A year has passed and you are probably wondering – well, what happened? We left you on a cliffhanger with the application for our permis handed in just before Christmas! As is the way in life, unexpected events intervened and whoosh – here we are again in the festive season and we’ve barely had time to stop and think, let alone update the blog.
Yet this year things feel very different. We did get our planning permission and in record time – it arrived hand-delivered by our Mayor on Boxing Day. He had been to the DDE offices while in St Astier and chivvied them along to stamp our permis de construire. So we feel pretty confident that we have the support of local officialdom.
As we live in a rural area where the Mairie is too small to handle planning applications, the end decision lay with the DDE (planning authority). A good relationship with your Mayor is still important as he or she can decide not to approve of a project, which can be overruled but only after an appeal. If you are looking for more tips on planning and renovation, take a look at this article that my partner Hannah wrote for Living France.
Family and work kept us away from The Barn for half the year. When we landed back on our feet in June, we called local builders to prepare ‘devis’ (quotes) for work on the gable-end wall. This is what the wall looked like – not a pretty sight! We plan to do a lot of work on The Barn ourselves but this job was one for professional stonemasons…
Luckily the builder in our ‘commune’ (parish), Monsieur Farges, has a good reputation and has done a lot of work locally, so it was easy to see that he and his crew knew what they were doing. If you ever do your own renovation, do ask builders if you can see work they have done previously – any good builder should have no problem with this.
We also chose M. Farges because he has a team of four builders and a Manitou hydraulic lift, which meant they could do the job much quicker than us. The Manitou came in very handy for removing the enormous five-metre high steel ‘portail’ put on by the last farmer who used The Barn.
Our philosophy for the Barn project is to concentrate on building the timber framing business here and work on the Barn in-between jobs. Any big building works will be contracted out. So far, this seems to be working. It is also very good for building relationships in our local community. We are already working on a veranda project with Monsieur Farges and he has started asking us to quote for his clients too…
Farges’ team were due to start in October and although this morphed into November, as soon as they arrived they cracked on with the work at a lightning pace, demolishing the ugly concrete and brickwork and propping up the roof with ‘étais’ (acro-props).
Once this was done they rebuilt the left side of the door opening in limestone blocks and then placed the five-metre oak lintel, sourced from the local sawmill where we buy our timber framing supplies. Above that, two new stone window surrounds were put in, with stone lintels on the outside and oak on the inside.
The whole was finished off with a set of new sliding doors. To make these, I ordered a steel frame from a local metal-working firm, with struts to attach the oak planks to and three frames on each door to hold glass inserts.
Here is the finished Barn front – a complete transformation from two weeks earlier. We feel that a leap in progress has at last been made and I look forward to the next stage, which is to start building the first floor inside the Barn.
This will be a free-standing oak-framed structure, so it will not depend on the Barn walls for support. This is a good insurance policy against putting too much pressure on the existing walls, which were originally built to support part of the weight of the roof.
I was not idle over the winter months last year and built first a mezzanine and then this oak gallery. They are now linked by a bridge and will eventually connect up with the first floor. Note the use of recycled rafters for studs in the ‘colombage’ wall, salvaged from the roof repair last autumn.
I am champing at the bit to start building the free-standing oak frame that the first floor will sit on but first there is some preparatory work to be done. We will ask Monsieur Farges back in the spring to lay a concrete slab outside the west-facing wall of The Barn.
Eventually this will be the base for our spacious first-floor oak terrace but in the meantime it will serve as an outdoor timber framing yard for me, while Monsieur Farges and his crew finish off the concrete floor inside The Barn. Once that is done, we will be able to start building the oak structure to support the first floor…
So we are ending our first whole year at The Barn with a sense of achievement but with a huge project still ahead of us. We wish you all the best with your own projects in 2013!