Renovation expert Matthew Chalk tells us about an ambitious project to restore a prominent village house in Brittany
As a builder specialising in rural renovations, I’m pretty good at looking beyond the debris in derelict old properties and recovering the charm. But when I took on a project in central Brittany recently, I swiftly realised this was going to be tall order.
At first glance, the house in the small village of St-Gouéno, certainly had the wow factor. But on closer inspection, it was clearly just months away from collapse, due to rotten carpentry and decades of neglect. Every step you took had to be carefully considered, to avoid falling through the floor, and the scale of works needed was not for the faint-hearted…
Luckily, my client Vicky and her partner Julian were up for the adventure. The couple didn’t want anything too remote or rural, but neither did they want to be in a large touristy town, as they wanted to force themselves to socialise with French people and learn the language.
While on holiday, they came across this house in St-Gouéno and immediately fell in love with it. The village has a quaint picture postcard quality about it and the house is in the heart of the village. It just seemed perfect.
Vicky was sure that, with some work, the house could become a super family home.“We were happy to take on a bit of a project,” says Vicky, “although this house may have turned into a larger scale project than we initially thought!”
The aim of the project was two-fold. Firstly, we wanted to create a fantastic home within the historical layout of the original floor plan and secondly, we wanted to ensure that the 100m² loft could be converted in the near future for additional bedrooms.
Starting the renovation works
The early stages of the renovation consisted of preventing the building from further movement prior to demolition. To achieve this, we strengthened the roof carpentry and used decorative tie bars. New granite lintels and joists were fitted to ensure we were safe to continue. This is really the stage of the renovation where you will come across unexpected problems and will need to be prepared for extra unwanted financial costs. In reality, once you are past this point you are back in control.
Surprises along the way
During the renovations, we found a tombstone down in the cellar! Luckily it ended there and no skeleton was found! A low point during this period was being burgled of tools, a reminder that even sleepy villages have their moments. In total, three houses being renovated in the same village were broken into for tools and materials. The irony was that the burglars made off with a box of security fittings. You have to laugh.
The first few weeks passed quickly and we reached that satisfying moment when you start to put materials back in to the house instead of taking them out.
New building work must comply with a complex set of energy efficiency regulations called the Réglementation Thermique 2012 (RT2012). We insulated the house above and beyond the required standards in anticipation of any future amendments to the rules. This will make the house far more comfortable to live in and save on heating bills. Vapour membranes and sheer walls have also been used as have reinforcing joists with plates.
Saving key features
One of the key features Vicky wanted to save was the staircase. Winding its way up to the attic, it is made from solid oak and has been beautifully plastered in a curve underneath by the original artisans. The good news was that the rot had not affected the stairs as much as was thought and the plaster work has been minimally repaired to leave it just needing a lick of paint. The staircase survived!
At the time of writing this we are still considering panelling the hallway to get that extra wow factor when you walk in but, other than that the house is done.
“We have spent far more on the renovations that we initially anticipated, but it is totally worth it,” says Vicky. “We love the place and have absolutely no regrets.”
Vicky chose to only tweak the original room layouts and went for a classic design within the bathrooms to achieve a really elegant finish throughout. It is so nicely laid out that you want to look into every room. It is a gently flowing and warm house. This was achieved by doing what is hardest for people – very little! By not going in gung ho and stamping your mark too forcefully, you can have a classic house that will better stand the test of time.
Matthew Chalk runs Brittany-based building company MC Renovation See the renovation process in the video below!