SO just what is involved in converting an old property in The Roannais, in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France?
Here Brian Franklin continues his story of how he and his wife, Lucy, slowly and sympathetically returned a collection of outbuildings found in the grounds of the Chateau des Cresses.
As time moved on, and building progressed, all our earlier plans and decisions were now coming to fruition.
We could start to see the fundamental structures and layout taking identifiable shape.
It was an exciting time as there were always new things happening and new stages to see.
Lucy and I were always eager to receive the photographs taken by Raymond Vu Van, the father of our friend Adeline, of each new stage, development and structure.
He e-mailed these regularly to us when we were in England, so, coupled with all our own detailed images, we have a complete visual dossier and record of the whole building progress from start to finish.
The French builders were now well ensconced on site in their 'base camp', an aluminium hut where all daily and weekly meetings were held in a very professional and detailed manner.
Our French architect, Monsieur Daniel Faisant, was also, of course, a regular visitor in order to guide, assess and ensure that his design plans were being carried out exactly.
Our friend Jean-Francois, too, was always around to look after our interests, and communicate any minor problems or deviations to our agreed approach, so that we could comment or make suggestions.
We, too, were determined to keep an eye on progress, and were visiting the site regularly, arranging to come over from England virtually every month or so for up to two weeks at a time.
We had the convenience of staying in our other smaller home, The Stables, situated near Le Cuvage in the original grounds of the Chateau des Cresses, just a minute's walk away from the building site.
I think it is also worth seriously pointing out that a project like this has to be planned and costed in detail well before moving a single sod of earth.
It was certainly never ever going to be a DIY project.
For one thing, I am not practically capable to that extent and the quality of our inherent approach was one of good, sensitive, contemporary design of an exceptionally high quality.
Besides, it was exceedingly complex.
Both ourselves and our friends and partners in the project, Adeline and Jean-Francois were aiming for our dream homes to live and play in for a long time.
Luckily, and indeed, amazingly, we had found in our friendship, and now, partnership, a willingness to agree and compromise, but with a strong and honest team effort to achieve something fantastic together – one aim, one purpose.
It was a very good relationship and I'm sure neither of us could have attempted this project without the other.
We were lucky to have French friends on our side, and watching proceedings on site as joint investors in, and developers of, the property, and as part of a joint team effort.
There is no doubt, too, that because of our creative and interior design experience in the UK and, indeed, in France, with our previous renovation of The Stables, Lucy and I were prime-movers regarding the overall style of approach, and, of course, we were investing in two-thirds of the building’s development.
Jean-Francois and Adeline had their ideas, too. Jean-Francois, an electrical engineer, and a very practical man, even made a 3D model of their part of Le Cuvage. A project like this always seems to bring out the best in people.
All aspects were discussed and agreed between us all.
However, our 'local celebrity' architect, Daniel Faisant, was the man that made our concepts work visually and practically.
As building continued during April and May 2005 we could certainly see massive progress, and the internal wall layouts seemed to be growing gradually out of the ground, like rough-cut sculptures. The defined living areas on the ground floor were now becoming recognisable.
Support pillars, and the initial stages of the solid concrete first floor and stairs were being fabricated on site.
The appointed window and door contractor also finished the installation of our oak wood doors and windows on the ground and first floors at the front and side of Le Cuvage.
Retaining a more traditional look at the front of the building had been positively decided, whilst at the rear, where new walling had to be created due to the roof being cut away over the lower barn, a contemporary approach was to be made.
That would be developed and structured later. More about this in due course.
All was moving remarkably effectively and efficiently.
The main building contractor’s work was driven daily by an independent foreman to ensure that all was developing according to schedule and budget.
Any problems or uncertainties which occured were reported immediately, and resolved during the weekly building meetings where appropriate agreement and decisions were made.
We were posted copies of all the detailed minutes of these meetings in England, and we always attended the meetings themselves when we were in France.
Our excitement and expectation at visiting the site during these months of early creative development was immense – all of us felt heartened by the rapid progress, and the professional attitude of all involved – there were no rogue builders or contractors here!!
Our son Ellis, five years old at this time, was particularly fascinated by this live construction site, and all the rubble, equipment, and diggers.
A little dangerous at times, perhaps, but fun all the same. We kept a parental eye on him.
We, of course, were always looking forward to the next fascinating stages of completion, and as each week and month passed we had new things to contend with.
What about our flooring, kitchens, bathrooms? And, what were we to do with the external walls in order to retain their traditional look and ancient markings.
What about the roof? Originally this was to be retained, but, as often the case, roofs have to be whipped off and re-done in order to insulate and seal the grenier and rooms below.
The removal of this huge roof was not part of the original equation, and had not been actually fully budgeted for, we found.
Remarkably, however, the main building contractor had accepted this as their original assessment responsibility, and agreed not to charge us for the bulk of the new roof work.
Amazing. We had certainly picked an honest and professional French contractor here.
Discovering The Roannais in the Rhône-Alpes
Le Cuvage project turns into a grand design
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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