Saturday, May 8, 2010

At Last we have New Window Panes

For the last ten months we've become increasingly irritated with the delay in replacing our sand blast damaged window panes, not least because there seemed to be no reason for the delay.

Monsieur B told us the panes were ready last October. 

Our builder's insurer seemed to have agreed to pay for the damage months ago.

And still nothing happened, despite visits, phone calls and letters.

But finally, after another round of slightly bad tempered communication, Monsieur B and his team arrived, worked steadily and in a day replaced every single one of the eighty-two panes in the cottage windows and doors.

Well, not quite.  By five o'clock they discovered they were short of one set of panes - for the lounge french window.  So the removed (now cracked) panes had to be put back and they promised to return in a couple of weeks to complete the job.  Smiles and hand shakes all round.

After they've gone, we shrug and say: "C'est Monsieur B."


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Parking Area

When we first moved into our house, we could walk down below the lawn at the back of the house and on down a grassy track.  Turn right at the bottom of the track and there stood the four walls of our ruined cottage, open to the sky.  Turn left at the bottom of the track and there was a long corrugated iron roofed shed belonging to Serge, our neighbouring farmer.

In December 2008, when we started to renovate the cottage, our builders needed access for their lorries and the green track had to become a surfaced drive.

By April 2009, following heavy spring rains, with water pouring off the road and through the cottage, we had to lower the land all round, including the road. By then, we had bought the corrugated iron roofed shed  and the ground alongside from Serge, so great mounds of earth and rubble (including the road surface) were pushed and levelled behind the shed and the cottage.

It is that rubble we have been digging out of what will be the cottage lawn all these months.  But at least the rubble has been useful.  The large stones we're keeping.  The small stuff has become the base for what will be a parking area behind the shed.  Monsieur G ran over it with his digger to flatten it and bed it down.

I'm now digging out the pebbles that were scraped off the road, sieving out the dirt and covering the parking area.  To begin with it felt like an elephant task, but the parking is beginning to take shape.  It's good to be able to drive down to the cottage and turn at the bottom and not have to reverse all the way down.

The back of the shed has an interesting flint wall - all that is left of a large barn.  And in summer the walnut tree will make a good shade for the cars.

As we sift through the rubble and pebbles we find small pieces of china and pottery discarded by previous owners of the cottage.  I'm saving them to make a mosaic.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Shutters

Back in the summer we decided the cottage didn't need shutters.  But as the evenings began to draw in and the temperatures dropped we changed our minds and asked Monsieur B who did the stairs and the windows to build them.

They were installed by a forgeron (a blacksmith) who checked all the windows, checked the shutters and scratched his head.  Monsieur B had made one set of shutters too many.  He's not too good with numbers or measurements - not ideal in a carpenter.   We're getting used to it and in true gallic manner just shrug: "C'est Monsieur B".

At present they are just painted with a white primer and we've been debating what colour to have them.  I'd thought I would like the soft blue that we found on the original shutters, but we've been wondering about a dark Basque red, which would match the external lights.

Then we began to look at the price of wood paints.  There's lots of caution on the forums about not going with cheap French paints - like putting on milk apparently.  So we've looked at reputable brands like Dulux.  The prices are staggering: 75€ for 2½ litres is not unusual.  That's double what we would pay in the UK.  So we're having second thoughts.

There's also a suggestion we ought to check with the mairie to make sure we're not choosing a colour that offends the commune's sensibilities.

Mind you, as we walk round our fields and look back at the house, we're beginning to like the white.  And certainly white exterior wood paint (the base for mixing other colours) would be a lot cheaper.

I wasn't sure about the shutters when they first arrived.  They seemed too big and clunky and the black metalwork too overpowering.  They also hide the stonework round the windows when they are open. But now, as Tod says, they complete the cottage.  And they certainly help keep the heat in on these cold snowy nights.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nearly Time to End this Blog

This blog has been about the restoration of our derelict cottage.

The cottage is no longer derelict, but a cosy, comfortable home to live in while it's the turn of our house to be restored.

When we walk across the fields now with Vita and look back, we see not a ruin but a four-square solid, beautiful building.

We love its simplicity and proportions; the wide doorways; the elegant staircase; the stone wall that runs up through its heart; the practical kitchen-cum-dining room where we can easily seat six to supper; the well-fitted windows and doors that keep out the draughts and the underfloor heating that keeps the cottage warm; the large sheltered terrace where we can enjoy the evening light.

I may post once or twice more, just to complete the story. We are surrounded by mud and it will take time to make lawns, flower beds, parking areas. The window panes still have to be replaced and we need the hall and stair cupboards completed.

For the moment though, these are some photos showing what we and our builders have achieved . . .

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Handles - Progress (of a Kind)

We went to Leroy Merlin in Bordeaux and there, finally, found a selection of window and door handles that looked interesting but were not an outrageous price. Progress!

The doors and windows come with ready-made holes and key-hole innards. Not being sure whether the handles would fit, we cautiously chose a couple to try.

They look good, but we cannot fit them as the spigots are too long for the doors and need cutting with a hacksaw. Our hacksaw is old and rusty and we've no vice to hold the small spigot steady. Also we need what are called "condemnation" (why for heavens sake?) button locks for the bathrooms, not ordinary keyholes, and that means changing the innards.

We find a condemnation innards in a local DIY shop but its latch front is slightly longer than the hole in the frame of the door and that means carefully chiselling the curved edge of the hole to make it larger. All our chisels are - you guessed - rusty and anyway too large and it takes me about half an hour chipping away with a small screwdriver and sandpaper to get the new innards to slot into the door. More progress!

So back to LeroyMerlin in Bordeaux with renewed confidence for more of the handles we like and a new hacksaw and vice. Forgot to buy a new, small chisel.

One bedroom has a theme of distressed paintwork on the lights, so we get a similar look for the handles. The downstairs doors and windows are solid rustic - so that's an easy choice - aged brass. But ...

... the other bedroom and the bathrooms have shades of grey and steel in the lights and the tiles - suddenly the choice is not so easy - brass looks wrong and I can't find aged stainless steel.

Too much choice

Monday, August 10, 2009

We Set Light to the New Cooker

A couple of weeks back we had some friends round for a meal and I thought it would be good to use the cooker in the cottage for some of the cooking. But it roared at me and went out when I tried to light it. So I left it.

Finally this weekend I sat down to read the manual and found that the cooker came fitted with burners for town gas. No problem, there were burners for bottle gas in the pack with the easy-to-read manual and a nice handy wrench for changing the four on the top.

Ah, but then there's the oven. And suddenly the manual is less helpful and there are no useful gadgets. The back has to come off - eleven fixings that look as if they need allen keys. But no. Tod finally finds a screw driver that fits and removes the back - progress.

Here we are confronted by a long pipe, a complex attachment on the end, a hole into the oven and a not very useful diagram. We fiddle about, guess what we have to do and put the new burner so it's resting in the hole, tighten it all up, go round to the front and light the oven.

The burner comes on, but there is also a strange roaring noise. Tod looks round and then dives to turn off the gas as flames are licking up the back of the cooker! Not what we intended!

I march off in high dudgeon as I think "my" lovely new cooker is ruined. But after a restoring cup of tea, a calm look at the manual, a damp cloth to take off the soot and a good yank with a screwdriver to get at the hidden town gas burner, we find out what we should have done. We get the town gas burner out, put the one for bottle gas where it's meant to be, re-attach the back and it all works perfectly.

The cooker comes with a roasting spit and Judy tells us that the best way to roast potatoes is to put them in the tray under the turning chicken. Can't wait to try it!


These last few weeks have slipped away and still we're not quite finished.

We've started cleaning the tiling; scrubbing off the grouting and render that leave a fine coating even after washing.

All the windows and doors need varnishing. Some have a rough coat, but they need rubbing down and three new coats applied.

The staircase needs oiling to protect it.

There are silly bits and pieces that still need finishing or are not quite right: a shower head that leaks; a sink that does not drain; places like a shower door and round the loo that need filling properly; another row of tiles behind the cooker in the kitchen; a cupboard round the electrics in the hall; doors under the stairs.

And then there are two big tasks

- the road needs to be relaid and finished after months of being churned up by heavy lorries
- and all the window panes need replacing as they were not protected during the sand blasting and are now pockmarked.

We'll get there eventually, but at the moment it all feels like a bit of an anticlimax.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Too Much Choice

We need door and window handles and the selection in the big DIY stores is very limited.

So we went back to the carpenter and asked where he got the interesting hinges he had fitted.

He showed us his catalogues and the choice is HUGE.

We visited his workshop on a day when the temperature was 30 plus and it was impossible to think straight. So we left and I've found a handles website with 25 pages of choices: plain, ornate, modern, traditional; handles, knobs and something in-between; with key holes or without; with back plates or without; "L" holes or eurocylinder holes; in solid brass hammered or polished varnished brass hammered or black hammered or rusted polished hammered or old hammered brass or antique hammered iron.

I now can't decide!

The Final Stages

We inch forward to completion and these last stages seem interminable.

The staircase is in and covered in dust sheets to protect the light wood from all the traipsing up and down.

The doors have been hung, un-hung, re-hung and un-hung again as other tasks go on round them.

Tiles have been cleaned, got dirty again, cleaned again about half a dozen times.

Small tasks (like finishing the grouting of the capping tiles on the wall outside and cutting the drain covers to fit round the guttering down pipes) that have been on a "to do" list for what feels like weeks are finally getting done.

The electricity company finally came and fitted the meter half way up the drive, but did not make the connection - not their job. And we still don't have a date when we will go "live".

At last, today the water company has fitted a meter, so we are only a step away from having a proper water system. Unfortunately the pipe to the meter doesn't quite reach, so another length of pipe and a joint is needed to finish the job. Yes, we will have water, but not yet.

After trips to every lighting shop in a radius of 50 kilometres we finally have made our choices and the lights are going in. One is a chandelier that came with us from a favourite house last but one in the UK. It looks very French hanging in the hall.

The under floor heating is being tidied up - bare wires tucked neatly behind thermostats. To our surprise we find the heating includes radiators for the bathrooms. We didn't realise and had already installed a towel heater upstairs. Bizarrely for a short while this afternoon, the upstairs bathroom had two radiators side by side - one fitted by our Polish builders and the other by the young (French) technicians from the heating company. After rapid conversations in Polish we have decided to leave the (French) one connected to the underfloor heating. Would this have happened if both sets of workers spoke the same language I wonder?

We long for the day when there are no more workers (of any nationality) on site.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Kitchen Tiles

I'm really struggling with the kitchen tiles!

Both of us liked them in the shop, but I had doubts when I took them down to the cottage and laid a few on the work surface.

We (or rather I) spent a couple of days pondering and in the end I agreed. But now they are up, I think they will dominate the room too much.

Tod says not to worry and they will be fine. I will just have to get used to them.

On a more positive note, the downstairs doors and the staircase arrived last night. It really does feel that we are on the final stretch!

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Exterior

Today we have an army on site.

All the old render has been removed from the exterior walls, which have been sand blasted to clean the stones.

After much agonising over the colour, we ordered four pallets of greyish, yellowish, whitish mortar, which arrived Wednesday. The builders started pointing the internal wall yesterday and we're worried it looks a bit dark - but seems to be drying to a "whiter shade of pale"*.

The army is now working on the exterior in order to get it done quickly. Two are doing the pointing, the others are coming up behind with wire brushes to clean off the stones so they protrude. The walls look beautiful.

*Procol Harum

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

More about the Kitchen

The kitchen is in! Fitted last week, for a brief moment it looked beautiful and pristine. The kitchen fitter lovingly polished it for us on Friday afternoon when he had finished.

But the builders are using drills to remove the old render from the outside of the cottage and there is dust everywhere!

Unfortunately, in order to fit the fridge freezer under the beam we had to cut a sliver off the under side. It's a shame, but it is hard, heavy oak and we'll use the cut off pieces to make a coffee table or a window seat.

The black cooker I eventually found and bought (nervously) on line. It looks very chic and goes well with the worktop.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The kitchen arrived ...

... at 9.30 this evening, just as the light was fading.

The driver had phoned to say he had "un petit problème" with the lorry, but would be with us "à tout à l'heure".

He was on his own and told us he delivered his first kitchen at 8am this morning. Not sure how he would have got the fridge-freezer out of the lorry if Tod had not been here to help.

The boxes are all stacked in the lounge and ready for the fitters' arrival on Wednesday.

We can see through the packaging that the colour we chose is a soft buttermilk and will go very well with the new floor tiles.

Yesterday afternoon in glorious sunshine ...

... two cement lorries, like two conjoined insects, parked on what was the lawn in front of the footprint of the tobacco barn that the previous owners took down (now a mass of brambles weaving among stacks of tiles) and poured cement onto the terrace and steps up the bank behind the cottage.

Late that evening Tod damped down the cement in an attempt to stop it hardening too fast and cracking.

In time we will put down flagstones. For the moment the cement is fine. Softened with pot plants and a pergola it will create a splendid place to sit and eat out on long hot summer evenings.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Utilities and Doors

These last few days have not been among the best moments in the build.

The water company came to make an estimate for installing the meter and told us we would have to have another pipe laid down to the cottage. Last December, while waiting for the permis de construire, our builders laid the road and at the same time laid the pipework for the water mains. However, the water company are not prepared to accept someone else installing the pipe that will be feeding into the meter. So our builders have to dig a fresh ditch and the company will lay the water pipe. So delay and more cost.

Then this morning the electricity company contractors arrived to connect the electricity and left without doing anything. Our builders (thinking they were doing what the electricity company wanted) dug a ditch up from the cottage to the electricity post and laid the heavy duty cable. But the post is a few steps away from the road and apparently the meter has to be at the side of the road (so the meter reader does not get his feet muddy). We now have a red line sprayed on the ground to show where a new ditch has to be dug to bring the cable from the post to the roadside, where the meter will stand. Yet more delay and cost.

And then there is the saga of the three upstairs doors. Ordered ten days ago from Castorama and collected by Tod earlier this week, they are the wrong way round. Our (or rather my) fault. New French doors come with their frames and hinges and holes for handles and locks already cut. So you have to know whether you are getting a left-hand door or a right-hand door. I thought I understood and persuaded Tod that we wanted a "poussant droite" because poussant means "pushing" and we want doors that you push open from the right to the left. But apparently we want "poussant gauche" doors that open to the left from the right. AAARGH. So another fifty minute round trip today to Agen of some hundred kilometers.

Mind you, we had a good lunch in the Carrefour cafeteria and we did find some attractive lights in Castorama.

Starting the Flooring

Suddenly there's a flurry of activity and the nest is moved three times. Somehow the mother manages to keep up with her three fledglings, much to my relief. The nest is now tucked in a blue washing up bowl in the old shed with the corrugated iron roof where the builders have their lunch and slip away to have a fag.

We have a real deadline - the kitchen is being delivered at the end of this week for installation early next. And so the kitchen tiles must be laid and grouted. But the tiling can't start until the beams and stone wall have been sand blasted (hence the need to move the nest). We lose another day to wet weather (sand blasters get clogged in the wet) so the builders switch to marking out the terrace space for the poured concrete.

And finally the tiling starts. The first row tiles are all laid in the same direction, which means they look too regular and modern. But after some waving of hands and a yell to Tod to come to the rescue, the tiler finally understands we want the tiles to look more higgledy-piggledy, as if they are old and used.

We come back this afternoon from Castorama in Agen and the kitchen floor is looking good.

After supper the delivery company phones to ask if they may deliver the kitchen at eight o'clock this Friday evening.

We may just be ready for them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Nest

The nest in the rafters on the first floor now contains baby black redstarts. The parents get in and out through the gap beneath the stairwell window, which is waiting for another line of building blocks and the window sill.

The birds seem quite unconcerned by the work that's going on beneath them with the laying of the underfloor heating.

Monday, May 18, 2009


The builders cleared the cottage on Saturday because the underfloor heating is being installed this week.

Suddenly the cottage is no longer just a building site, it's become a place where people will live.

View of lounge / third bedroom to hall

View from lounge / third bedroom, through hall to kitchen

View from kitchen towards hall
First bedroom towards landing

First bedroom looking towards what was chimney wall

Front of cottage