November 30, 2015


In “refreshing” our new home, deciding on what to change, what to fix and what to leave as it is has been a challenge.  When we were looking at houses we saw some horrendous renovations, some had really bad workmanship and others were just a bizarre use of the space in the way rooms were arranged.  What attracted us to this house was that the basic renovation was sound and the building had been divided up into rooms of the right size and layout for us.  We didn’t feel we would immediately have to rip out all the internal walls and start again.

In the year since we moved in, we have fixed plumbing and leaking roofs, rewired where rewiring was needed, installed a new kitchen and septic tank, repaired walls, and so on.  We haven’t fundamentally changed all that much.  Curiously, apart from the kitchen, the area we have changed the most is the utility room, called in French the buanderie, or laundry room. 

linen room9llinen room9m

It was a kind of forgotten room, as if an after thought.  From the outside you can clearly see that it was at some time added on to the original building.  The previous owners showed it to us with an almost “by the way, there’s this room” approach, as if we wouldn’t be very interested in it.  Leading off from the kitchen it had a sink, an “open plan” toilet, the boiler, a freezer, a rather nice sideboard and the washing machine in it.  Also some full height cupboards.  It had a funny little door to go through to get into it and two tiny windows that let in hardly any light at all.

As soon as I saw it I thought “wonderful!”  Somewhere to put the unglamorous and bulky kitchen machines and store all the other stuff that you need to have but not to use very often.  And a pantry – luxury!

linen room9alinen room9d

As we settled in we discovered that because of the way the room was laid out it was not as useful as it first looked.  The shelves in the pantry were wobbly and difficult to get at and I was not impressed with the mouse droppings right at the back of them.  The base units were thin and flimsy and had no backs in them.  We disliked the open toilet, which didn’t flush properly, and banged our heads regularly on the low doorway.  There was also a strange and unpleasant odour noticeable in the room after heavy rain, a bit like rotting vegetables or boiled cabbage.  Damp, possibly, we thought.

linen room9ffkitchen works01elinen room9f

We always planned to box in the toilet and raise the door lintel, but very soon we realised that we would have to change other things to make the room more useable, to make better use of what is actually a very generous space.  The first job was to raise the height of the doorway.  Not a job for us of course, so we asked the builder to do it while he was putting in the new kitchen floor.

Then Nick had an idea that if we were to reconstruct the pantry, we could put in a new outside door.  This would go out to the side of the house, creating a new wet entrance for bad weather and also be nearer to the log store in winter and the washing lines in summer.  It would mean redesigning and refitting the whole room, a lot of work for us and for our builder, but hopefully well worth it.

linen room9blinen room9g

Once we took the room apart we were a bit dismayed to find the inside walls had been slathered roughly in concrete or cement of some kind then painted with emulsion, which was not the best thing for a room with three outside walls.  It had been used in the past as a bedroom – it must have been  a pretty horrid, cold, dark, damp and dismal place to sleep.  Without all the cupboards hiding the walls we could see that they were not in a great condition and there was potentially a lot more work to do than we expected, including the possibility of a new floor – the tiles looked good but were badly laid and uneven, very noticeable when compared with the new kitchen floor.  The question is – how far do you go and when do you stop? 

linen room2

linen room

In an ideal world we would have dug up the floor and laid a nice new one, chipped all the concrete off the stone walls and plaster boarded them in properly, allowing them to breathe the way old stone walls should.  In the end we decided that in what was basically just a utility room, we couldn’t justify the time or the expense for all of that.  Instead we boarded just the inner wall so that we could fix things to it properly, cleaned the loose paint off the beams and walls and repainted them with a special paint designed for this kind of surface, one that would not encourage damp.  And of course we built walls and a door around the toilet.

linen room9linen room9nlinen room9olinen room9p

The new side door is in and the woodshed is now only a few steps away.  There are new cupboards for all the stuff that takes up lots of space, including the floor cleaners and coats.  We had saved the original wall cabinets from the old kitchen and put them in one run along the inside wall.  Although the new back door takes up a lot of one wall we now seem to have more useable storage than before.  And a sensible downstairs toilet.  There’s even room for an extra appliance – a wine fridge, which is on our shopping list.  We still have plenty of finishing off to do but I’d call it so far – a result!

Apart from help with the plaster boarding and hanging the cabinets, Nick did it all himself, too.

November 21, 2015



Progress is good chez nous.  After four full weeks of steady work the living room is coming on a treat. 

(We have also been working on the utility room at the other end of the house at the same time. More about that later.)

The walls, ceiling and radiators are all painted, minimum two coats and three on the ceiling.  We have started to move furniture back into place so that we can be relatively comfortable, at least for watching a bit of TV in the evenings, as we rest our weary backs and aching arms, wrists and knees.  The last time I did this much decorating in one go I was twenty years younger and my poor old limbs do not take so well to teetering on the top of a step ladder wielding a paint brush as they did then.


The weather has been very mild until this weekend and we have hardly had the need to use our new wood burners but they work well and have been keeping us nice and toasty in the evenings.


We have removed the pile of dust covered twigs from inside the old bread oven and cleaned the space out, removing inches of dust and old mouse droppings.  The only way to do this was for Nick to climb inside with a dustpan and brush, a filthy job.  But now it’s done and for the time being a few of our old pots are displayed there, until we find something else.


We’re playing a “beat the clock” game now, working as fast as our backs will allow, to get the living room finished so that we can rescue the rest of our furniture from the barn before the weather gets too cold and damp.  It has been mild and fine for most of the last four weeks, perfect for getting the paint on the walls evenly in the good light and for getting it dry.

However, at the last hurdle we have reached a stumbling block.  The old tomettes on the floor in the dining end of the living room.


We loved them when we viewed the house before we bought it and we still love them a lot, but what to do with them now is a puzzle.  Without a doubt, the more people you ask the same question, the more different answers you will get and, having asked several people what they did with their old tomettes we are now quite flummoxed.

We were all set to treat them with a mixture of linseed oil and turpentine as per the advice of three people who have tomettes, when others threw up their hands in horror, declaring it was not the way to go.  It’s a traditional method but other products are available now and much better.


Desperate to get the job done before the weather turned, we trekked down to the supplier recommended by a friend whose advice we respect only to find the place closed “exceptionellment” on Friday afternoon.  As the wind blew and the rain fell horizontally our spirits dropped.  Passing this field of miserable looking cranes leaning into the wind, (maybe they were blissfully happy, how can you tell) we headed towards the nearest DIY store to explore another friend’s advice and experience of products.

Faced with a confusing array of cans and bottles we came away empty handed and feeling less confident.  Maybe one option was to leave the floor just as it is.

Our tomettes are not newly made reproduction tiles but most likely came from the upstairs floor when the house was first renovated.  We seem to remember the previous owners saying something about that and wish we’d paid more attention.  It’s also likely that they could be a hundred years old or more and have never been waxed or treated with expensive products, our experience so far indicating that the cheap and simple option was the favoured solution by all the previous owners of the house.  The most likely thing is that they were given the traditional old linseed oil and turpentine treatment from time to time.


This morning we are glad to see the back of the wind and rain and to find glorious sunshine and blue skies.  But the mild temperatures seem to have finally gone and it’s decidedly chilly.

We’re off to explore another option suggested by another friend who laid and treated reclaimed old tomettes.  If we can’t suss that one out our fall back is the DIY store for the products we found confusing yesterday but think we now understand after much internet research and a bottle of wine.

One way or another, I’m having my furniture back in the house by the end of next week!

Bon weekend!!

November 9, 2015


When we first viewed the house in July last year, we loved the size of the living room, the height of the ceiling and the exposed beams.  We noticed straight away that there were some dodgy taped joints in the ceiling that needed re-taping.  In France it is common to have the joints in sheets of plasterboard taped over and lightly skimmed with plaster as a finish on walls and between beams on the ceiling before painting.


This picture shows the joins in the ceiling and also the poor state of the fireplace.  Click to see in more detail.

After we moved in, more of the taping gradually started coming loose and looking a mess but we decided to ignore it until we were ready to decorate the room.  When we actually arrived at that point we had so many projects already on the go that we decided to get a quote from a professional plasterer as it can be a fiddly and time consuming job.  Not to mention our lack of skill in doing it properly and we wanted it to look right.

The plasterer came and looked and said yes, he could re-tape the joints but there wasn’t really much point because the ceiling wasn’t a ceiling, it was the floor of the bedroom above.  The wooden floor panels, probably chipboard, had simply been painted underneath and the joints taped over to give the appearance of a ceiling.  Walking on the floor above produced some flexing of the wood that would continue to cause any tape to come loose.

We were both amazed that this hadn’t dawned on us before, although it shouldn’t have been a surprise as in the other end of the house the “ceiling” is also just the underside of the floorboards of the upstairs rooms, painted.



So we decided to have a proper ceiling in the living room end of the house.  It took a team of three (including a young woman) two long days to fix rails to the beams, attach plasterboard to the rails, tape the joints and skim over.  We’re very pleased with the result.  It feels right, no longer half a job, but proper.


All we have to do now is paint it!


It was this date, eight years ago, that we bought our house in the village.  Today has been mild and sunny, yesterday was very warm, reaching 23°C in the afternoon.  In 2007 it was perishing cold, barely getting above 10°C during the day and freezing at night.  We had a miserable time trying to keep warm, although our excitement helped us to survive it. 

It’s nice to have warm weather in November, although it doesn’t quite seem right somehow – but long may it last!

November 6, 2015


November 1

Where did October go?  In a whirl of frantic activity for us.  My opportunity to post pictures of the beautiful autumn colours we have been enjoying this year has been and gone, in the blur of dashing hither and thither.


Yesterday morning dawned bright and beautiful, and it was going to be a big day for all of us.  The new woodburning stoves were coming.  At last.  I took Lulu for her customary walk around the lake at La Celle-Guenand, one of our favourite places, earlier than usual as we had all been up at half past six for the arrival of the plasterers who were coming to finish the ceiling in the living room and had actually turned up at five past seven.  (More about that later.)


The beautiful golden leaves have now all gone, leaving the skeletons of the trees instead.  Still beautiful, especially on a sunny and mild November morning.  We enjoyed our walk and on the way back I called in the village for some fresh bread.  I was tempted to stop at the bar for a coffee and a chat with Marielle the owner, but really couldn’t wait to get back and see how things were getting on chez nous.



As with everything in this house, the story of the wood burners is a long one and an expensive one in the end.  If you’re sitting comfortably, I will now begin……..

In the kitchen there was a rather nice, country style Godin fire which worked perfectly well but was much too powerful for the size of the room.



In the sitting room there was something called an “insert” which was plonked in the fireplace and looked completely out of place because this kind of fire is meant to be built into a wall.  Hence the rather unattractive lugs at each corner.

We always knew that we would replace this fire and wondered about moving the kitchen one into the living room, where it would have been much better suited for the amount of heat it produces, and getting a smaller new one for the kitchen.

However, when we called in the local plumbers they expressed a certain amount of amazement at how the two fires had been fitted.  Both fires share the same chimney and incredibly the flues only went up a couple of metres.  We wondered if this might be because the fatter pipe of the kitchen fire occupied too much space in the chimney for both flues to go all the way up.  We will never know.  There was some doubt that there would be room for two flues at all, but after a great deal of measuring, poking things up and down the chimney and head scratching, it was deemed to be possible.  The outcome is that we decided to replace both fires with something that would be more suitable for each room and work properly and safely.  We placed our order back in August and delivery was promised for the end of October, hopefully coinciding with the completion of the other building work (more about that later) which included the rebuilding of the living room fireplace.

We left several messages for the plumbers towards the end of October and heard nothing.  We finally managed to get hold of them by lurking in the village late one afternoon and following their van back to their premises.  We pounced and managed to get a date out of them – they actually turned up one day later than promised – not bad!



First in yesterday was the kitchen fire, which would only just go through the door, the plumbers enlisting the help of the plasterers to lift it.  Work progressed steadily during the day, the plumbers and plasterers managing to work round each other and by the time they all disappeared for lunch it was looking promising that we might, if we were very lucky, have both fires in and the ceiling done by the end of the day.



Well, this morning, this is where the fires are.  The ceiling is finished but there is still some work to do on the fires.  We are expecting them to be in and working by close of play today.  Just one more day………..

Bon weekend!



One down, one to go!

The weekend is looking better already!

October 11, 2015


While it is all still fresh in my mind, I thought it would be nice to post some more about our week in Anglesey.

anglesey 9h

Our cottage overlooked this bay, called Bull Bay.  It was a fishing harbour until some time in the middle of the twentieth century but the fishermen moved out of their little cottages and the holidaymakers moved in.  Now its slipway is used to launch much smaller boats, used by anglers, divers and people who just enjoy messing about in boats.


Our nearest town was Amlwch (pronounced something like “amluck”), which is a completely different kettle of fish and still has working fishing harbour.  Fishing boats, the pilot boat and yachts all use it and it’s a busy little place.

anglesey 9j




I visited Anglesey many times in the 80’s, staying mostly on campsites or in cheap bed and breakfast places.  At that time I was a member of a sub aqua club and we launched our inflatable boat from several of the bays and harbours around the coast of Anglesey to dive in its waters.  They were often very murky, being so busy with large boats and having often quite stormy weather.  In fact most of my memories of Anglesey are more of the local pubs and rather down at heel lodging houses than of memorable diving experiences.  We seemed to spend more time in the pub than in the water.

A decade later, some friends moved to live and work in Anglesey, not far from Amlwch, and I spent several weekends with them, exploring the island and its hostelries.  That’s when I discovered that it’s such a lovely place.



We spent a few hours just nosing around the harbour and then ventured into one of its hostelries for lunch.  There was, not surprisingly, plenty of fresh fish and shellfish on the menu.


Inside the pub there were many framed photos on the walls of Amlwch as it used to be.  The port was close to the copper mine on Parys Mountain, one of the largest mines in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The little museum in the village tells the story of copper mining in great detail and we came out both fascinated and also feeling rather humble and glad that we had been born in the 20th century.  Life was hard for the miners and their families and the effect of copper smelting in port meant it was a hellish place to live and earn a living.  You can read more about that here.