In a house this big it can be hard to know where to start, our job list would fill pages and pages if we could bear to write it all down. Our heads are full of things that need doing and putting to all on paper would make it seem insurmountable. Each week we write a list of things we'd like to get done - and each week we make it part way down the list, some weeks are better than others, but each job tends to take twice as long as you expect it to.
It seems sensible (at the moment) to start at one end of the house and work towards the other - and as we all live in the kitchen most of the time because it's the only warm room, it makes sense to us that we start at the other end in the hopes of avoiding too much disruption until it gets a bit warmer. So the "new" end of the house has seen most of the work so far. The "new" wing of the house was started before the first world war and then finished in the early 1920s. At the same time we think that the roof of the old wing of the house was lifted up and raised by a few feet so that the two sides matched and the rooms in the new wing could benefit from higher ceilings.
When we arrived in the house the "new" end was home to a bedroom with ensuite, a little office/drawing room and a laundry room on the ground floor, and three bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor. Several of these rooms had been created by carving up larger rooms, no doubt to make bedrooms for a family with nine children. We wanted to open up the rooms again to create larger, more luxurious rooms that will eventually be bedrooms and bathrooms for our Chambre d'hote guests.
The first room we tackled was the room affectionately known as the bee room/the stinky room/the honey room - depending on the day and who you're talking to. When we came to see the house for the first time the smell in this room was so strong that I couldn't actually go into it without retching. We knew there was a problem somewhere but we had no idea what it was. After opening windows, clearing out furniture and searching for decaying rodents (there were none) we realised the smell was coming from a huge bee hive in the chimney.
The sweet sickly smell was a mixture of honey and the pheromones that bees give off. We spoke to several experts who all suggested that we might like to just leave the bees to enjoy themselves in the chimney for as long as they cared to live there. Sadly this wasn't part of our plan so we had to take matters in to our own hands and with the help of some bug bombs we smoked the bees out and then Tim and Dale spent a couple of days breaking up the hive and unblocking the chimney. Finally the smell had gone and now we just need to cap the chimney to stop them coming back.
With that job out of the way we knew we wanted to open up the room so that the fire place was no longer squashed into a corner. The walls in many of the rooms here are covered in fabric that is attached to the walls with batons. The fabric is generally padded with batting, perhaps for extra warmth and this meant we had no idea what we might find underneath when we started to peel it back. Stripping the dark green fabric away from the walls in the Honey Room instantly made it feel larger and lighter. Thankfully the partition wall dividing the room into two separate bedrooms had been put up simply using plaster blocks that weren't attached to the floor, so we've been able to save the original wooden floor boards. The walls are in fairly good condition but we are planning to over board them with insulating plaster board to hold in a bit more warmth in winter and hopefully keep any damp at bay.
Downstairs there was a bathroom to rip out, floral fabric to take off the walls and another plaster block partition to remove. But now we have two much grander rooms with windows looking out at both the front and back garden.
One of the most exciting discoveries came when Dale removed the wallpaper and hardboard covering in the front bedroom in the main part of the house (which we think is the oldest part, built sometime in the 1700s). Behind the hardboard we found a secret door that leads onto the the main corridor. There's no sign of it on the other side of the wall and we haven't had chance to open it up yet. This room is going to be a big bathroom for one of our biggest bedrooms and we were actually planning to put a new door in right where the old one appeared.
The 28 windows, six doors and 26 pairs of shutters to restore have been playing greatly on Tim's mind. It's going to be long, slow job and he was keen to get started. So off came the front window of the Honey Room and a pair of shutters from the first floor landing. These are all covered in lead paint which has to be carefully sanded back to remove any flaking paint before they can be primed and then painted (when I'm brave enough to choose a colour). We considered stripping all the lead paint off completely - but as well as being hugely time consuming, we don't want the windows and shutters to look like new. We want to preserve as much of the history of this place as we can and that includes the years of paint.
The quotes from tradesmen are slowly filtering in and we think we're getting close to pinning down a plumber/electrician. Once we have a start date the list of jobs will suddenly become more urgent. There's another wall to come down between the dining room and the tiny back kitchen and we need to finalise all of our plans down to the location of every single light switch and plug socket. Which is no small task when you've got a good 25 rooms to think about. But it's exciting to finally start to see things change. We have no idea how long all of the work will take - this is France after all.