Small is beautiful

Owning a small corner of south-west France may have meant stretching the budget, but it was too good an opportunity to miss for one Londoner, as Anna McKittrick discovers

Although Paris is now home for Amy de Leusse, the 26-year-old Londoner has had a fondness for south-west France since au pairing for an English family in Gers as a teenager. She was instantly struck by the beauty of the department but also fell for the food and the gentle way of life in Midi-Pyr�n�es.

So when Amy, who has lived in Paris for eight years, decided she wanted to buy a place of her own, the exorbitant prices in the capital led her property search further south to the department that had initially captured her heart all those years ago.

“When I first decided to buy down in the south-west I didn’t have the idea of renting it out, I just thought I’d love to buy a tiny pied-�-terre in Gers and have a place of my own where I could go,” remembers Amy.

When she went to view a two-bedroom property on the edge of the little village of Saint-Orens-Pouy-Petit, five miles from Condom, Amy knew it was the one, even though it was over budget.

“It was more expensive than my original budget because it had a pool, had already been renovated and was in a sought-after village location, so naturally the price was higher,” says Amy. After deciding the property was meant for her, Amy went back to her bank manager to try and negotiate borrowing more money. Six months of to-ing and fro-ing with the bank ensued, until an agreement was made that Amy could increase her borrowing as long as she rented out the property to finance the mortgage, and that’s how La Petite Maison du Gers began.

Amy says to start with she was worried that she wouldn’t be able to rent out the house for the six to eight weeks that was needed to cover the mortgage. But she needn’t have worried as the pretty village house has proved to be a big hit on the rental market.

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“It surprised me because it rents out a lot better than I thought it would. The house is in a charming spot on the edge of Saint-Orens-Pouy-Petit so it’s isolated on the one hand, with uninterrupted views of the valley from the living room and main bedroom, while the other side of the house has views of the village, which is only 80 metres away,” says Amy.

The property, which dates from the 19th century, had been extensively restored by the previous owners so Amy didn’t have to embark on any major work. It was more about deciding on the decor and furnishing which she describes as the fun part.

“I wanted to be able to rent out the house for a good rate so I borrowed the maximum from the bank so I could afford good quality furniture. I thought if I was going to do it I didn’t want to do it half-heartedly.”

For Amy, having somewhere to decorate that was her own, albeit a place that she would share with guests, was exciting, especially after renting in Paris for so many years: “I’ve moved from flat to flat quite often in Paris so I haven’t been able to buy much furniture or decorate how I would like to, so it’s nice to have a place of my own to have fun with.”

But she hasn’t gone overboard on the design front and has adopted a neutral rustic style to her decor, with many pieces sourced from brocantes. And she has avoided any overly personal touches such as family photographs, to create a calm and neutral space.

“The house is very small so I didn’t want it to be too cluttered. I just wanted to have nice bits of furniture and not too much of it,” says Amy.

A month after buying the property Amy met her now husband Pierre-Emmanuel, who has become very much part of the project as well. But when the couple first met, Parisian Pierre-Emmanuel had never been to Gers: “My husband’s got a house in Burgundy and said to me ‘I don’t know the south-west, you should come to Burgundy instead’ but when I introduced him to Gers he fell in love with the place and is very much at home there as well.”

The couple, who have a three-month-old daughter Camille, get to enjoy the house in Gers themselves in autumn and winter once the rental season has quietened down. For Amy, spending time in Gers allows her to reconnect with the department where her love affair with France first began.

After au pairing in Gers Amy decided she wanted to learn French and went to study at university in Paris. She was so taken with the French way of life that when her degree finished she chose to stay on and got a job with an English PR company, where she still works. Francophile Amy slotted into life across the Channel easily and she says that although she loves going back to London to visit family and friends, her roots are firmly planted in France.

Living in the capital and owning a home in the countryside allows the couple to enjoy the best of both worlds. Self-confessed city girl Amy loves living in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, but she says now they’ve had a baby, thoughts of moving to the country full-time have crossed their minds.

“Paris is so expensive and you kind of get used to living in tiny apartments, but since I’ve had the baby I’ve started to think of one day leaving the city and moving to the countryside. I would love to live in Gers but the little house is never going to be somewhere we would live. It’s perfect for what it is and it’s a lot more satisfying renting it out and getting positive feedback.”

With La Petite Maison du Gers doing so well, Amy and Pierre-Emmanuel are now looking to buy a second house to rent out down in the department. But rather than buying a vast ch�teau or farmhouse they want it to have the same small and beautiful formula that has proved to be so successful with La Petite Maison du Gers, so they are taking their time to ensure they find a property that’s just the right fit. LF