Design Mom » french cottage The Intersection of Design & Motherhood Fri, 24 Jun 2016 10:46:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The French Cottage: A Room-by-Room Tour Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:47:06 +0000 Design Mom

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Oh my goodness. The Cottage! If you’re new here, you may not even know this, but right before we left France, we bought a little cottage. It’s essentially the shell of a very old farmhouse. No electricity. No bathrooms. But we have BIG plans for it. I haven’t written a ton about the cottage, but there are a few posts. If you’re curious, you can find them all here.

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About a year ago, I realized I hadn’t given you a tour of the property yet, and it’s been on my list ever since. In fact, I mentioned it again on my New Year’s post. Well, it’s JUNE! And I’m finally getting around to the tour. Related, I’m still quite baffled at how quickly these last two years have disappeared. I suppose the first year was mostly taken up with my mental health issues (dang, that was rough), and I realize the second year back in the States has been all about my book. And of course throughout both of those years there were a million other projects going on — including improvements to The Cottage! But still, I feel like I haven’t had brain space for this project in ages. And suddenly, I do.

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Two years! Has it really been two years since I’ve been back to France? I think it feels shorter because Ben Blair has been back, and because Ralph & Olive both spent last fall there. But all the same, I’m aching for a return trip. Plane ticket prices look decent in the fall, so I’m thinking about how to make something work — but that’s a topic for another post.

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Anyway, I have dozens of cottage photos to share with you. And I can already tell you that some of you will see these images and feel overwhelmed at all the work that is required. While others will see the photos and feel itchy to tackle a similar project!

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When I look at these photos, I feel nothing but excitement! Especially when I see the work we did last year — we replaced the roof and repaired the walls so that they are structurally sound (and by we, I mean we hired it out, under the supervision of our amazing architect).

The difference is so striking! And now, I can’t wait to transform the rest of the house!

Here’s a room by room tour, starting with the door on the far left:

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Heres’ the open door:

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This space was apparently used for animals. Note the cement trough:

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Here’s a shot from the back of the room looking toward the door wall:

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And now, here’s a tour of space #2, with the second door from the left — this one has an attic access door above:

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One wall of the interior in this space is brick instead of stone. I feel like brick is unusual for this part of France (at least, I didn’t see much of it in my town):

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Like the first room, this space was also apparently used for animals:

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Here’s the view of the back fields from the little window:

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There isn’t much of a ceiling in this space to separate the room from the attic:

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Next up, the center door — I would call this one the front door. I have the most photos of this space. The front door has a window to the left and a 4th door to the right:

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Here’s the view peeking in from the front door:

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Straight ahead, you see a small window with some built-in wall compartments below. To the left you see a fireplace that takes up most of the wall, and a small door leading to an ante-room:

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To the right is an armoire:

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Here’s the massive fireplace:

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Here are two shots standing at the back of the room looking toward the front door:

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Here’s the armoire/cabinet:

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And a shot of the floor:

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Here’s a peek at the small, sunny ante-room off the main room:

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Moving on to door number 4 (second from the right):

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The first 3 spaces we had mostly cleared out and swept before these images were taken. But not this room. It’s still full of general rubble:

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Here’s a photos from the back of the room, looking toward the door:

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This space is especially dark, so the photos are quite blurry (sorry!):

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Next (and last) is door number five. This is the space on the far right of the house. This space has barn doors. Here are two shots with closed and open doors:

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Based on the hay inside, I assumed this space was also for animals, but there are no troughs here, so maybe it was more for farm equipment and storage. Who knows?

The thing I like best about this space is that it doesn’t have a low ceiling like the rest of the house. Instead, you can see right up to the roof:

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And the roof is pretty cool:

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Also, all those holes in the roof? They’re gone. The roof is new and happy.

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In the stone work in this room, there is also a column intended for a fireplace:

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This particular space really gets my imagination going — it’s the space where I started imagining how our family might use this house and create bedrooms and living spaces.

Here’s the room from the back, looking toward the door:

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And a detail shot of the window:

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These photos were taken in July two years ago — on the day before we moved back to the U.S.. But here are some shots taken a few months prior (when it was still snowy) that show the overall property a bit better (can you see all 5 entrances?):

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Here you can see our small outbuilding to the right. It has a rounded brick oven on one end and we were told that it used to be the neighborhood bread oven (I’ll give you a tour of that outbuilding in another post, because this one already has so many photos!):

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A few overall shots:

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And here’s another one looking from the front gate toward the front of the house: The Cottage Snow10

There it is. The Cottage tour!

Something you may have noticed: there is no bathroom or kitchen. Or really any proper rooms at this point. Hah! I’m actually still not sure what the final layout or floorplan will look like. As I’ve noted, from the front of the house there are 5 entrances going to 5 spaces — and none of those spaces are connected! So figuring out how to connect and use these spaces (or some of these spaces) is definitely one of the biggest challenges for this home.

As I think back, I can tell you that I assumed we’d tackle the cottage in the first year after purchasing it, so that we could start furnishing and decorating and using it right away. Obviously, that didn’t happen. (Understatement of the year.) I’m trying not to feel guilt about it. Life happens. What can you do? I suppose in this case, it’s also been an out-of-sight-out-of-mind situation. But happily, I’m ready to keep it top of mind once again. I can’t wait to see it transform!

I can’t wait to hear what you think. Does seeing how rustic this building is stress you out, or get you excited? Have you ever taken on a project like this? Have you ever been to Normandy? If yes, does this sort of dwelling look familiar to you? Chime in!

P.S. — When we first purchased the house, one end was covered in ivy, but it’s really damaging to the stone work, so we had to pull it down:

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Update on The French Cottage Mon, 24 Mar 2014 17:43:11 +0000 Design Mom

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By Gabrielle. Images by Caroline.

I’ve been working like crazy on The Treehouse, and I have a few spaces that I’m almost ready to share. The reading loft is close to done. The boys’ room is like 75% finsihed. The living room is really shaping up as well! So you may be getting a house-sharing overload in the next few weeks. But today, I thought it would be fun to cross the ocean and tell you about some progress we’ve made on The Cottage in France.

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If you remember, when we bought it, the building was basically a shell. Good bones on a pretty piece of land. But no electricity. And no plumbing. And guess what? There is still no electricity or plumbing! We closed on the cottage about a month before we moved back to the U.S., and I was sure we’d have electricity installed that month. Hah! Instead, it’s 8 months later and if we tried to stay at the house right now, we would basically be camping. : )

That said, we have actually made major improvements. The roof has been repaired and replaced. The chimney is now in working order. The cracks in the stone walls and the stone fence have been repaired as well. And a new dormer was added!

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Essentially, what we’ve done is make that “shell” weatherproof and ready for interior work. I admit, none of that is very sexy work — it’s much for glamorous to choose a bathtub, or share photos of a new kitchen; images of a functioning roof are not that dramatic. But honestly, I get goosebumps! chills! butterflies! when I see photos of the progress. Sometimes in our day to day routines I forget we have a little piece of French paradise waiting for us, and when I remember I catch my breath.

Our friend Caroline went to the house to check out the work and sent us these images and it was like Christmas morning!

Now that we have The Cottage in a stable place, we can start thinking about the interior — where we’ll put bedrooms and bathrooms and gathering rooms. And now that the exterior is secure, we can go at a slow pace if need be. Which is nice. It gives us time to make decisions, and also gives us time to save up budget for improvements.

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Two things I’m curious about: 1) Have you ever taken on a similar project? Maybe created a cabin off in the mountains? Or a little vacation spot on a lake? I’d love to hear. And 2) If you could have a little cottage/cabin/bungalow anywhere in the world, where would you choose?

P.S. — As I looked back through The Cottage posts, I realized I’ve never shared photos with you of the whole property. Would you like to see it? I took about a million pics before we moved! I’m thinking I should do a “Introducing The Cottage” post.

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Olive Us: How to Travel Mon, 02 Dec 2013 17:04:56 +0000 Design Mom

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By Gabrielle.

It’s going to be a bit of a crazy week at our house. Ben Blair flew to France yesterday and won’t be back till Sunday, and starting Wednesday, the wood floors are being refinished. Which means we need to live upstairs until they’re done. Which means we won’t have access to the kitchen. Which will be tricky. But I’ve got a plan! And take out menus! And we’ll make it work.

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In honor of Ben’s trip, I thought today would be a fun day to share one of the newest Olive Us episodes, called How to Travel. I’m sure many of you have travel plans for the holidays (or are just returning from Thanksgiving trips), so hopefully this cute little video will resonate. And if you have your own travel tricks and tips you’d like to add, I hope you’ll share them in the comments.

The aim of Ben’s trip is to have the roof and chimney of The Cottage repaired. I tell you, I get a case of the butterflies when I think about progress being made on our pretty little bit of France!

P.S. — Would you like to know more about Olive Us? Here you go:

- Find the official Olive Us website here, and subscribe to the Olive Us Newsletter here.
- Find all the posts I’ve written about Olive Us here.
- We’ve collaborated with ulive for 20 episodes, you can find the Olive Us page on ulive here.

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The Architect Thu, 27 Jun 2013 14:30:56 +0000 Design Mom

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Photos and text by Gabrielle.

Okay. Let’s just get this out there. My blog is going to have a split personality for the next year, or probably longer. I’ll be talking about the French cottage in the countryside. Giving updates on the renovation. Sharing photos. And very likely taking trips back to France when we need to make in-person decisions. But I’ll also be talking about Oakland. Very urban Oakland. What it’s like to settle in. What we figure out for schools. And how we’re making our house a home. I hope it will be more fun and interesting than it is confusing. But who knows? We’ll find out soon enough. : ) This one is a cottage post.

On Tuesday, we met with an architect named Bernard Pasquier. And it was the dreamiest sort of meeting. Bernard is actually retired and he’s only taking on passion projects at the moment. So before he would commit to our project, he wanted to meet us, and visit the property to “get a feel for the spirit of the place”. He also wanted us to see his work in person to make sure his style was a good fit for us.

So we had our first meeting at his home. It’s the building pictured above. A converted mill. And it’s stunning! See the bridge heading to the top floor? That’s the entrance. He designed the bridge himself. And that top floor? It’s a modern open loft with French industrial influences. It looks like it would be right at home in Soho. I love it.

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Oh man. I was in awe at the space and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to meet him. We really wanted to work with a local architect if at all possible, but we are so rural there aren’t many around, so to be introduced to Bernard feels like such a gift. And guess who made the introduction? The same family that owns La Cressonnière. They know all the coolest people! I swear.

At that point, we knew it would be ideal to have him as our architect, but he still needed to see our cottage. And what if he didn’t like it? It’s so modest, and in such ruin! But he went with us to the property, inspected every inch of it, and spent some time walking around the building. His conclusion: it’s a special place with a really unique outbuilding. And yes, he’s going to work with us!

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As an extra bonus, Bernard speaks about as much English as we speak French, and we understand each other quite well. During our conversation, Bernard would typically speak French, and we would answer in English. It worked out for everybody!

We couldn’t be happier. This adventure is really happening! We can hardly believe it.

Tell me, Friends. Have you ever worked with an architect before? Any tips? I haven’t and don’t quite know what to expect. But I’m excited!

P.S. — I’m thinking I should create a “Cottage” tab and an “Oakland” tab to make it easier to follow along. Watch for it.

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Our Little Piece of France Mon, 10 Jun 2013 17:00:42 +0000 Design Mom

Le Menil Scelleur

Image and text by Gabrielle.

Friends! I have some big news: We bought a house today. A little French cottage! We can hardly believe it!!

It might not feel like big news if you’ve been following along. Because we first saw this house last August (so long ago!), and we’ve been under contract since February. The house has been uninhabited for decades and has mostly been used as a barn, so there were some questions about whether or not the house could be legally inhabited again.

But — hooray! — the questions have been resolved. And we became the official property owners today.

Now the hard work begins. We start with a phone call to the electric company to visit the property and install a meter. And then we go from there! When we hatched this plan, we assumed we could quickly buy a house and spend our last year here renovating. Hah! Reality check: We leave in a month, and if we manage to get electricity installed and roof repaired before we move, we’ll consider that a triumph. : ) We keep thinking we’re crazy to take on a project like this, but we LOVE that it will keep us connected to the area in such a real way.

Today, during the closing, as we signed the official papers, the previous owners gave us the photo at top. It’s our house circa 1900 (compare it to this photo). And it’s actually a postcard, with an address label on the back. When I saw the little family, I started to cry. What a treasure to be able to picture the people who lived in this place oh so long ago. (And the collar and cut on the son’s jacket — it’s so French! It just does me in.)

Tell me: Does this project make you gasp with terror at the amount of work (and frustration) ahead for us? Or gasp with inspiration at what it might become? Maybe some of both? I’d love to hear your renovation stories!

P.S. — I detailed more about what it will take to redo this property here. And you can see more images here, here and here, if you’re curious.

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Cottage Shopping Update Tue, 26 Feb 2013 15:30:56 +0000 Design Mom

Text and image by Gabrielle.

I’m a bit late posting today, but I have a good reason. Today, we put an offer on this cottage!

We’re so excited we can hardly stand it. We’ve been looking at it since last August, but the property needed some certification before we could buy it. It used to be a house, but hasn’t been inhabited for many, many years and was reclassified as a barn. So we’ve had to make sure it can be certified as a house again before we move forward.

There is one catch: all these months later, it’s still not officially certified. But. It’s so close to being certified that the notary felt like it was okay to go ahead and make the formal offer and sign all the paperwork. So, there is a chance that it won’t receive the approvals and we won’t be able to buy it — but I can’t help but be excited anyway!!!

The house is essentially a stone shell — in fact, will need to restore both electricity and running water on the property. But it’s on a lovely piece of land and has a charming outbuilding too. And it was an amazing bargain! It needs a huge (HUGE!) amount of work, but the prospect of owning it and fixing it up still has us grinning ear to ear.

As soon as it’s officially ours, I’ll be sure to share more photos, but for now, hopefully my instagram shot above will whet your whistle.

P.S. — For those of you who are curious, we’re still planning to move back to the U.S. in July. Our intention with this cottage is to use it as a vacation home and a base here in Europe. And mostly, we hope it will keep us connected to the friends we’ve made here and to this region which we love so much.

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Cottage Shopping Wed, 15 Aug 2012 12:28:00 +0000 Design Mom

On Monday afternoon, we visited two more cottages for sale in our area. I think of them as Cottage #2 and Cottage #3 (because we visited Cottage #1 on Friday). Cottage #2 was charming as can be, but had major mold problems, so we passed on that one almost immediately. Cottage #3 (pictured above, see more pics here) was pretty much fantastic.

We really like it! It’s on a bigger piece of property than the first cottage, and the structure is more sound. The living space is almost non-existent — just one room with an amazing old oven. There are attached barns on either side of the one room, and huge attic space above. So if we bought it, we would need to work with an architect to create more living + sleeping areas in the attic or barns.

It hasn’t been lived in for many, many years and it’s currently classified as a barn instead of house. So before we can consider it seriously, the homeowners need to get a certificate that says the building is allowed to become reclassified as a house. But we were told we could go ahead and start getting bids on work if we’re interested.

This would be a major endeavor. (Understatement!) The property needs electricity, a septic tank, and roof repairs (luckily, not a whole new roof) just to get started. That’s before we get into projects like adding a stair case or creating bedrooms. I am no stranger to renovations, but this definitely intimidates me!

Ultimately, we love the idea of having a little place here. Something to keep us connected to France even after we move home.

For those of you who are curious, in our area, bare bones properties like this have low, low price tags (this one is around $33,000 after taxes), and require approximately $65,000 in work to make them liveable. The low price tag means we could buy the home outright without having to get a mortgage, then save up for the improvements as we go.

Tell me, friends. Does a project like this appeal to you? Or does it give you a headache just thinking about it? : )

P.S. — Do you know of an amazing architect that would love a project like this? 

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