An Old New Build

For many people who choose a new build, the decision is based on the practical solutions that a new property can offer for 21st century living. High levels of insulation will mean lower heating costs, renewable energies benefit the environment, spaces can be tailor made to complement lifestyles; the advantages can be numerous. However, there is something equally attractive about older properties. Perhaps it is the sense of history, the old stone steps that have been worn away over many years, the beams that are full of marks and notches from previous uses or the smoke blackened chimney that has kept generations warm. But with a little thought and planning and the use of reclaimed materials, it is possible to incorporate some of the charm of the old, whilst benefiting from the advantages of a new construction.

And the good news is that it doesn’t have to cost the earth! Even better, by recycling materials that have been used previously, you will also be doing your bit to save the earth. So how do you go about using and choosing reclaimed materials in a new build? As always, the key is planning. At the start of the build, it is a good idea to go through the project room by room and think how such materials could be incorporated, where they would look good and add to the feel of the build. Obviously, there will be instances where it is just not practical or cost effective to use old materials. In some cases, using reclaimed items may even detract from the finished result so it is important to weigh up all the factors before making a decision.

Floors and flooring are one area where reclaimed materials can contribute hugely to adding that old French house feel. Reclaimed timbers are widely available, as are floor tiles. Reclamation yards are a good source for timber. There are also many specialist companies who will advise, source and supply reclaimed boards. Tiles are often available in reclamation yards. Equally it is always surprising just how many people remove old tiles when renovating and it is often quite easy to come across batches of tiles for sale at a reasonable price. Look in the yellow pages, for Depot- Ventes, where people deposit items for sale, as these are a good place to look for tiles. They also have all sorts of other old items that may be incorporated into the project. The small ads in the local paper often throw up batches of tiles. It may not be possible to find enough to use exactly the same ones throughout perhaps, the kitchen, cloakroom or utility areas, but using different tiles in each room will add to the aged effect. Old tiles that are too damaged to be used inside the home can be a great way to add character to the outside areas of the build. Patios, paths, seating areas and the like can all benefit from an aged effect. Minor dents and chips will just add to the patina of age and make the property look as though it has been there for years.

Asking friends and neighbours is a great way to source all sorts of materials. It is also worth stopping and asking at any renovation project you pass. Over the years, we have been given or paid very little for, a wide range of items from baths to timbers, simply through word of mouth.

Old timber can be used throughout the build in a multitude of ways. Whether you are planning to do a lot of the work yourself, or use a menusiere or carpenter, doors, cupboards, kitchen units and shelves can all be made from reclaimed timber. Old joists are fantastic for using as lintels above doors or windows if they are in sufficiently good condition. Sanded down and prepared, joists can look great as a bath surround. They can also be made into chunky furniture, shelves and bathroom fittings. Old joists also provide an economical means of creating a mantelpiece. Depending on the choice of heating that is going to be used in the property, adding a reclaimed fireplace can really add to the character of the property. Reclamation yards are probably the best place to look for a fireplace. Most will have a good choice or may be able to source one to suit specific requirements. Many traditional French properties have large fireplaces that were often added at a later date, so in terms of style, really anything goes! As always, with any chimney, it is important to consult a professional installer and check that the chimney is swept annually.

Using old fixtures and fittings on any doors and cupboards made out of reclaimed timber will really add to the aged effect. These items are widely available in depot-ventes as well as flea markets and vide-greniers which are the French equivalent, of car boot sales. Most will have large boxes of handles, hinges, latches and so forth for sale very cheaply. It takes time to sort through and find what you are after, but the finished result will make the time spent, well worthwhile. Lengths of old chain and ironwork are readily available and can be incorporated into shelving for a really traditional look.

Installing old beams as a purely decorative feature is also an option. It is also a great idea to use one or two lengths of aged timber on the exterior of the property, perhaps as part of a porch or similar. This will give an instant impression of it being an old property, which has been renovated to a high standard. Using old stone outside, as cornerstones, or door and window surrounds is another instant ageing trick. Again, stones that are in perhaps, not such great condition, can often be used in the garden to great effect. Areas of internal exposed stone will also make the property appear much older. Stones can be found in reclamation yards and will sometimes be ready numbered to make their re-construction easier. Another option is to place random stones into a wall and then render around them to create a more rustic effect. This will give the look and feel of a wall referred to as pierres-apparentes, but with all the benefits of a new and insulated wall. It is also worth checking out reclamation yards for stone lintels. Buying ‘used’ rather than ‘new’ may mean considerable savings!

Reclamation yards are often full of quite bizarre objects. It is worth spending some time trying to visualise how they could be used. Old stone or iron troughs can make nice features; they often look great planted up with houseplants in a large reception area. Equally old stone sinks placed under a window can give the impression that the building has been standing for centuries. Depot-ventes are also a good place to find older ceramic sinks. Using old basins or sinks in bathrooms and kitchens can add to the aged feel of the build. It is important to make sure though that they are able to take standard plumbing fittings, or are able to be adapted. Metal spiral staircases are another object that are often removed from one building and are able to be re-used elsewhere. Even if a staircase does not fit into the interior of a project, think about using it as an outside staircase, perhaps as steps down to the garden, from a first floor balcony. These kinds of things will all help to ‘customise’ a new build and turn it into something really special.

In many ways, a new build with old features is the ideal solution. All the comforts and conveniences of a new property are present; so too is the charm of a traditional French home. Adding old features can take slightly longer and thus add to the overall timescale of the build. However, the delays are due as much to sourcing and finding the features as installing them. If the timbers, tiles and so forth are already on site, using old materials will not add hugely to the timeframe. Installation and purchase costs can be higher when using reclaimed materials. Equally, careful sourcing may save money and compensate for any extra costs incurred. Overall, carefully selected and installed materials are going to add to the charm of the property and thus increase its value. Happy Hunting!

Local Depot ventes or trocs

Flea markets

Small ads – petites annonces- in local papers and supermarkets

Word of mouth

Top tips

Make sure any tradesmen working on the project are comfortable working with reclaimed materials.

If using reclaimed materials, source them in good time; otherwise the build will be delayed.

If using reclaimed materials in a structural capacity, ensure they conform to the necessary requirements.

Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Copyright - Catharine Higginson

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