Daily Life in the Morvan: Third Summer & Autumn

We’re well on our way to winter already, the temperatures have dropped and we just had our first snow today. But let’s go back to when it was warm and sunny, and we were walking around in dresses! Or, dirty T-shirts really, as our whole summer was taken up by renovating our new house. And, as it turned out, so was our autumn. This is because prior to us, the house belonged to an elderly couple. We’ve only seen their son, who told us they lived there for 18 years without really maintaining the house or the garden. It was habitable, but that’s about it. It was quite unbelievable (and also very visible) that an 80 year old woman had lived there by herself the last year. It was very cold, there were unfinished works, and it was so, so dirty. Our first idea was to only do the minimal work, move in at the 1st of October, and then spend the winter renovating the small house in the backyard so we could rent it out next summer.

It was quite scary to make big decisions in the beginning. We have never taken on a big project like this and we didn’t know how to do a lot of things. We are confident in our ability to learn though, and we have friends who actually do know what they’re doing. Looking back now it’s quite funny that we started our renovation with painting the living room. As we got used to the idea that this house was ours to do with whatever we liked, we dared to take bigger decisions. The main one was deciding to rip out the upstairs ceilings and roof insulation. It just felt like a very unhealthy environment with all that mould and the insulation value was almost none. A warm house is very important, as we have learned last Autumn, so we weren’t going to take any risks with that.

I don’t think I’ve even told you the specs of our dream place! So the house is 1300 sq.ft (120 m2), with a kitchen, living room, open office on a half-floor, bathroom and two bedrooms. Above the kitchen is a big attic that is still in the state of old hay attic, but this could potentially be more bedrooms, offices, guestrooms, or whatever we decide to do with it. Also attached to the kitchen is a huge barn that we use as storage and workshop. It is south facing, at the end of a valley, on a dead-end road. At the back of the house we have 1.3 acres (5300 m2) of wild garden, with old fruit trees and lots of blackberries. And there’s a second house situated just behind our house: a little house that once belonged to someone else, but it’s in a bad shape. The roof needs to be re-done and it doesn’t have plumbing or electricity. It’s got great potential for a bed & breakfast though, so we’re already looking forward to start work on that.

As it goes with a renovation, along the way you encounter many unforeseen problems. We’ve seen enough house building programs and spoken with enough people that we knew it was going to take both more time and more money than planned. So we didn’t plan, we made lists but always kept in mind that things might change. I think this has saved us a lot of stress. It also set our pace at a little lower than it could have been. This was a marathon we were running, not a sprint. We’ve had a lot of help from friends and family, weeks in which we picked up the pace to make the most of their visit. If it weren’t for them we would definitely still have months of work ahead of us.

Our deadline shifted to the 1st of November, then the 1st of December, and now it’s ‘before Christmas’. We’re pretty sure we can make that one though! By then we’ll have spent 5,5 months on the house, and we won’t be done. But it’s time for a break, and I am already looking forward to getting back to work. I did manage to get a new pattern out last week, but there’s so much more that I can’t wait to get back to.  We’re looking forward to a quiet winter, to hole up in our own house in front of the fire and make new plans. Because we’re always making plans.

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  1. Wow, I can’t even imagine the amount of work going into that. Good luck with getting things done before Christmas, for your well-earned break!

  2. What an idyllic setting and first home for you and your family Lisa, the house looks to have so much character and history, and your endeavours will become part of its fabric going forward. Love it :)

  3. This looks amazing! (But exhausting). Having just this past summer moved into, and done some fairly minor renos on, our own old house, I know exactly what you mean about delays and unexpected side projects. But yours is much older, and more exciting! ?

  4. I love Morvan. I lived in this country long time ago and it’s my “région de cœur”. Good luck for all the work !

  5. Seeing your progress pics was so interesting! My husband & I have never done home renovations (we’ve always lived in a rented apartment and now that we’re in our ’60’s highly unlikely we ever will!) so I can’t imagine the amount of work you’ve put into manifesting this dream but congratulations to both of you for your perseverance and fortitude!

    1. Thanks Kathleen! A rented place certainly has its benefits, more freedom, less responsibility.

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