Photo Journal: Chateau In The French Countryside

Photo Journal: Chateau In The French Countryside
May 26, 2011 Leslie Juvin-Acker

How much time would you spend renovating your home from scratch? Follow me on a photo tour of a man and his wife who spent 18 years renovating a centuries old castle restoring it to its former glory with all the modern conveniences.

The in-laws came for a weekend visit and all of us were invited to their friend’s chateau in the French countryside, just fifteen minutes from our home. I was surprised to see a several hundred year old castle, a labor of love and nearly two decades of work to restore the ancient abode.

Since it was my first time visiting the castle, I was taken on an educational tour of the grounds and the interiors. I was told the name of just about every tree and plant and basked in the sunshine overlooking hills and mountains within the eyes reach.

After enjoying a few glasses of champagne, we were taken on an hour and a half tour of the castle which once was a roman vestige, then turned into the residence of a judge and his family, a summer camp, and then eventually fell to ruin until our host bought the castle eighteen years ago and embarked upon a journey that would take him nearly two decades to restore and renovate to its former glory.

The castle is over 10 thousand square feet, with two kitchens, two formal living and dining rooms, 8 bedrooms, a sanctuary, a wine cellar, a carpenter’s shop, and a built in garage and attic the size of my apartment. The grounds host various fruit bearing trees, a pool overlooking the country side, and storage buildings and garages.

Our host spent many years structurally renovating the entire castle – from ceiling beams, foundation, tile, walls, installing new plumbing, and so forth. Just one hallway of 50 feet took him 1,500 hours to complete. In one room, he removed ten tons of stone to put in a new foundation. He and his wife spent hundreds of hours repainting the walls and the fine details in every room, spending vacations, nights and weekends to complete.

Much of the materials were salvaged from nearby projects and demolitions. One example is the winding formal staircase made of wood recuperated from an elementary school in downtown Annecy, France. The school was tossing out high quality wood because it was deemed a fire risk for the city. He salvaged the wood and turned it into his staircase.

In the chapel, he was able to find a part of a bone from a martyr and inset it in stone in the alter, which according to Catholic tradition, sanctifies the space as a formal place of worship.

In the formal dining room, the are original frescos and trompe l’oeils found under wall paper thought to have been there for at least two hundred years. Our host told us stories of precious documents and artifacts found in the storage areas of the castle that were later tossed in fires because unknowing owners were unaware of their value.

[poll id=”7″]I asked him if renovating the home caused any drama between his wife and their three children. He said no, thankfully, because it helps to have a partner who is as equally passionate about the project. We asked him how he was able to renovate much of the home himself to which he replied, “When you are faced with a challenge, you learn how to do it and with time, practice, and mistakes, you become a craftsman. When I needed to redo the tiles and the walls, I became a mason. When we needed to do the woodwork, I became a carpenter. The only thing I didn’t do was go on the roof because I’m not interested in falling off the roof and killing myself.”

Despite enduring personal difficulties and tragedies, the couple and their family managed to renovate and revive the old home which is said to bear hundreds of stories of war, local massacres, romances in the area. Nearing retirement and with grown children and many grandchildren, they tell me they will eventually sell their labor of love and enjoy the time to travel and see the world they missed while working on the house beginning a new chapter of adventure in their lives.


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