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The Renovation of La Breche

This article is the continuation of Annie Barker’s story of how La Breche evolved into a holiday rental and inspiring venue for artists and writers. Follow this link if you missed Un Grand Project.

The trials and tribulations of buying a house in France have been written about many times before. A long admiration of Winifred Fortescue’s writings on her move to France in the 1930s had made me acutely aware of the dangers of currency fluctuations and we waited with bated breath, checking the exchange rate every day, sometimes several times a day, between the two stages of the signing, the compromis and the acte. It was an exciting day in February, clear and sunny, when the house finally became ours, meeting the vendors for the first time at the signing in the notaires’ offices, reading through the contract in French, word by word, that we had so carefully translated weeks before. Lunch with the vendors at a nearby restaurant followed by way of celebration, a French custom to celebrate the signing of such an important contract. Maybe not customary but certainly charming was the visit the vendors wished to make with us to the nearby convent, unusually a Greek Orthodox one, on the way back to the house, to wish the sisters goodbye but not before introducing us to them, as well as showing us the wonderful array of organic wines and other produce from their farms and vineyards. We have enjoyed making further visits since.

la Breche #LaBreche @alabreche_annie

Once back to the house, the overly-large bunch of enormous keys reappeared (a further pile of which Duncan is still sorting) and the vendor started to issue many and arcane instructions regarding the workings of everything, including, finally, the swimming pool, the last thing on our minds as we stood, shivering, in the, by then, icy-cold house as it grew dark, longing to lock it up and drive back to the rented, warm, eco-house we were staying in, to relax.

Pool #LaBreche @alabreche_annie

The time allowed for the necessary building work and refurbishment predictably overran, as time was taken for such things as the removal of a ceiling and several pounds of honeycomb from a deserted in-house hive. We might have known from our reading of Virgil about bees in southern Europe! Bees still love the house, swarming in a pendulous, black ball amongst the ripening apricots earlier this year (the swarm now happily resettled somewhere north of Avignon) but they seem to be attracted to the many flowers here rather than us, so we live happily alongside each other: they have been here far longer than we have. Redstarts, too, love it here, regularly building nests and assiduously raising chicks who venture out of their nest to take their first tentative steps along the high beam outside the studio before taking flight under their parents’ watchful eyes.

After renovation #LaBreche @alabreche_annie

Our refurbishment continues, now in fits and starts as our other projects get underway, although our previous experience of old houses suggests they are ongoing projects, a labour of love. Approaching milestones, such as our first guests, our first artists’ workshop, our first writers’ workshop, all have been and are spurs to initiate and/or finalise the next stage of ‘development’. There is still work to be done at La Breche, but we want the integrity and character of this lovely time-honoured building to remain while adapting it to our needs, as well as those of our twenty-first century guests, so it can continue to offer its own special welcome to those within its ancient walls.

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Annie Barker

Annie Barker

With a background in history and literature, having studied at Cambridge and London Universities, Annie has developed a passion for textiles, particularly their social and literary significance.

When she and her husband, Duncan, decided it was time for a new challenge, they naturally chose to come to Southern France, where they discovered and finally bought an ancient Provençal farmhouse just north of the beautiful Renaissance city of Uzès, the senior duchy of France. The house has its own former magnanerie (silk-farm), now the atelier, where she is enjoying creating textile art, often recycling vintage finds from brocantes and vide-greniers.

Indulging her passion for France and all things French, she also writes a blog musing on life in France and textile art AMORGINA.

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