Cottage Shopping

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? 

86 thoughts on “Cottage Shopping”

  1. Dear Gabrielle,

    What a beautyful barn. It would be lovely to have a place like that to come back to every year and create fabulous childhood memories.
    I just wonder what happens if your project isn´t finished by the time you are leaving France? I don´t see how someone could manage major renevations like a stair case from the US.
    Also i would be worried about burglary and theft, because your summer home would be left empty for long periods.
    I suggest you just stay for good… ;-)

    1. …OR… They could rent the property when they weren’t there, to offset the airfare involved in traveling back and forth.

      Gabrielle, are you just looking for an architect, or for an interior designer? Kathryn Ireland is very experienced with projects like yours, and if you have an English-speaking designer overseeing things then you may be able to use a French architect and/or contractors without language issues. You can see Kathryn’s rescue of an old ranch property in CA on Cote de Texas’ blog here:
      I could totally see your family in that home (Kathryn’s version, not what Reese Witherspoon did to it after she bought it). I know Kathryn is based out of Los Angeles but she does own a home in France as well that she renovated extensively. Even if she wasn’t able to take on your cottage project personally, she can probably point you to someone else you’d be comfortable with. Bonne chance!

  2. How charming! The idea of taking something old and abandoned and making it useful and beautiful again just makes me smile. Of course, it involves a lot of work, but there’s something so satisfying about the before and after, I think:)

  3. I love it! What a fun dream come true! Just wondering about the taxes in France, are the property taxes something to consider? Lovely old house!!

  4. I’m an architect! I followed stephmodo on her cottage renovation and was envious the whole time. What an amazing opportunity.
    A couple of things to consider:
    1. The architect would definitely have to visit the cottage, so that means travel expenses paid by you for the visit.
    2. Make sure your architect has a license to sign and seal drawings in France, if required. Your cottage may or may not require an architect with a French license. I would check this with the local code official. Another note is that EU licensed architects (English speaking British architects) automatically carry a French license.

  5. Wow. This is so awesome. I’d go for it in a heartbeat, and opt for keeping renovations utterly practical and simple. Maybe a bedroom for the boys and another for the girls, that kind of thing. Oh, but I forgot about your extended family who would of course want to visit…..You could also finance it my renting it by the month when you weren’t using it…..Best of luck on this one!

  6. I SO admire this. It would be so enriching for your children. My husband and I would both be stressed by this task-we aren’t that visionary, but greatly admire it in others. I would personally use the money to travel and avoid the commitment, but I will love seeing you take on this lovely project!

  7. It does sound intimidating, but what a neat project! I love the idea of taking something like this, with existing history, but making it entirely yours.

  8. oh it sounds wonderful. You could create exactly what you are thinking, and what a story. I’m sure there were would be a little stress, but if you aren’t living in the space while you renovate it makes all the difference

  9. What a wonderful potential project. I would second the opinion above about considering a British architect. You’d have the EU knowledge and certificates and no language barrier. If you do go through with this are planning on renting it?

  10. I think buying a home abroad, especially in a country you’ve spent an extended period of time in, is a fantastic idea. Especially at this price tag, so you can renovate it to make it your own. I admire this endeavor and do not think you are crazy and I get all giddy just thinking about it! I definitely think getting an American architect (or native English speaker) is probably an excellent idea though. You and your husband are definitely not crazy!

  11. The sentiment “….oh darling, let’s be adventurers” most definitely applies to you. Bravo on grabbing life by the horns. Certainly the best parenting technique around.

    best ~ d.

  12. This is a wonderful idea and something that I hope to do myself one day. I’ve already picked out the architect I would use :) so I am going to suggest him to you. Perry Chan is based out of New York and has an amazing blog called Little Diggs that I love!
    He has some brilliant ideas for small spaces and lofted living!!

  13. It sounds like a great idea… but do check out inheritance issues with regards to owning property in France. When my friends mother died (who owned a house in France) it literally took them years to settle this before they could sell the property.

  14. At those prices how could you not? And then when you aren’t there you can rent it out as a vacation home. So beautiful. You could spend the entire summers in France and zoom back for school once you return to the US.

    See, I have it ALL planned out for you. Whether you like it or not!

    You are getting me thinking….I can “blame” you, right? Heh…

  15. Have you read ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle? One of my favorite books that I’ve re-read several times. Makes me laugh every time! The descriptions of their French house renovation process are truly hilarious….

  16. Sounds so great! We moved to Atlantic Canada and renovated a 100-yr old house. It took patience and we struggled with budget overages but its now our dream house and we plan on keeping in the family forever.
    BTW Architects are worth every penny and they double as marriage councillors during projects like these. :) Good luck!!

    1. This! Do it!! We just bought an old farm house with a million dollar view (and a bad roof and shag carpetting and lots of faux panelling) in Cape Breton. For me, it is my home and we are military, so this will be our one constant. I was very nervous, it was premature but now that it is done I couldn’t be happier. The rental rates in the area and we will make it pay for itself once renos are done. It was daunting as we bought just as we were moving across the country to Alberta from Ontario but I would do it again in a heart beat.

  17. I love the idea of a little romantic cottage in the French countryside. I just get nervous for all the little unexpected “surprises” that always seem to arise when you do a project such as this. But I guess that’s part of the whole adventure.

    We bought a house here in Italy and soon afterwards we had to re-do the entire heating system and roof (which we were told were in perfect condition). It seems as though the buyer isn’t as protected for these sorts of things as in the States.

  18. I think i love the idea of it, but having spent five years in France I would be wary of doing renovations if I couldn’t be there in person to oversee them (and frankly somewhat even if I could). Not to mention the bureaucracy headaches that would come with owning property in France.
    But then I’m always seeing the negative side if things.

    1. Hi Sara, have to say I am with you on this and I have lived in France for the last 12 years, absolutely, you have to be on site to oversee renovations. I have seen waaaaaay too many French programmes on what can and does go wrong (and this is for the native French) and the paperwork (and charges) for buying a property in France can be impressive. I would double any cost estimate for renovation as a start, I don’t think it is negative, but realistic. However, if money is not an issue, it would be sooooo much fun!

  19. It looks beautiful and we have done something similiar in northern Italy. We have learnt a few lessons along the way…. not to dissuade you and dampen your enthusiasm, but just off the top of my head the following issues come to mind: 1) the amount quoted to you for basic work sounds too low to us (of course depending on the standard of work you want), 2) choose an architect who knows French building regulations (and available grants) very well (e.g. if you want to let the place later, your bedrooms might require a certain amount of squarte meters etc.) – you might want to try and find an American/Brit living in France, who then could also regularly show up at the building site to check if any work is going on.. .3) consider how far the building is from neighbours. We wanted something similiar in the beginning, but then ended up buying a place with neighbours close by and it is such a blessing to have someone to keep an eye on the house when we are not there. Not only regarding burglaries, but also things like making sure that in the winter the pipes do not freeze etc.. 4) We would be careful about contacting builders before actually owning the house and having already architectural plans at hand for them to know what you really want.
    Well, I guess we could go on but this would be too much for your space here. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with us if you would like to discuss some our experiences.

  20. I have never done such a thing but oh, I want you to so I can watch and learn and enjoy the adventure.

    Would you ever plan to stay forever or is that just not in the cards? I have so enjoyed your travels.

    How much land would you have? Oh, to own a plot of the world….

  21. This project looks fantastic! Charming house made even more charming by Design Mom—what’s not to like? We’ve redone two houses and although it can feel like a long haul, it’s so gratifying when a fixer is fixed.

    As for architects, you might try Touraine Richmond Architects in Venice, California. He’s French, she’s American but speaks French, and they specialize in eco/green designs.

  22. This is a beautiful building! I have always wanted to renovate an old barn to a living space, what a great opportunity! I think it would be a fabulous family project, kids learn so much from seeing how to renovate. Reminds me of Under the Tuscan Sun, and we all know how successful that venture was! Go for it!

  23. Oh my, lady. That is quite an undertaking, but at the same time it seems so affordable in the grand scheme of things. This love story & adventure has to be pursued!

    My father-in-law is an architect and is coincidentally taking French lessons…

  24. My good friend’s husband is an architect in Seattle, but he has experience working in France. In fact, he has already restored farmhouse in Brittany — so he may already be familiar with some of the issues that could come up. He is amazing, and I think his family is traveling in Europe as I write this! If you would like his contact details, please feel free to send me a message. I feel funny posting them in a public forum. I’ve been in some of the houses he’s designed and renovated, and they are stunning. And, he’s a terrific guy!


  25. Oh God, yes. I would do it in a heartbeat! I’m sure Stephmodo has lots of useful advice. My friend is an awesome architect, but she’s based in Houston, so that’s not helpful.
    Bonne chance, this is going to be a great adventure.

  26. first, you were in my dream last night. i came to visit you for a weekend in france. very strange, especially since i don’t actually know you.

    second, i have looked into buying a home in france. this may sound a bit morbid, but i’ve always said that if anything ever happened to my husband, i’m taking the money and going to france.

    if i had the means, it would be something i would love to do!

  27. A project like this looks amazing!! It really would an incredible project to take on- where everything is exactly the way you dream it to be! My parents bought a very small two bedroom cottage the year I was born and did many remodels over the years. Some of our best memories as a family were in that home and during the renovations. I always remember as a little girl sitting outside telling jokes to the stone mason. So I say- Go for it!!

  28. This sounds absolutley wonderful, a lovely callenge! I’m an american/swedish architect who has worked in both countries and currently reside in Sweden. My experience lies in adaptive reuse, restoration and housing. Contemporary design deeply rooted in local tradition and good, healthy materials! I can send you a portfolio if you’d like. The travel from sweden would be easy and you will have no problem communicating with me, I guarantee!

    Love – Jessica Wren

  29. I love this idea so much. I’m an architect, too, and I completely agree with Robin (though I’m sure you’ve checked on a lot of the legal stuff. In North Carolina, for example, an residence can be “designed” by anyone. An architect is not required. Any commercial property must have an architect’s signed seal.

    If I could have my dream architect, it would be Glenn Murcutt. He’s Australian (major travel fees, but would be licensed in the UK) and fabulous. He is one of the people we called a “starchitect” when I was in architecture school. I think he might love the challenge of designing a smaller home for a bigger family.

    I also love James (Jim) Cutler.

    Good luck on your search. I do think it’s always a good idea to go with a designer. They are able to think about things differently and creatively.

    Good luck and I can’t wait to see the outcome!

  30. I’m so into this I’m already planning your kids weddings in my head!!
    Do check into all the EU regulations, taxes, etc. as mentioned by others.
    Although, even some road blocks seem to be insignificant when you consider all the positives.
    Bye and good luck.

  31. Frankly, my first response is a deep and dizzy head ache! But that’s me and my knowing how impossible such a project would be for us. But I LOVE the idea for Ben and Gabby and Ralph, Maude, Olive, Oscar, Betty and June because they are
    so amazing! A sweet little home in France——wow!

  32. If you can afford the whole cost after basic renovation, just go for it. I am sure the renovation process will be fun for you. Your kids will thank you forever for this present you are making them and they will cherish it for many many years. If you need remote help, just let me now (I live in the Balkans), I will be glad to help you with ideas/concepts, although I’m sure you won’t need them, coz I bet you already have the finished house pictured in your mind already :)
    Good luck !

  33. If you and your whole family are on the same page to go ahead with a project such as this, it will surely be worth the effort. Nothing in life that is worthwhile is truly easy. . . right? And your kids are going to be so blessed to come back, even once or twice, and build on their experience in France. I would love to have had an opportunity like that with my husband and 5 boys. We did build our current home together here in Utah, when they were little, and it was a great experience for us. We have been in a constant state of Renovation 0.O

  34. a project like this would be my absolute dream! we bought a fixer upper as our first home… we’re still here and projects go slowly but i’d be lying if i said i didn’t love being able to be inspired by something and do it in our home.

    good luck with this endeavor!

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