longest either of us has ever lived in a house, so our roots go deep. I do hope the next incumbents will have the same feeling about it.

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  5. I can see why you love it, here’s to 24 more years! I feel the same way about the money pit we live in. Not as old as or picturesque as yours but not been looked after over the years ((compounded by dodgy alterations). But it’s home and we’ll have been here 31 years in October.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ll second the 24 more years, although if we make it or not is a moot point! Gosh, 31 years is a long time. One really puts down roots over a period. This is the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my life, and it would be a wrench to leave.

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  6. Hi Vanessa. I really enjoyed reading this, sheltering from the heat inside for a while.

    We pour so much of ourselves into our homes and I think yours looks lovely. And all those not-straight lines and difficult bits give it character.

    Good work on the barn – I have a thing about barns – often prefer them to houses!

    MJ

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Mary-Jane. Yes, it has been hot today, but it’s been welcome after the dismal earlier weather. The house certainly has character. Nothing is standard sized – all of the four windows in our living room are different sizes! I do hope our barn will remain a barn, even once we have gone. There are so few of them left in their virtually original state now.

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    • I didn’t quite realise how much we had done until I looked back at the before and after photos. We’re glad not to have had to restore it from scratch though: that would have been beyond us. As you’ll know from your own experience, work on a house is never finished!

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  7. Dear Vanessa, after having had my two Pfizer vaccines I am now able to enter France. Long story short, we should arrive in the Dordogne early October. Whilst daydreaming about this almost a reality, your wonderful post popped up. What a beautiful renovation – such a beautiful home, she has a peaceful soul… tranquil surroundings – thank you so much for sharing.
    In these troubled times, a post such as yours eases the heart. merci tres beaucoup….

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m so pleased for you, Sally-Anne. You must be really excited about it and counting the days!

      We’ve always felt well in our house. It has a good feeling about it, and we are lucky to live in tranquil but not isolated surroundings. I hope you’ll be as happy in your French house as we have been. 🙂

      Like

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