Renovating a property in France on a budget
For Kris Hallet and her husband Dave, moving to Béarn in south-west France and renovating a derelict cottage has been hard work, but well worth it. Here’s how they managed the renovation on a small budget
When Kris and Dave Hallet visited friends in the south-west region of Béarn, they fell in love with the stunning landscape of the Basque country. “We just loved what we saw,” says 65-year-old Kris. “It had everything: mountains, sea, rivers, fishing, cycling, outdoor life – space! We could see the possibilities of settling somewhere, perhaps on the edge of a village.”
Once back in the UK, the couple made the decision to relocate to France and the hunt began for a suitable property. It was retired government HR manager Dave, 58, who found the property, named ‘Jauberria’.
“I was shocked at the state of the property, because I thought it looked a huge task,” Kris says. And indeed it was. Renovating the property meant bringing a 100-year-old derelict cottage back to a habitable state, along with a barn from the early 1700s that in an equally decrepit condition.
While many would have quailed at such a task, old DIY hands Kris and Dave were happy to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. “Dave would do the jobs I didn’t like or couldn’t do, and I would take on the things I could do well. Between us we’ve learned a lot of skills. He’s taught me a lot here, especially about rendering and plastering and mixing.”
Read more: 8 tips for renovating on a budget
The early days were tough going as the couple worked in the most basic conditions. “We had electricity and water, but no light bulbs or fittings, so we had to rig up temporary arc lighting, and there was no septic tank,” explains Kris.
“We found a second-hand caravan in the local paper, towed it down here and spent every holiday living in that and making a start with clearing the place, saving it from falling down and then adding to it.”
Although the couple’s practical skills have been crucial to bringing Jauberria back to life, Kris’s former job as a community development worker has proved invaluable since they moved to France.
“I know how important it is to let people know that you feel strongly that you’re part of a community, even if you’re a foreigner,” she says. “We did deliberately predominantly mix with French people and that was our choice. We adopted their ways.”
The couple’s tiny budget means their ‘Field of Dreams project’ has taken years, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel, with the cottage finally opening for business as a gîte.
Clearly there are challenges ahead, but Kris isn’t worried. “What’s not to be happy about?” she says. “We’ve got our house, we’ve got beautiful views, we have learned how to survive with wood burners and dress up warmly. I will admit to one luxury: we did invest in an electric blanket.” With lots more work to do, it’s a luxury that’s well-deserved.
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