OUR journey continues with Le Cuvage. This pressoir, or wine-making barn was very large, and superbly situated with amazing panoramic views across open farmland and the southern Beaujolais hillside, writes Brian Franklin.
With the success of our previous renovation and conversion of The Stables, and our excellent relationship with our French friends, Jean-Francois and Adeline, we felt very confident that we could create something exceptional with Le Cuvage.
We had come a long way since our first entrée into France, and the last eight years using The Stables for regular holidays.
Lucy and I felt that the time had come to make a move to a more permanent future in France. Our relationship with the local community and many French friends had grown over the years, so this was more than just a second home to us, and our friends were more like our extended French family.
We didn’t just want another holiday home, we wanted a more serious, quality residence in Le Roannais this beautiful part of the Rhône-Alpes region.
Juliane, Lucy’s 75 year-old mother, was particularly encouraging. And was surprisingly eager to share in the project with us.
After the normal assessments, both practical and financial, plus geometric surveys, and investigations for lead, infestations etc., we agreed a very fair price with Madame Seidel for Le Cuvage.
It was also agreed that Lucy and I would buy and develop two thirds of the building into two dwellings one for us, and the other for Juliane.
Our friends, Jean-Francois and Adeline would create a home for themselves in the other third, but the renovation and conversion would be a completely co-ordinated affair.
The total purchase price for the cuvage was equivalent to £75,000, and our share of this was £50,000.
This price included an additional linked, lower barn, and a considerable amount of land around the whole site. We’d got ourselves a good deal.
After the normal to and fro-ings of the French legal system we eventually completed the purchase in July 2004.
All we needed now was a formally developed concept for the building, so that we could obtain a Permis de Construie from the local Marie.
We had already pre-empted our purchase, and had employed a reputed local French architect, recommended by our French friends. He was known for his successful work on traditional farm buildings, and the renovation and conversion of stables and barns for various people in the region, including the owners of some of the larger local châteaux.
Now, both Lucy and I have a creative background in England, working on interior design and property development projects, so over the years we have acquired an ‘eye’ for design and interior layout as part of our jobs.
After we were formally introduced to our architect, Monsieur Daniel Faisant (who, by the way, did not speak any English), we had an initial meeting to get to grips with an overall style.
It was agreed that Lucy and I would provide some first stage creative direction for the interior look of Le Cuvage prior to Daniel’s architectural plan drawings.
Lucy and I went away and rapidly provided various interior and exterior references, and produced a series of alternative layouts and ‘storyboards’ for discussion and agreement.
Once this was done, and all of us were happy with the overall design direction, subject to ongoing tweeks, of course, Daniel then produced first stage, outline plans and elevations for the whole building, including the various facades.
Fundamentally agreed, all these were packaged into a formal application to the Marie of Perreux, our local medieval hill-top village, for final approval.
Working out the interior room layouts, particularly for bedrooms and bathrooms on the first floor, was not easy because of the various beam positions and height restrictions.
Of course, our jointly agreed intention between us was that the main south-facing façade of the building must retain its original character even though windows and door openings would have to be created.
For me, it was essential that we kept the ancient and traditional dark grey decorative patterns of the original cuvage wall, which faced south.
Daniel Faisant recognised the need to maximise on light into the main living areas, so he suggested cutting back the north-facing section of the main sloping roof of the barn to create a large terrace, whilst at the same time incorporating huge windows to create visual drama, to bring lots of light into the living areas.
This approach would also reveal the magnificent panoramic views of the countryside, hills, and farmland at the rear of the cuvage.
We successfully obtained our Permis de Construire on July 30, 2004.
Before we moved a single lump of earth or hacked into any part of the building we had a comprehensive build program assessment, and cost estimate prepared by a specialist economiste, or quantity surveyor.
He organised devis from a minimum of three different companies before any recommendations, which were also on the basis of experience, quality, and approach.
This pre-estimation and budget confirmation covered all key areas such as, structural building, wood work, windows, heating and electrics, plumbing, partitioning, plastering and painting, roofing etc.
The final document was all very detailed, and very professionally put together. It also gave us confidence in our future work force.
All the estimations took into account the three different internal layouts of each dwelling, and the various external opening positions, and Lucy and I were provided with separate, full expenditure projections for our two homes, and Jean-Francois and Adeline were given theirs.
Any variations, or additional work required would be assessed accordingly, and quoted for approval by us before any work was progressed.
The initial cost projections for all our own main works, including architects fees (except kitchens and bathroom installations, and any other special requirements) were approximately £260,000 for our two dwellings, and including joint external works.
Once the final plans and initial estimates were fully agreed and signed off, work was able to commence with a vengeance.
Welcome the ‘heavy boys’. During February 2005, they arrived with diggers and excavators for the first lot of external groundworks.
Tons and tons of earth had to be removed at the front of the cuvage before any other building work could commence. This was essential to re-define the land levels, and to carve out new driveway accesses.
Huge truck loads of the cleared earth were moved a very short distance to the rear of the chateau orangery, now owned by some of our other French friends who needed to build up their land to the rear of their previously converted property.
This was very helpful as earth removal and dumping can be very expensive in France. Now the orangery has enough extra land for a full-sized tennis court.
Once all the essential groundworks were completed, and good access to the site was created, it was not long before the first actual building work was started.
Window and door openings were first, followed by the first stages of the ground floor installations, including canalisation for water and evacuation, and base electrics. The re-inforced concrete floors for all wall positionings were also laid.
It always feels like destruction at these early stages of a project like this, rather than creation, and in some ways it was sad to see the ancient barn being brutally disturbed from its historical tranquility.
Decisions were made, however, and we were on a mission towards our dream home in France, and we felt good about it all so far.
Related article: Discovering The Roannais in the Rhône-Alpes
Brian and Lucy Franklin run the Pure France Now website which looks to highlight the delights and opportunities of The Roannais in the Rhône-Alpes region. They provide business event hosting, holiday rentals, property finding services and enjoy promoting the area to visitors.
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