After I announced my retirement from Joie de Vivre and my impending return to France after thirty-six years in California, I was deluged with phone calls, emails, and beautiful hand-written cards and letters from my customers: although sad to see me go, they wanted to wish me well on my new adventures. And many, many of them were also very curious about this old house I was returning to, the house that Rick and I (along with a team of skilled artisans) will be renovating.
I’ve known this place all my life. It’s located near Gourdon (in the Lot), about 15 miles south of Sarlat. Until moving to the US, I pretty much spent all my summer vacations there, along with most of Easter breaks, and a few very cold weeks at Christmas time (no central heating.) It’s a tiny farmhouse that my great-grandmother Françonette inherited. We don’t know exactly when the house was built but we do know that the (still existing) boxwood trees in front of the house were planted on Françonette’s wedding day, which was around 1870. So, the house is at least 150 years old. Originally, it was a typical stone house of the Quercy. Pigs and chickens were kept at ground level; an exterior stone staircase led to the upper floor where humans actually lived in one “large” room with a walk-in fireplace, and a bedroom to the side.
The house was extensively renovated in 1940. My grandparents were living in the Paris area with their four children at the time; they thought it would be prudent to update the house in case they needed to relocate to the Free Zone, below the demarcation line. At that time, Françonette was staying with one of her daughters; the house was vacant and no longer an “active” farm. The exterior staircase was demolished and the fireplace relocated downstairs. The lower level comprised the main room and a root cellar. An interior wooden staircase was built to lead to a couple of bedrooms upstairs. Running water was only brought to the house in 1966: until then, we relied on the cistern and the well. At that point, the cellar was partitioned to accommodate a tiny bathroom and toilet: we gladly abandoned the outhouse next to the rabbit hutch! An additional bedroom was eventually built on the west side, replacing the old shed. My aunt Maguy gave me a small painting of the house showing the way it looked in the 1960s.
In preparation for the remodel, we emptied out the house during our February trip. It’s tiny, only 750 square feet, but it has good bones: stone walls that are 18 inches wide and solid oak trusses supporting the roof. Pretty much everything else has to be redone. When the project is completed, we’ll end up with a 1250 sqft, 2 bedroom/2 bath house with a kitchen extension and an office: two essential rooms for me because I just can’t cook meals in the fireplace like my grandmother used to and, duh, I’m only semi-retiring! That’s going to keep us busy for a while; I’m pretty sure the project will generate a few blog posts. Stay tuned for updates.