Our Grand Design in Montemboeuf, Charente, France

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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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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


Look through any window, yeah What do you see? – Regardez dans n’importe quelle fenêtre, qu’est-ce que tu voir?

View from the master bedroom

View from the master bedroom, before the windows went in

A lovely view hopefully!  It was a big week this week on site with a lot happening.  Our 3 Velux windows were installed, the ‘crinkly tin’ finally started going up, flooring went down upstairs and the big sliding doors in the living room also went in.  With flooring down upstairs I was finally able to go up and have a look myself.  I am not a lover of heights and ladders at the best of times so the thought of wandering around up there, balancing on timber beams was not my idea of fun!

View from master bathroom

View from master bathroom, before the windows went in!

Anyway, now I have been up there, I was really able to appreciate the views across to the other side of the plot.  It wasn’t the best of days to see it from, but I can just imagine lying in bed with the sunshine streaming in – bliss!

The living room windows

The living room windows

As I mentioned in our last post, we thought we should celebrate the closing of the roof.  So on, Thursday, we took some champagne along with us to site and raised a glass to all our builders. Drinking champagne on a building site, in the cold on a Thursday afternoon is not something I ever thought I’d do.  I think the builders appreciated it anyway and even complimented us on our choice of champagne! Now if a Frenchman compliments you on your champagne choice, then you must be doing something right.

There are still a couple of windows to fit upstairs, but even with the downstairs windows fitted the difference in the temperature in the house is very noticeable.  We also no longer have the wind howling through which makes being on site a lot more pleasant.    Hopefully, the windows will be complete on Monday and then work can continue on the roof.  Unfortunately, a lot of rain is forecast for next week and rather unsurprisingly the builders can’t work on fitting a metal roof when it is wet!

Windows in

Windows in

Another important stage was that we were connected to mains drainage! The Mairie has been promising this for a while, and in the end they came a day earlier than we were expecting! We now have water, drainage and electricity – we could almost move in.

Over to The Hollies….

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The roof, the roof, the roof is on (fire), Le toit , le toit , le toit est sur ​​(le feu)

The roof is almost there!

The roof is almost there!

Well, not quite on fire thank goodness, but it is on! Finally, we can stand in the house and not get rained on. There is still a way to go with all the different layers, but it is one step closer.  There was talk of using scaffolding to get the roof on to the South side, but fortunately they found a way as it was not an expense that we wanted.  We are still hopeful that the windows will be put in by the end of the month, making the building watertight!

Tom is hoping that the carpenters will join us for a ‘Topping Out‘ ceremony  In building construction topping out is a builder’s rite traditionally held when the last beam (or its equivalent) is placed atop a structure during its erection.  According to Wikipedia (that fountain of knowledge) the practice of “topping out” a new building can be traced to an ancient Scandinavian religious rite. A tree was placed on top of a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits displaced in its construction. Long an important component of timber frame building, it migrated initially to England and Northern Europe, thence to the Americas.  Hopefully, it will be Champagne all round, well when in France….

While we were on site today, Tom even took the chance to explain to Molly the insulating properties of Pavatex.  As you can see, she was very excited.

Molly learns about Pavatex

Molly learns about Pavatex

We have also be spending a lot of time in Leroy Merlin, Cedeo and Dupont looking at bathrooms and fencing. Some big decisions need to be made over the next week and we can’t make these without seeing the type of bath, loo, taps and sinks that we will have.  As always it is hard not to get carried away! Slightly less exciting, but just as important is the dry lining and door packages.  Tom is doing his best to get me enthused about this, but compare this to choosing baths and there is no contest.

Rain is forecast for the next couple of days, so I think a trip to Ikea in Bordeaux might be on the cards.  I wonder how the French Ikea experience will compare to that of the one in Croydon?


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There’s room enough for two, up on the roof….Il ya assez de place pour deux sur le toit

Fixing the pavatex pavatex

Fixing the pavatex

The roof is beginning to go on!  For the first couple of days this week the builders fitted the purlins on the north and south elevations.  Then today they started to fit the Pavatex and waterproof membrane to the north side of the house.  Pavatex is a high-quality insulation made from renewable raw material wood.  It also gives better protection against cold, heat, noise and fire.

The builders are confident that the north elevation will be finished by the end of the week, but have warned us that the south side will be a lot more complicated because they can’t get the manitou to this side of the house.  Therefore, they have to get the materials to this side of the house and on to the roof some other way.

The roof will be clad in timber, but below that there are a number of other materials.  Underneath the timber there is lightweight metal roof (crinkly tin ‘in the trade’) to help keep the rain out.  Below this is a waterproof membrane (to also help keep the rain out), then woodfibre board (Pavatex), then the purlins with more woodfibre in between.  Below this would be our ceiling.  I am told this is a fairly standard roof style, but if it keeps the rain out, that is fine with me.

Roof detail

Roof detail

New French words I have learnt  (I will expand on this as the weeks go by);

There are some particularly interesting ones this week…..

Placo – Plasterboard
Placo feu – Fireboard
Placo phonique – Acoustic plasterboard
Ossature metal – Studwork

Poêle à bois – Log stove
Parpaings – Blockwork
Concrete – Béton
J’ai  une faim de loup – I’m a hungry Wolf.   I’m reading (or attempting to read) ‘Tintin au Tibet’, in the hope it will improve my French.  (From this you can read that I am just doing it as an excuse to read Tintin)
Hors d’eau – Water tight
Hors d’ait – Air tight
La poute – beam
Poussez les dents – teeth coming through!
Baies coulissantes – Siding doors
Casque de chantier – hard hat.
Sous-sol – basement
La Renouée du Japon – Japanese knotweed

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Our house, it has a crowd, there’s always something happening – Chez nous il y a beaucoup de monde, Il y a toujours quelque chose qui se passe.

Taking shape

Taking shape

Just a few photos to update you on the progress of the house.  These were taken just before Christmas.  Work is due to start on site again tomorrow.  We are expecting and hoping for a flurry of activity.

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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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The building begins – la construction commence!

Perspective Image © Thomas kyle

Perspective Image © Thomas Kyle

So, here we are, nineteen months after our initial plot search, we are about to start building!  Please, don’t get me wrong, this hasn’t been a slow and laborious process, these things just take time.  We had to find the plot, buy it, work up designs, take them to the planners, work on the designs some more to get them right before submitting them planning permission.  Then, once planning permission was granted 2 months later, more detailed designs had to be drawn up to take to the builders and we then had to chose our builders – which is definitely something you need to take time over.  The time it has taken to get this far has nothing to do with French bureaucracy – which contrary to anything you may have heard was very quick and efficient – or us dragging our heals (although having a baby may have slowed things down a little), it is just that building a house takes a long time and we haven’t even had the metaphorical brick laid yet.  This is about to change though!

We have chosen our groundworks builder and have written to the Mairie notifying them of our Déclaration d’ouverture de chantier, basically informing them of our plan to start on site.  Tom had a long chat with our preferred groundswork builder and all being well we will start building on 16th/17th September!  We are both excited and nervous in equal measure, but really pleased to be finally starting on site.  We will try to post as many progress photos as we can to keep you updated, it just depends on when we can get to site. I just hope it doesn’t go all ‘Grand Designs’ on us with adverse weather and dodgy ground, but because we did our etude de sol the later shouldn’t be a problem, the former, well we just have to hope that the Charente doesn’t suddenly get some odd weather patterns……

See you soon, hard hats and hi-vis jackets on!

New French words I have learnt  (I will expand on this as the weeks go by);

Casque de chantier – Hard hat.

Sous-sol – basement
La Renouée du Japon – Japanese knotweed

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Builders, joiners & carpenters – Constructeurs, menuisiers et charpentiers

Tom, Molly and I have just got back from a lovely trip to SW France.  Even thought the first few days were all concerned with the house build, we still managed a few days in (yet another) lovely Chamber d’hotes.  The French seem to do these very well and we have never been disappointed in where we’ve stayed. Maybe this could be the theme of my next blog…..

Anyway, this visit allowed me to finally meet the other potential builders and timber frame companies that Tom met on his last visit.  We crammed a lot of meetings in quite a short space of time and also managed to squeeze in a few that we hadn’t planned on!

Timber Frame Companies

First was Batis Paille whom I have met before as well and was very impressed by.  They have a very interesting system of build which includes straw bale insulation (hence the name, paille being French for straw).  We then met Marandat another Timber Frame company based near the plot. They seem to have quite a big operation going and were also very professional and came up with some great ideas and solutions as to how we could get the house built.

We also met David Lestage from Charente Maison Bois at his home/office. A lovely timber framed house, in the middle of nowhere.  It was a great place to meet him because we will get an idea of the quality of the workmanship we’d get on our own house.  Our last meeting was with Desmortier Maison Bois.  They are based slightly further away from Montemboeuf than the others, but still local (ish) which is something that is important to both Tom and I.  We are not only keen to employ French trades, but ideally ones located close to the plot.

One of the builders that we met recommended that we contact a menuisier that he knows called Debessac.  We met him at his factory, which was even closer to the plot than Batis Paille or Marandat.  The quality of some of the work he showed us was amazing (as it was for all of the companies that we met), but you could really see some attention to details.  He showed us a headstock that he was making for church bell housing he was making for a local church. Clearly a talented man, we will await his quote and see if he is the man to build our house.


We also met three general builders on the plot, one from SLM Construction, one from Cesar Constructions and another chap called Domingos.  They will build the foundations for us and create an access in to the site.  While they were there we discussed the possibility of building a basement or sous-sol.  The site is on a slope, so it seems an ideal opportunity to create some more space, just by digging down an extra meter or so.  This may mean going back to the planners though and I not sure that this is something either of us want to do.  Still depending on the extra costs involved it is something that we can discuss with the planners to decide if it worth our while. The builders we have met so far are either English or Portuguese, which goes against our plan to use French trades, but we have found that this is not always possible.  We are still open to tenders, so if anyone knows a good local French builder – please let us know! 

All in all this was a useful trip.  It enabled me to meet all the builders and timber frame companies which will help me feel more involved in the whole process.  We now have a better understanding of the quotes and can start looking in to them more thoroughly before we make our decision. A few of the timber frame companies are so busy that they can not start until next year. This is great news for them but mot so much for us.  On the plus side, it does mean that there is a demand for high quality timber frame houses in France!

We are still awaiting a few quotes, but in the meantime we can go through the ones we have, line by line!  Tom will also be working on designs for the basement.

One slight problem I discovered while we were there was that there is some Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica)  near the plot – not something you want around when embarking on a house build!  We told the Mairie’s office, who fortunately knew of the plant and the problems it causes, they took our details and said that they would get back to us.  I am not sure what will come from the meeting, but at least we have told them.  Hopefully something will be done, although it did look as though the verges had been cut recently which is slightly concerning. By the way, in case you need to know, the French for Japanese knotweed is La Renouée du Japon! It seems as though it is just as much a problem in France as it is here….

New French words I learnt this holiday (I will expand on this as the weeks go by);

Sous-sol – basement
La Renouée du Japon – Japanese knotweed