Our Little Piece of France

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.

107 thoughts on “Our Little Piece of France”

  1. Oh hurray! Congratulations! I’d send you salt and bread and a broom, but I think spackle, nails, and sheetrock might be more appropriate! I hope you find happy days, history, and hope in your new cottage–plus lots of stories!

  2. YAY! Congrats!
    Renovations scare me but, excite me too! We are renovating our basement to rent it out as an apt and raise money for an adoption. :) So, they can be daunting but, exciting!

  3. What a daring adventure ~ inspiring for sure! It is through hard work and frustrations that life’s greatest joys and beauties are found. Also, what a gift to have the photo. My first thought was, “They look so French. Love.”
    Cheers to you, Blairs!

  4. Have you read Bon Courage?! I’m guessing you have, and you know what you are getting yourself into! So excited for you guys. If you plan to rent it out in the future, sign me up! :)

    1. Actually, I’ve never even heard of it. I’ve read A Year in Provence (it’s wonderful!), and now I’m excited to add this to my reading list. Thanks for the recommendation!

  5. This is wonderful, exciting news! It would, indeed, be a daunting undertaking for me, but I don’t get the impression that the Blair Family is daunted by very much. And how lovely to have an anchor in the country/region you have come to love. Good luck.

  6. Yay! Congrats! can-t wait to follow the step by step renovation days :)
    This is a very hard challenge, coz for me this house is too spooky. However i’m sure you can make it a home sweet home like always! :)

  7. Oh, wow, so exciting! I can’t wait to see more of the inside.

    That picture is so special. My mother-in-law is in the process of purchasing her grandfather’s lake cabin that has been out of the family for 50+ years. She brought pictures of her parents standing in front of it to share with the current owners. It’s such a cool thing to feel connected to the history of your home.

  8. Hearing that you cried when you saw that photo made me a little teary, too. Isn’t it great to think about how we connect to people we don’t know through our shared spaces? I think it’s really beautiful. Congratulations to you!! I can’t wait to watch as things unfold!

    1. I love the connection so much. And of course I keep wondering about their lives. How old they were when they died. What their days were like.

      So fascinating to me!

  9. I bought an 85 year old cottage in San Francisco fifteen years ago, and now it is 101 years old. Nothing in comparison to places in France, but a little bit old for here. It was a Major Renovation. I had a technically very competent contractor, but he wasn’t very nice, and as I was doing it alone, I ended up crying a lot. But now I have the most beautiful treasure of a home. So I’m really glad I had the good fortune to buy it and renovate.
    I’m really happy for you guys, and inspired. I know there will be problems, but with the whole family involved, as yours in, and loving France as you do, I know you’ll have a mega-great time with this project, overcome the difficulties, and end up with the joyful French home your family will enjoy for many decades! Yay!!!

    1. “I had a technically very competent contractor, but he wasn’t very nice, and as I was doing it alone, I ended up crying a lot.”

      I can already imagine this for myself. And we don’t even have a contractor in place yet. : )

  10. Congratulations! I’m so excited for you! To be honest, I love the idea of doing a renovation for a special piece of property. I have my eye on a farmhouse that has been for sale for years and nobody wants it. But. I’m sure that it could be an absolute treasure and I’m just bidding my time!

  11. It makes me gasp with envy! (Is that a thing? Gasping with envy?)

    Congratulations! What an awesome project and adventure. Yes, sure to be challenging and frustrating at times, but I can’t imaging that it won’t be entirely worth it x1000. How great for you and your family for years to come!

    …and of course I’m looking forward to living vicariously through the photos sure to come. :)

  12. Congratulations! I’m sure this will be a special place for you and your family. Looking forward to seeing what you bring to it! Best of luck!

  13. Oh my goodness, how exciting! If you haven’t read ‘A Year in Provence’ by Peter Mayle yet….oh you must. It will make you laugh and cringe (mostly laugh), reading about what it was like getting their french house renovated. One of my favorite books in the whole wide world!

  14. How wonderful and daunting at the same time! Its great that you will keep a solid and continuing connection with this region even after leaving. Can’t wait to hear all about your project of restoring it!

    1. That’s exactly how we feel, Meg. Our stay here could have become a little blip in our family history, but instead it will be part of continuing narrative. Knowing we’ll return here for vacations — or perhaps even move back someday — will also be encouragement for our kids to keep up their French.

  15. sooooooo excited for you! what another fabulous adventure, right?! i say gasp with excitement today! you know you’ll be gasping with horror some other time in the reno process, but oh well! you only live once & why not make it a crazy, dreamy adventure?!!!

  16. Formidable! Can’t wait to see its transformation. I love the photo the previous owners gave you! I absolutely love stuff like that. I found an old dairy bill in our kitchen wall while tearing it out years ago. I’ve been meaning to frame it for the kitchen wall. Is that a thatch roof!?

  17. Bravo! Félicitations! Rénover est génial car tu peux transformer la maison comme tu veux, et faire un album avant-après!
    Cependant, cela représente beaucoup de travail, de découragement parfois, et de temps. (de l’argent aussi si tu n’as pas le temps!) Nous en sommes à la 2ème maison que nous rénovons, cela va beaucoup moins vite que la première, mais parce que maintenant nous avons 2 enfants et que nous travaillons à plein temps tous les deux + travaillons aussi à la maison.
    Alors, bonne chance dans cette belle aventure, et j’espère que les enfants n’oublieront pas le français! Bises des Alpes.

  18. Terrifying yes! Renovations across the sea, oh my! But amazing, even more yes! It will be such a wonderful thing to have when all is said and done, being able to have something of your own.

    1. Right. The across the sea thing is definitely going to prove challenging. The upside: we’re hiring our local friend, Caroline, to help us keep the project moving along even when we’re out of town. It will be a wonderful way to stay in close contact with her.

  19. Tricia Whitworth

    I think it’s FANTASTIC that you are doing this! I’ve read several memoirs of people moving to France and redoing a house (all kinds of crazy things happen during the process naturally). It makes me so happy to think of you still tied to France somehow (sorry, I know you’re a real family living your real lives but I WANT this for you like I had some power). :)

    The photo is lovely. We are all connected in this universe, across the years.

    1. “sorry, I know you’re a real family living your real lives but I WANT this for you like I had some power”

      Hah! That made me grin like crazy, Tricia. And I love how we’re all connected, too.

  20. Have you ever watched the show “Grand Designs” with Kevin McCloud? Lot’s of inspiration there. It’s all about respecting the history of the building I think. Keeping it authentic to it’s past and roots.

    Do you plan to move back to France one day?
    All the best with your wonderful task ahead.

  21. This is so exciting! I love that you got that old photo too – that is such a treasure! We are actually in the process of buying a small house in France too right now, in the upper Loire Valley. It is also going to need a LOT of renovations and a partially new roof! I’m sure we’re in over our heads, but it’s a bucket list dream so we’re going for it. :-) Congratulations to you!

  22. Congratulations Blair family! What an inspiration and such a sweet bit of history from the sellers. I can’t wait to see the Olive Us episode of kids doing renovations.
    When I was a kid my single mother kept us housed for a while by moving into Victorians needing renovation and doing the work of restoration with the help of us four kids. The number of summers I spent painting, re-tiling and rebuilding are some of my favorite childhood memories.
    I’ve always dreamed of buying a ruin in Italy, where my family is from, and restoring it to a little but of space our family can enjoy for generations to come.
    Happy new home/project! I can’t wait to follow along and see all the amazing design ideas I’m sure you have in mind.

  23. Congratulations! This is so neat. A couple years ago we bought a farm in rural Michigan (without knowing really anything about farming) – but it’s always sort of felt like cheating as it was more or less turn-key.

    The dream is to someday resuscitate an old farm somewhere far away. We’ll need to practice up our craft first, but the added complexity of farming and renovating in a foreign culture/language gets my blood pumping.

    Can’t wait to see how your project goes!

  24. Your French cottage has been on my mind these last few days. I’m glad to have my questions answered; only I wish you had time to accomplish more before you leave so we could see the possibilities become reality sooner. You undoubtedly wish the same. Congratulations!

  25. Love it! I have been looking into doing that too for my family but am a little scared. We are in the states yet and also have 6 children. But seeing you start this next chapter in you story makes me think we can do it too. Thank you for your inspiration and you family is so beautiful. Best of luck with everything.

    1. Thank you for the well wishes, Christy! And yes, it IS scary. Sometimes terrifying. But we’ve learned that scary doesn’t mean it’s bad, and often means it’s worth it!

  26. Mazel tov!

    Is it just me or does that boy with the nice jacket look a bit like your Ralph? For a moment I thought you guys had made some historic recreation old timey photo.

    Congratulations! I look forward to reading about the renovation progress.

  27. Adrienne Conner

    Congratulations! If there is one family who can pull it off, it’s the Blair’s! Looking forward to all of the progress as I know you’ll keep us updated!

  28. What a special thing for your family!! And won’t it be neat years and years from now when someone sees a picture of your family there and has the same rush of emotions? History and documenting moments is just so dang special!

  29. Congrats over and over! That is so very exciting! I am jealous! I have so enjoyed the years spent cyber “stalking” you. The kids will be so French when they come back here, especially the younger ones! Whew….

  30. Oh I’m so excited for you!!! Of course it’ll be so much work, but I think it’s wondreful to be able to stay connected to this area that you now love. :) Sending lots of “smooth renovation” wishes your way!

  31. gasp. yes. it does frighten me a little.
    i’ve been doing up my place (a terraced house) for three years now. hard work done by contractors, all the rest by moi. ouch!
    but this house looks the part, as does the picture…
    i wish you strength and courage.
    and france, he? i have no idea where you are from (sorry, i’m not a regular reader – so hi!), but of course france will be france.
    meaning, c’est FANTASTIQUE!

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