Our Grand Design in Montemboeuf, Charente, France

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Wonderwall – Le mur formidable

SLM building the wall cladding

SLM building the wall cladding

Last weekend, Tom took a trip to Montemboeuf to catch up with our builders who were all kind enough to meet him at the weekend.  He managed to sort quite a few problems out, so it was a good job that he went.  Unfortunately, these problems have resulted in more costs for us.  This is a pain and does mean budgets will have to be reduced elsewhere, but this is all part of the building process.  Still, at least now it is all resolved and we do not have to worry about the painting or the kitchen installation. It just goes to show what a difference being on site makes and if we could have been, I think we would both liked to have been there for the whole build.

We also have a date for our kitchen delivery, whoop whoop.  Luckily, it should be delivered and installed by the time Tom next goes out there in July.

SLM Construction also started on our external wall cladding.  I was slightly skeptical of this idea especially when I saw how lovely the timber cladding looked.  I have always loved the colour of this stone, so I was happy for it to be used, I just wasn’t sure how it would work with the timber.  Now that the wall has started, I think it looks amazing and I don’t know why I ever had any reservations. I should by now trust Tom with his design ideas.  You would think I would have learnt to after all this time.  I must take heed when he tells me his new thoughts for our interiors!

In other good news, the sheep are back!  The farmer has kindly erected a fence around our new hedge so that they don’t go nibbling on that.  From what Tom told me we really need them on site because everything has been growing really well – including the hedge and the newly planted trees. I wonder if Jeff (le fermier) will give us one of his sheep?!

Well it had to be didn’t it?  Take it away Liam…

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These wires are out of control – Ces fils sont hors de contrôle

Kitchen wires

Kitchen wires

Apologies for the lack of posting recently, but life sort of took over.  Molly started nursery, but was then sick and I was due to go back to work, but then also became ill.  I have just about recovered now and I am recuperating in France! Sadly not in Cannes where most people seem to go for that sort of thing, but La Rochefoucauld is very lovely!

We are also a little behind schedule, but inevitably these things happen.  Unfortunately, not having been on site for six weeks has meant that things have moved more slowly than expected.  Even though we are behind on the program that the builders had given us, the site had changed considerably in 6 weeks.  Externally, the site is looking a lot tidier for a start which makes the approach to the house a lot more welcoming.  This is further helped with the very beginnings of the landscaping. We’d contracted ‘An English Nursery in France’ to plant a hedge for us and to do some tree pruning and the work they did has made a big difference to the front of the house. Hedging plants seem to be very expensive in France.  We were very keen to use our local pépinière, but it would have been cheaper to buy the plants in the UK and drive them over.  This of course, would have not been very good for the plants! 

The pergola had also been finished and we were now able to see Tom’s design of a seamless continuation of cladding of the house and pergola in action.  I can’t wait to be sitting there with a glass of pineau watching the sun go down.  I am sure some of you would like to join me!?

However, it is on the inside of the house that the biggest changes have happened.  We now have some walls, ceilings, the beginnings of a staircase and lots and lots of wires, pipes and ducts everywhere.  As I have mentioned before, it is difficult to imagine how the layout of the house will look or gauge the sizes of the rooms from the architect’s drawings. When we were last in the house, before the partitions went up, I could not visualise the space and wondered how we would fit two en-suite bedrooms downstairs.  Visiting the site again, with the partitions up, I can’t believe how large the areas are.  It just goes to show that you really need to see a house with internal walls before you worry about the space!

The walls that have been put up enabled us to see that all important framed view that I had wanted Tom to design right from the beginning of the project.  It was very exciting to finally see it. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks all the walls will be up!

We now have a bit of careful time and project management to work on.  It is also vital that the interaction between our mason, plumber, electrician and main builder works as smoothly as possible. We have to time the delivery of our kitchen correctly because there was no way our mason, who is doing the tiling can do a good job on the tiling with big kitchen boxes in the way!  It is therefore important therefore that the tiling is finished before we take delivery of the kitchen, but this meant that first fix plumbing and electrics had to be finished before the tiling can start.  This organisation of the trades was going to be difficult once back in the UK, so we will have to keep our fingers crossed that until Tom can get back to site things run smoothly with all the trades!


Over to you Franz Ferdinand

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Sometimes all I need is the air that I breathe – Quelquefois, tout j’ai besoin est l’air que je respire

Air tightness test

Air tightness test

The results are in….

At the end of February we had an air tightness test. Achieving a good level of air tightness is important for the energy efficiency of the building.  The benefits of improved insulation and more energy efficient heating systems such as the ones was have installed would be lost if warm air leaked out of the building and cold air leaked in.  Too much air leakage can lead to unnecessary heat loss and possible discomfort, which anyone in the house would feel as draughts.   To carry out this test, the company arrived and fitted a temporary airtight screen to our front door.  They then mounted a big fan to the screen which blew air in to and out of our house so that they could create a pressure difference between the inside and outside of 50 Pascals.  To pass an air leakage test in England and Wales, a home must achieve an air permeability result of 10 m3/(h.m2).  By the end of our build we will hope to achieve 0.6 m3/(h.m2) which is far in excess of UK building regulations and is almost Passivhaus standard which is 0.2 m3/(h.m2.).  At the end of this interim test we would not expect to achieve our desired result, but doing a test at this stage would allow us to seal up any major leakages through the construction. It was all quite exciting on the day and as we waited for the results.  The results came in and….we achieved 0.8 m3/(h.m2). I think this far exceeded what Tom expected to achieve at this stage, so he was very pleased that when they ran the test again they attained the same results!

It’s all yours, The Hollies….

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Hope in the Air – l’espoir dans l’air

South facade and pergola

South facade and pergola

The scaffolding is down and the pergola is on its way to being finished – it has been a busy week on site!  The building is beginning to look like the original concept sketches that Tom did almost a year ago.

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We only have a week left in France before we head back to the UK.  There are still a few things that we need to sort before we go because we will not be back until Easter.  It is hard to choose tiles and flooring when you are not around to see them in the shop.  Still, this as finally been decided as has our hedging, decking and walling!

We have an air tightness test booked for next week as well.  Achieving a good level of air tightness is important for the energy efficiency of the building.  The benefits of improved insulation and more energy efficient heating systems are lost if warm air can leak out of the building and cold air can leak in. Too much air leakage can lead to unnecessary heat loss and possible discomfort in the house which you would feel as draughts. The test involves regulating air pressure inside the house.  They do this by fitting a temporary airtight screen to our front door.  They then mount a big fan to the screen which blows air in to and out of our house so that they can create a pressure difference between the inside and outside of 50 Pascals.  There is then some more complicated maths to do. To pass an air leakage test in England and Wales, a home must achieve an air permeability result of 10 m3/(h.m2).  We hoped to achieve 3 m3/(h.m2)! We’ll let you know how it goes.

Over to Laura…..

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Clad all over….. Bardages partout

The cladding starts

The cladding starts

The last couple of weeks in the Charente have been glorious, this has meant that our carpenters have been able to make a good start to the timber cladding on our house.  The whole building, including the roof is going to be clad in Douglas fir.  When we were first discussing the cladding with Marandat, we had the choice of using Larch or Douglas Fir. Initially the Larch cladding does look a little less bright, but as soon as the start to go grey the two woods will look the same.  We therefore decided on Douglas Fir because it was cheaper, but just as good.

Tom designed the timber façade to be open jointed rather than tongue and grove to give the impression of depth, this meant that the setting out of the cladding took a lot of working out and a bit of complicated maths!  Tom and Claude from Marandat eventually agreed on spacing the battens 15mm apart. To ensure the timber battens were equally spaced to the nearest 15mm each section of the building had to be measured and then divided by the spacing, while taking in to account the width of the battens.  Hopefully, once the cladding has finished, nobody will notice if the spacing is a few hundredths of a mm out in some places!

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What you see in these photos is not the finished product, the edges will be neatened up to be the same length and then the ends will be covered with flashing.  The south and west sides that have been put up have already started to lose their slightly pinkish colour.  This does mean that the wood will be changing colour at different rates, but it all happens so quickly that it will not be noticeable for very long. The cladding should be completed by the end of this week and then they will start work on the inside, with the very exciting drylining!

We have also (finally) finished tendering for the screed, tiling, stone wall and decking area.  We now need to decide what tiles to use.  This has proven more complicated than tendering for the person to do the work.  Tom and I have therefore been spending a lot of time in tile showrooms. The choices seem endless and because there are a lot of areas to tile, most of which need different styles, there are a lot of decisions to be made.  One thing I have learned is how expensive mosaic tiles are – almost 3 times the amount of square or rectangular tiles.  I don’t think I will ever look at a tile in quite the same way again!  Whenever I use the loos in the supermarket or restaurant I take notice of the tiles. Sadly, Tom has been doing the same thing, ‘oooo, did you notice the tiles in there?!’

We are also tendering for some of the soft landscaping works, including where to buy the hedging plants for the garden and who to get to do the tree works. I think we have made our decision, with help from Al, it is just a question of choosing the correct plants.  Due to my background I am very keen that we should have a native woodland style hedge rather than the leylandii and laurel that you see in gardens all over France.  We are therefore likely to be planting a mix of blackthorn, hawthorn, hazel etc. These plants will give us colour and the birds fruits and berries.  It also means no leylandii or laurel!

Over the last few weekends, we have been exploring more of France, staying in our general area, but hoping to get a better idea of our surroundings and the Country.  We took a long weekend to Bergerac and Perigord, home of good wine, truffles, duck and foie gras.  Staying in the most amazing Chambre d’hôte in Beaumont du Perigord, we took a couple of trips out to some wonderful Bastide towns.  It made me realise that there is still so much of France to explore and that wherever you go you can always get a decent bag of veg in the local market!


Over to Dave Clark Cinq

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There is a house in Montemboeuf – Il y a une Maison a Montemboeuf

 The house arrives

The house arrives as flat pack

Well almost….

Although a little delayed our house in Montemboeuf has finally started to go up.  Tom and I are both disappointed that we can not be there to see the beginning of the process as we had both been looking forward to this part of the build.  Fortunately, our timber frame company have sent us some photos of the progress – and it all seems to be happening very fast!

Our soon to be neigbours have also been kind enough to take a few as well, so at least we will have an idea as to how things are going.  Sadly we will no longer be watertight for Christmas, but at least they have made a start and when we get back in January we will see more of the house being erected.

It has been great to see Tom’s designs finally ‘in the flesh’ (almost).  I am also pleased to see that my portrait window in the bathroom made it to the cut of the final designs!  I also can’t believe how big some of the windows and doors look.  On the drawings it was hard to tell the scale of things, but seeing these images you really get the sense of how great the doors will look once finished.  We are both so eager to get out there and see it for real now.

Joyeux Noël!


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Come on Molly light my fire – Allez Molly allumer mon feu

It's hard choosing the right poêle!

It’s hard choosing the right poêle!

Tom, Molly and I have spent a happy couple of days looking at interiors for the house.  This has included a trip to Leroy Merlin, Godin to look at poêles, Cedeo for bathrooms and Cuisinella to look at kitchens. These were the jobs that I had been looking forward to and it was great fun.  As I have mentioned before, it was very hard not to get carried away when looking at shiny tiles and sparkly taps. It was very a useful exercise to get a better idea of how what we would like fits in with out budget and where we can save money to get the items that are more important to us.  As Tom has designed the house, my responsibility lies with running and checking the budget (remember excel is you friend).

I have asked a few people about what they would expect to see in a luxury bathroom and double sinks seemed to come up every time.  Fortunately, Tom has designed the master bathroom large enough to fit one in, so those of you that suggested may be in luck!  We also looked at baths a showers that squirt jets of water at you, something I think is quite fun, but sadly I don’t think I can persuade Tom of their benefits!

We then went to Marandat to see our house being built.  It was very exciting to see the guys working on our walls and windows.  They still hope to start on site next week which is when  Tom will be back in the UK, so I really am going to have to gen up on my French building terms. At least I know the words for build, timber, wood and stop!

Tom has also been contacting plumbers, electricians, tree surgeons and we have arranged for our mains drainage to be connected!  It is about to start to get very busy on site…..