WORK on converting an old property in The Roannais, in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, continues as more of the project is completed.
Here Brian Franklin writes up his thoughts about what he has learnt from managing the work he and his wife, Lucy, were involved with to slowly and sympathetically repair a collection of outbuildings found in the grounds of the Chateau des Cresses.
During the autumn of 2005 our 'Grand Design' project in the Roannais continued apace. Incredibly, all the work progressed like clockwork.
Even we were amazed at how smoothly things went. Our previous renovation and conversion of The Stables at the Château des Cresses was, to be honest, fraught with various beginner’s problems, mostly due to communication difficulties, although despite being messed about a bit, the result was a success and we were happy with that.
We expected some difficulties with our first project in France, it went with the territory of taking on a renovation job in a foreign country, relatively far from our base in the UK. So, when it came to Le Cuvage, we were more experienced and aware of the many problems likely to occur.
As it was a much bigger and more involved project our approach was, of course, more detailed and professional. We were determined to get this one right form the start.
However, because of our past experiences we could not help being a little apprehensive, constantly expecting a phone call, letter, or e-mail revealing some terrible and fundamental problem which was insurmountable, and, therefore, to be reflected in huge additional costs.
This was a big investment for all of us, so some fear and trepidation was to be expected.
I am glad to say, these fears were never realised. Luckily we did not encounter any big problems.
And there is no doubt that we were both surprised and refreshed by the professionalism and organisation of the team we had chosen to organise the renovation and conversion of Le Cuvage.
In retrospect, this was thanks to a number of salient factors:
- It was a joint project with French friends of long-standing, who we could trust and who were on the ground at all times.
- We employed a highly-regarded, local French architect with a reputation at stake.
- We selected and used recommended, reliable builders and contractors after detailed assessment, seeking several competitive quotations for every element of the work.
- We all approached the project with shared aims, care, intelligence, experience, and with quality always in mind.
- We also had the money, more or less, readily available to invest at all stages, and in line with pre-agreed budgets. Any extras had to be contended with as they occurred.
- There was a genuine communal approach to the whole project by all involved, as though we were creating something very special together. A team spirit was evident throughout. It was a great feeling. It was a joy.
Of course, the various French enterprises were earning good money out of the project, but there was a serious commitment all round to do a good job.
Everybody knew they were on a local community stage and, therefore, a demonstrable quality of workmanship, cost-effectiveness, and service were vital so that they could showcase their skills and attract future business in the area.
For a short period, our Le Cuvage project was the talk of the village.
For at least two or three years after its completion our architect, Daniel Faisant, regularly turned up to show his other clients around, and to demonstrate its successful design and build. It looked very good.
As 2005 drifted towards Autumn, Le Cuvage moved into a different phase of activity and development. During September and October many changes took place, inside and out.
All the rear façades, including large black aluminium windows and doors, were installed. The huge windows were precisely positioned to reveal the magnificent panoramic views of the Roannais countryside, Beaujolais foothills, and the local farmland at the rear of the property.
This also created an opportunity to add a contemporary flavour to the design and styling of the north-facing façade with the use of horizontal pine cladding and large exposed purlin beams to create a distinctive, alpine-style roof over-hang.
We did not set out to take a particularly ecological approach with this project. However, we certainly wanted to restore and retain much of the essence of the cuvage (wine-making barn), as feasibly possible while converting it into a habitable state.
We believe this was achieved in a considered manner, mindful of the building’s historical relationship to its natural environment. We were also intent on keeping many of the building’s original and endearing features.
Most of the south-facing façade was preserved, apart from the introduction of new window and door openings. The ancient walls were originally built with pisé, an old traditional wall-building technique using compressed earth applied over rough local stone.
The original walls were over two feet thick, with excellent insulation properties, so this exterior pisé had to be sealed before a natural, pisé-coloured render was applied to match the original. The traditional black diagonal markings on the walls were carefully retained.
During a very hot day in October 2005, the building contractors organised a 'topping-off' celebration, complete with BBQ.
All the food and drink was supplied and served by the contractors and architect. This is normally a traditional event marking the roofing of a building, but in this case it was a statement of the near-completion of Le Cuvage.
It was a delightful experience, and a great day – all held on our huge new terrace at the rear of the building with the warm sun beating down on our backs, and incredible views over the local countryside to savour.
The camaraderie and conviviality of the occasion was wonderful. French life does not get much better than that.
Discovering The Roannais in the Rhône-Alpes
Le Cuvage project turns into a grand design
It's a serious business building 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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