3 Sep 2013

The French Farmhouse


Crumbling and chaotic, mayhem and madness, destruction and despair….these are only some of the words that sprang swiftly to mind when I drove past this Provencal wreck a few weeks ago.The French farmhouse, the stuff that dreams are made of…mine in particular…sitting there in the wilderness begging for someone to love her and resuscitate her back to life. But not me…I have done my bit, practised my ‘CPR’ and I know only too well that it took more than a few breaths and firm presses to bring our abandoned shell back to a home.

 What is it about the French farmhouse that is so seductive?

 I could not help but stop on a cold and windy day to take a closer look, I imagined the history of the farmhouse and wondered on her beginnings. It was clear that restoration work had started some years ago but that it had rudely stopped mid stream. The shutters were falling from their hinges, the doors had long disappeared and the Starlings were the only creatures in residence. I could see that repairs had started on the roof yet the massive crane in pride of place had rusted over and building materials were half buried in the over-grown weeds.

As I peered through the padlocked gates I remembered my own Provencal journey. I am happy that I am not contemplating restoration and I am even more than happy to know that my cosy farmhouse is waiting for me at the end of the day but I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit to a few sparks of interest and stomach turns when I saw this French farmhouse.

I love, love, love the process of building. I adore the musty smell of concrete and plaster, the sounds of the building site is sweet music to my ears, I am spellbound by the artisans and I thrive on the scent of progress….by progress I mean watching a building take shape and coming into its own new life.
It is not only the architectural style of the farmhouse that appeals to me but also the materials used to create these buildings. French farmhouses are almost contemporary in their simplicity. Usually converted barns or grain sheds, the proportions are generous and the rooms are connected by open corridors. Cornices and skirting boards don’t often appear and floor and wall surfaces are never intricate.
Stone bars, terracotta tiles and wooden boards or parquetry are the principal choices for flooring. The local terracotta tiles or tomettes are simple hexagonal shapes that lock together – their patina comes from years of waxing and polishing. I suspect that wooden floors were used in homes less humble than the farmhouse, although today wood is often the material used for bedroom floors.

Our farmhouse is traditional and that dictated my choices. Limestone floors in the reception room and terracotta tiles everywhere else. I searched and stockpiled for two years to ensure that all our floor surfaces were original. Walls, with their simple plaster finishes, are ideal canvases to hang as much or as little as taste dictates. Shuttered windows with or without curtain treatments provide protection from the harsh climate and the principal decoration for the exterior walls. French farmhouses are of solid construction – very straight forward and uncomplicated.
The walls are built of stone, sometimes covered with a render to create a smooth finish and the roof is layered with terracotta tiles, gutters are non-existent. French farmhouses are not fancy; they are solid and strong, built to last – they are the heart of the countryside.

Standing outside this long abandoned Mas, with the Mistral wind almost knocking me down, I could see how this farmhouse would look – lit up, loved and lived in – and I almost envied the person who will one day make this their journey.
I hope that they are ready, that their heart is strong and they are prepared to loose it….because that is what happens… the French farmhouse, it stole my heart, xv.

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73 Comments

Hope Filled Living

This is really interesting. We have been looking for and dreaming of purchasing an old ruin either in France or Italy, as a place to retire when we are ready. I found a few pretty dreamy ones this week.
I share your passion.
Mary

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Deborah Lawrenson

A lot like our place when we first stumbled on it…!

Lovely piece, Vicki. Do you have paw-prints in the tomettes where a farm dog or other animal came along while the clay was drying? We do – they're like reverse fossils!

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Kay

oh, I can so echo all of that! back in the day… I called it "house hunting" of course, I was young and of no means to 'fixer up' but I would venture in and look around and wonder of the history, the potential… it amazes me…. where do the owners go????

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hostess of the humble bungalow

Oh if I had serious money I'd pop over and refurbish this gem…what great bones she has and my dreams of living in France would come true….
I am a die hard romantic….can you tell?

I'm off to buy a lottery ticket!

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Genie -- Paris and Beyond

I too have passed a farmhouse like this seen from the roads around Châteauneuf-du-Pape… I did not stop to look closely but the image still haunts me

I love the details of your story, the challenges and the beautiful result of your heartfelt efforts. Merci

Bises,
Genie

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VictoriaArt

Isn't it wonderful, when somebody sees the potential and gives new life to an old and amazing structure, filled with memories, history and the touch by hands, which have worked the land and it's house before???
This is it, the connection to the past and the elegant lines of these country homes!

xx
V.

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Amy

Even though I swore I would NEVER, EVER, EVER take on a remodeling project again after transforming my 1919 Craftsman bungalow 15 years ago, I have the same inklings and stomach-turnings when I happen upon a place with sweetness, promise, emotion.

The last place was a little stone cottage by the sea on the west coast of Ireland. No roof, no doors, crumbling walls…but I could SEE the finished product, could smell the fire and feel the coziness of it all. See myself playing my harp by the window over looking the waves coming crashing in from the Atlantic.

Sigh. I think sometimes we're cursed by our ability to envision the end result!

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Cathi

That also makes my heart stir…how wonderful it would be to make that farmhouse a home again!! Lots of blood, sweat, tears and a ton of money – but well worth it! Have a wonderful day, Vicki! xxoo :)

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"Alone again.... naturally!"

Amazingly eerily beautiful. It is really too bad that it has gotten that far gone, but I am sure, someone like you will have the "vision" to bring it back to life. My hubby and I making a trip to France next year and really hope to come across something like that on our travels.

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kimberly

I think for me it is indeed the history, not to mention the dreams of what life would be inside, once restored, on a daily basis. The family that would be raised there, the food that would be prepared, the gardens that would grow, the friends that would visit. I can so clearly imagine each and every minute detail Vicki – which really is half of the fun! The truth of the matter is the practical details are far less dreamy, aren't they…?
Wonderful post my friend,
xx

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Beadboard UpCountry

Dear Vicki,
This was the most heartfelt post I have ever read by you. There are many who like myself who, if we had the means to do it and do it right, would jump at the chance to restore a mas like that.I think that also it is learning whose it was, what was it's history in the area, and what surprises come in the process. I hope that afer this post some soul that has vision will come forward and bring it back to life….. I wish I were she.Maryanne xo

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Callie Grayson

Oh, How I wish I could work on that lovely farmhouse! my dream too!!
I love all the bits and smells and noise that comes with restoration. the entire process is such an adventure.
xx
callie

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Cathy Louise

Oh Vicki I can totally understand…After europe I just wanted to come home and start on the courthouse but I need to have a little money back in the bank account first…Love to you c xxxxx

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snippets of thyme

We updated a 1870's brownstone in New York as well as a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Michigan. My husband just loves to tear something apart and lovingly restoring it. Now we are in a lovely suburban home that has all the bells and whistles ready made (no projects!) and we just don't feel the same connection. Oh, big sigh!!

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Greet

What a lovely building! Oh I do hope that someone is interested in the rebuilding and renovation of this French pearl!!
Let us know if someone is in love with it Vicky!
xx
Greet

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david terry

Dear Vicki,

I'm glad to read that several of your other readers think, as I just did, that this was one of your most evocative and obviously heartfelt postings.

Now, would you ever consider (I've considered asking before now) posting "before and after" photographs of Mas Berard? I've only seen it in its current, 10-plus-years-down-the-road, perfected (by my standards, at least) state.

It'd be great fun (and very interesting for me, since I'm always interested in the nuts and bolts of restoration) to see some "THIS is what used to be where the pool is now" pictures.

Two incidental points:

1. you and your readers would probably enjoy one of my favorite books….Elizabeth Minchili's "Restoring a Home in Italy". It's a large, glossily photographed "coffee table book", of course….but also much more.

Minchilli's husband is the well-known restoration specialist/architect, Domenico Minchilli.She, herself, is trained/educated as an architectural historian (with, as I recall, a dissertation on renaissance Medici gardens).

In any case, the book has PLENTY of "Oh, what I'd do with with a million dollars in my decorating budget!" photos…..but the book equally showcases less "glamorous" restorations. Most interestingly?….the photos are interspersed with full-page, diagrammed and illustrated "guides" to what you're going to run into in terms of beurocratic (never can recall how to spell that thing) nightmares, plumbing, flooring, roofing, etcetera.

In short, it's a wonderfully interesting book, even if (like me, to be honest, and to understate the matter) you're really not THAT interested in interior-decorating. And just for the record?…..I can't be blamed for my lack of interest in decor……I was raised by a mother who has (in the 52nd year of her marriage) never yet bought or shopped for a single item of furniture, draperies, carpet, etc. All the walls in the house are white (sort of, I guess), and all the furniture is exactly what's always been there. She has purchased appliances over the years, but that's the extent of her shopping/interest.

Oh….."Restoring a Home in Italy" readily available on amazon.com and isn't at all expensive.

2. As for restoring old houses? My house isn't remarkably old (112 years, to be exact)…but I'm fond of telling folks that I was in my forties before I ever bought a property/house for myself, and the first thing I found myself doing to this joint (it had been an ill-maintained "rental property" since the end of WW II) was to have big bulldozers come in, dig up the entire, top foot (mainly gravel and broken coke bottles, broken glass, rusted hubcaps,and lots of things that didn't bear close inspection) of the place….and then to have (and pay to have) more bulldozers come in to dump two NEW feet of dirt over the entire place. I gather you're familiar with the experience of paying a lot of money to have folks haul away half of what you bought, just so that you could see what you had left to work with…..

thanks for the obviously evocative posting thismorning,

David Terry
http://www.davidterryart.com

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Tricia

Loved the way you describe your connection to salvaging an abandoned farmhouse. Although I live in Missouri and only dream of living in France, I have the same restoration blood running through my veins. Fortunately I have been able to restore three brick homes built in the very early 1900s. This opportunity came late in my life but it was the most enjoyable thing I have ever done. I am hoping that there will be one more opportunity in my future. Like you, I absolutely love being on the site…the smells, the activity, the progress…I so get it.

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annechovie

I can so relate to your love of houses and renovation. What an adventure it'd be to transform a farmhouse like this. Have a great weekend! xo

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The enchanted home

LOVE LOVE LOVE this post. It is one of the best I have read all week and trust me I have read A LOT being home sick! Who doesn't dream of leaving the ratrace behind and rescuing an old abandoned french farmhouse or barn. And this one is the perfect poster child for all the conjured up images in my over active imagination. I think part of the allure is both in the past and present, who owned it, how did they live, how was it furnished, and in the future, what am I capable to making this into, what style will we choose, how will we choose to enjoy this home to respect its past? It is quite a seductive scene which can make people like me weak at the knees as I too am both fascinated, captivated and way too obsessed with the idea of one day taking something old and crumbling and giving it new life. Thank you for a very insprirational piece which I know speaks to a lot of us "dreamers".

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Sunday Taylor

I agree, there is a certain romance and poetry to discovering an old farmhouse in Provence that needs to be restored. And then the dream of transforming it into something livable and beautiful, what a lovely idea. Ever since reading Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence," I have had the fantasy of doing something like this. And then after visiting Provence for the first time a few years ago, we stayed in Menerbes, at the Bastide de Marie, I fell in love with the area. How lucky you are!

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Karen

Vicki,
That was interesting—I envy the lucky person that takes on the task but know it must be more challenging than it seems. How nice to have a completed and comfortable home in the south of France waiting for your arrival!
Karen

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Delia

I would directly buy this old farm house. I also live in an old city-house and we have brought to life our home – we have worked day and night….
I imagine how you the light of the day reflects on this old farm house….
Thank you again for the interview

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Cheryl M.

Oh, how I would love it! But my husband told me a few years ago if I ever said the words "old house" to him again he would pick up the nearest object and knock me in the head…..Yes, I found a wonderful old house which we purchased, moved into and worked on for 3 years. He did not like the process…at all. :(

Now to win the lottery and hire others to do the work…he might go along with that idea. :)

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Mrs. M

My jaw dropped from beginning to end of your post! It could all easily have been something that I myelf have said, well, you likely said it better but none the less, I've said it and thought it all…….having lived in the Dordogne for just over a year and having always had an affection for homes, I am so completely in awe of the properties here. I want every single one of them……I want to live in these ruins and dream about who was there before me, how they lived, how they laughed….how they too loved the building, the land….In our region we are blessed with truffles and walnuts and lush green landscapes, chateaus, winding rivers and amazing locals. Wait, can you tell how much this all exites me!

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Shell Sherree

A beautiful way to start my mind dreaming this morning, Vicki ~ not the least about what may have happened to cause the restoration to stop, seemingly in mid-air. {A broken heart is top of my list ~ not sure what that says!} Happy weekend.

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Millie

I have an idea Vicki. Why don't you & I buy it, hire a production crew to film the entire restoration process, sell our story as a reality TV show & watch the millions of $'s in global media royalities pour in! I'll be in contact.
Millie x

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JanineB

My family are thinking of going to Paris for Christmas this year (from Australia). Can I have suggestions of special things to do in winter in Paris – we have been in late summer/early autumn but never at Christmas.
Any thoughts would be appreciated.
Janine

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Oliveaux

She is beautiful…I can smell it all now and dream of one day having the chance to breathe new life into such a wonderful old building…Ax

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Cynthia Banks

What a wonderful post and what a wonderful farmhouse. Us lovers of the French countryside and all things rustic and crusty can't help but be entranced by this most romantic of places. I am green with envy that you were able to see it up close and personal. If only it didn't cost incredible amounts of money to restore. What an adventure it would be though!

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Anne

Hi Vicki , a beautifully written post , I looked a the derelict house and thought how sad it is too be abandoned , I wonder who lived in it before? Why was it left. If only I could rescue it.

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Anita Rivera

She only needs the right person with the funds and most of all, the heart to raise her from the ashes. I wish I COULD! What is so seductive about these dwellings? A condundrum worthy to be explored, that is for sure, and the topic of my next blog post in a few days. Much love Vicki! Anita

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Jacqueline

Oh Vicki,
Like everyone else, I WANT it !!!! What potential….perhaps I could join you and Mill’s and join in her idea !!!!
You always have such a wonderful slant on our BIO subjects and they are such a joy to read. XXXX

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24/7 in France

Lovely post! There are sadly too many of these old homes, churches, and chateaux falling in ruin in France, just waiting for their soul to be revived and brought back to life.

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Coty

As always, beautifully written and thank you for taking me right there with you, I could feel the wind!
Sending hugs, xx Coty

p.s. did you get my note last week? I might have sent it to the wrong VA address??? x

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Vicki

I did… thank you Coty… and I am just back home this morning and will reply asap… a bit behind! xv

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jeanne illenye

…Oh, and to see that crane poised overhead…intended to destroy it but perhaps with second thoughts…or to restore it but suddenly unaffordable…? Just waiting and wanting a loving, able heart to preserve this magnificent beauty. Hope your post captures the heart of that special someone who will do just that!

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D. A. Wolf

There is indeed something extraordinarily romantic about the French farmhouse, in fact any once well built and now somewhat ramshackle home that cries out to be rescued and cherished!

(I’ve always dreamed of a little cottage somewhere… but with an easy commute to the train straight into the heart of Paris!)

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Heather in Arles

Of course, you would be prepared for this BIO post despite being on safari. Vicki, I wonder at times if folks have any idea of how hard you work, despite it seeming so effortless.

I remember well how this post made me dream when I first read it.

Hoping you are still amidst the giraffes and silver ants,
xo,
h

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Marsha @ Splenderosa

I fell in love with your writing when I first read French Essence years ago. Over the years I’ve fallen in love with you, as well.
I must tell you this post, for our By Invitation Only today, is the most beautiful of all. I’m with you, standing there gazing at this farmhouse, thinking I could do it all. We are so very fortunate to have you as a member of our group, Vicki. Thank you so much for making my day more wonderful!

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Virginia from Glamour Drops

ah, the very notion of a house stealing a heart, as if begging to be rescued…I adore it…such anthropomorphism is of course just what a house can do… such naughty creatures they are, these old houses with personality…Virginia x

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Debbie

Vicki

The rusting crane and building materials just left, says it all. Maybe the money ran out or a possible family crisis. My heart goes out to the people who invested not only money but their hopes and dreams into this house. I sincerely hope positive things begin to happen to this family and house.

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Catherine

The stone walls are covered with stucco to keep out the humidity, according to a historian I know in the south of France. A house with exposed stone is considered to be unhealthy because the winter moisture seeps inside. It was more of an issue when homes weren’t heated, except for the fireplace in the kitchen.

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La Pouyette - Karin

You’ve spoken out of my heart, Vicky. Were else could we be surrounded by lovely old farmhouses, old houses with their natural patina, built up over centuries, were else than at our regions!
Surrounded by authenticity!
Love your post.
Greetings from the Périgord to Provence,
karin

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Classiq

I would love to see it brought back to life. There is something very idyllic about a French farmhouse and I can only imagine all the work, sweat and passion that goes into rebuilding one like this one, and I am sure it is all worth it in the end.

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Vicki

The farmhouse is outside of a village called Maussanne in the Alpilles… and teh closest city would be Avignon…

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Rosemary Foreman

Beautiful writing!!
I lived 45 minutes from there, for one year…Saint Pèray/ Valence. So many charming old houses. I hope to find some people to travel with/ rent a house with….in France. This site shows such love of France, and the true life there. Sure wish there were some “desperate-like-me” France-lovers to share in house/Mas/gîtes costs for a month or summer next year….any advice on how to get something like that going?!

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Our French Oasis

I am totally with you on this one, it’s beautiful, it’s romantic and magical, but I am not ready to do it again, at least not yet, having only just finished renovating our farmhouse in the Charente Maritime. The renovation was long, but the house stole my heart, I know every inch of it, I like you, have hand chosen every item, we have discussed all the changes, we have kept it simple, authentic but it is now comfortable for a modern day family. There is something about old French houses, once you are in their grip, they never let go!

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