CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to France Magazines today CLICK HERE

Gîte renovation in Normandy

PUBLISHED: 10:20 24 October 2014 | UPDATED: 15:19 18 December 2015

Tom Reilly and David Streets with Sid and Saffy © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

Tom Reilly and David Streets with Sid and Saffy © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets


Find out how one British couple transformed their Normandy farmhouse into an attractive gîte

La Vaquerie © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. StreetsLa Vaquerie © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

A change is as good as a rest so the saying goes, and when Tom Reilly sold his successful bistro in south Manchester, both he and his partner David Streets wanted to do something completely different.

That something turned out to be renovating the barn at their Normandy farmhouse property La Vaquerie to turn it into a luxury gîte, which opened for its first season this year. So named as it was once a herding place for cattle (‘vache’ being the French for ‘cow’), La Vaquerie stands in five acres of land and is surrounded by tranquil countryside in the Manche department, in France’s Lower Normandy region.

For Tom and David, renovating the gîte and getting it ready to rent out has been labour of love that began in essence more than a decade ago.

“We’ve been coming over here for years and years,” says Tom. “My oldest friend lives over here and we used to come and stay a lot. I had a restaurant, called Midlers, in Marple, near Stockport. It was lovely but hard work and when we decided to sell, we both wanted a change. We decided to look for a place over here.”

The gite under construction © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. StreetsThe gite under construction © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

Choosing the location was easy. They knew immediately that Normandy was where they wanted to be.

“We’d fallen in love with the region,” says Tom. “It’s so easy to get over here from the UK. All around Cherbourg is beautiful; the countryside is so green; the weather’s lovely; and there are loads of beautiful beaches within 10 to 15 minutes’ drive. In the summer, if there’s 50 or 60 people on the beach, that’s a lot; it’s absolutely beautiful.”

A fortuitous meeting with a notaire in Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte led them to the place they now call home, near the village of Saint-Jacques-de-Néhou, on the picturesque Cotentin peninsula.

“We were in Saint-Sauveur with some friends who were doing a translation for one of the notaires in the town,” says Tom. “Our friend told the notaire that we were looking for somewhere and the notaire said this house had only just come onto the market. He’d only got the details that morning. He told us where it was and we came and had a look. We didn’t come right up to the house because it’s down the end of a really long lane and surrounded by fields, so we were only able to see it from a distance; but even then in the sunlight, it looked absolutely fantastic and just we just fell in love with it.”

The living room before renovation © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. StreetsThe living room before renovation © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

They went back to the notaire arranged a viewing and a few months later, in September 2004, the pretty Norman farmhouse with attached barn and outbuildings was theirs. The house, which dates back to the 17th century, had been passed down through the same family for generations and was used latterly as a holiday home until the decision was taken to sell.

As a result, the main house was structurally sound, but the décor was a bit tired and it needed some TLC. “It was habitable but it needed decorating,” says Tom. “We also installed a wood-burning stove in place of the big open fire. We used to come over with family and for holidays, and then I moved over four years ago on a more permanent basis. Dave works in finance for a hotel company, so he is still based in the UK, but he comes over once a month.”

With the long-term plan being to work towards a permanent cross-Channel move for them both, Tom and David decided to convert the attached barn into a luxury gîte. The building, which had been used as a playroom when the property was a holiday home, was pretty much a blank canvas.

“There were no windows and it had a great, big, old wooden door that didn’t shut properly,” says Tom. “There was a table tennis table in there and next to that room was another one with a big cider press in it and a big cider barrel. You could only get upstairs using a ladder, and it was like the rolling sea when you walked along; the floor was all twisted. It was just one great big room and you walked through there to the room above the cider room, which was full of birds flying around and nesting. It was in a right state; a shambles really.”

The finished living room © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. StreetsThe finished living room © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

They engaged the help of a French architect and found an English builder based in the region who did the bulk of the renovations. And today, what was once a dark and gloomy cavern is now filled with beautiful natural light and transformed into luxury living space painted in soft Farrow & Ball colours and carefully furnished.

The gîte has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen/diner and living/dining room. Patio doors open out onto private outside space which overlooks the orchard and on across the surrounding countryside.

Much of the interior stonework and original oak beams have been left exposed, a decision which saw Tom blossom as a dab hand at traditional pointing with lime mortar.

“There are 13 interior walls and I did all those,” says Tom, proudly. “I’ve got a friend, Ian, who’s a builder, and he showed me how to do it. I had some help from friends but mostly it was me. It took a long time but it was very satisfying. After the first couple of days, I started getting a bit faster. It was amazing to be able to do it.”

The main bedroom before renovation © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. StreetsThe main bedroom before renovation © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

He mooted extending his new skills to the outside of the house, but David advised bringing in the professionals.

“I did want to do the outside but Dave reckoned it would probably take me about 20 years so we got a local builder to do it,” says Tom with a chuckle.

It took them about three years to complete the work to the property so they could start their gîte-rental business.

“I did all the decorating; wire brushing all the beams and varnishing them; the pointing; painting the kitchen cupboards; sourcing the furniture,” says Tom. “We got some furniture from a gîte that was being sold, and we got some bargains from dépôt-ventes. We bought four kitchen chairs for a euro. I made new seat pads for them and then painted them. I’ve really enjoyed doing all that and I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I like things to be right.”

The finished bedroom © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. StreetsThe finished bedroom © Design House Northwest Ltd / D. Streets

They launched their website in January this year; bookings came in immediately and they’ve had a very busy summer, being pretty much full throughout.

“We wanted it to be somewhere we’d like to go ourselves; more like a boutique hotel with original features but making it comfortable so people can relax and enjoy it. People have said it’s just like a home from home.”

And that’s exactly what La Vaquerie has also become for Tom, David, and their two pedigree beagles, Saffy and Sid. They have been warmly welcomed into their new community and feel at home in their adopted country.

“We have loads of friends here,” says Tom. “The local people are lovely and we’ve made some really good friends. The local farmer, Roland, and his wife, Suzanne, have taken to us really well. They come here for meals; we go there for meals; and we help them collect apples for cider.”

Tom is also captivated by the surrounding countryside and enjoys the time he now has to appreciate the simple things in life. “It’s so quiet. It’s beautiful. I can’t describe how wonderful it is – so tranquil. The bakery in Saint-Jacques makes the most fantastic croissants and pains aux raisins, so I’ve been up there this morning and got those, made a pot of coffee and sat outside in the sunshine; listening to the birds and thinking how wonderful it is.”

The time is also coming in handy for working on his French. As well as two lessons a week, he is grateful for the patience and encouragement of his neighbours and the wider French community.

“It’s come on a lot this year and the thing that helps is talking to people. Roland and Suzanne come down with some eggs, or whatever, in the evening and they’ll have a sit down and a chat, and laugh at my French; and our neighbour Jean comes too. My French teacher says you can always tell when I’ve been talking to French people because I’m more fluent than when I’m just talking in class. It’s been hard work but it’s worth it.”

They have lots of plans for the future including creating a garden, converting another barn on the property into a second gîte, and combining David’s life-long interest in dog breeding and showing, with setting up a boarding kennels when he too moves permanently to France. In the meantime though, they are happy with how things are panning out and hugely enjoying life in their picturesque corner of Normandy.

Read Tom’s tips for running a gîte

Thinking of setting up a B&B or gîte? Read our how-to guide for things to think about before you start

Article by Living France Living France

More from Living in France


French cheese doesn’t just have to be saved for the cheeseboard, why not experiment with canapés too?

Read more
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

How does a jewellery designer, filmmaker and restaurateur who was born in Israel and grew up in New York come to turn a French château into an artists’ retreat? Ziggy Attias shares his life in Champagne-Ardenne

Read more
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

France has helped launch a satellite to study the effects of global warming; but how do French attitudes towards climate change compare to those of other Europeans?

Read more
Thursday, November 15, 2018

France has historically been on the leading edge of eco-friendly projects and regulations. While many argue that much more needs to be done to meet environmental goals in France and globally, here are 11 ways that French government, companies and people are striving to be green.

Read more
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Seen a French property that would make fabulous food business but unsure of the paperwork and process? Read Tracy Leonetti’s at-a-glance guide to opening a restaurant or cafe in France

Read more
Running a business
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Thinking of setting up a campsite in France? Here’s what you’ll need to consider when it comes to planning permission.

Read more
Tuesday, June 26, 2018

With its unbeatable wine and cheese and laissez-faire attitude, there’s nowhere better to retire than France. But which cities are best for growing old in? Here’s the top 10

Read more
Pays de la Loire
Thursday, January 25, 2018

If you are buying in or moving to France you will need a French bank account but before you open one make sure you read these 11 things you need to know to avoid making a costly mistake

Read more
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

France might be experiencing a shortage of general practitioners but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to find a GP willing to take on new patients. Here’s what you need to know about finding and registering with a doctor when you move to France

Read more
Expats in France
Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The French pharmacy is so much more tham a place to pick up your prescriptions. Here are 11 things you might not know about pharmacies in France.

Read more
Healthcare in France
Subscribe for

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

France Forum

Questions about France? Visit our free France forum to get help and advice from thousands of other Francophiles and expats. Topics include: property, tax, law, travelling, pets, education, healthcare and much more.

Join the forum

Most Read

Join us on social media

France magazine
Living France magazine
French Property News magazine

Enter our competitions

Win books, DVDs, travel and even holidays in France in our great competitions! Take a look at our latest competitions…

Enter now