Dealings with bâtiments de France (ABF) in renovating an old house?

We are contemplating purchasing a building in a small medieval town in south-west France. It is within the 500m zone of a classified monument. However the building was drastically altered sometime after the 1940's (I'm guessing) with giant square windows and full stucco job on the outside covering most of the original stone structure. It has been unused for several years and examination of the front of the building reveals most of the stone front had been replaced with contemporary clay blocks. We would like to renovate the building and add sympathetic window and door openings but have been warned that the ABF will permit no changes and you deal with the judgments of individual architects and their decisions are final. Would we be insane to pursue this?

Hi Patrick I have just bought a big ol barn for conversion to 6 gites …everyone told me that the ABF would stop it …so I contacted them got them onto a site visit asked them what I could have and they told me, I then submitted the plans and hey presto all went through…so I suggest you go and talk to them, it will do you no harm…good luck.

Thanks to all for your comments. Much of this I knew but your perspectives are helpful. I will be in touch with Sean Rawnsley offline. We are in St. Antonin Noble Val but the building has really been butchered..."modernised" and not at all in keeping with the rest of the village and is now essentially a ruin. My wife says we should enlist the aid of Cervantes and not an architect for even attempting this.

Addenda to my last post: I should add that if you are in a town such as St Antonin Noble Val then the whole town and indeed all the commune outside the town comes under the auspices of the ABF so if you are going to change windows then it would be a wise move to go and talk to the Mairie and they will tell you what you can and cant use. If you use PVC windows then they do have the right to ask you to take them out if you didnt get written permission to put them in.

Lis, In France the local mairie has no particular dealings with any particular architect. The ABF (Architectes de Batiments de France) are the body who deal with the general landscape and visual aspects of buildings in the planned environment. DRAC (Departemente Regionale d'Architecture et Culture) are concerned with the alterations to historic buildings. If your building is listed or "inscrit" then you will have to get permission to change the windows otherwise you can pretty much do what you like if you are simply replacing old ones. However if you have a feel for the building you live in and you want to do something that is sympathetic to its fabric then I would say that by putting PVC windows into an old building is contrary to the aesthetic and the environment even if they are wood look-alike.

A note about PVC. Polyvinyl chloride is one of the most un-ecological plastics on the planet. It not only requires a huge amount of energy to make it (its embodied carbon footprint) but its environmental risks are listed as "persistent carcinogenic; can cause damage to liver, lungs, skin and joints; irritates inhalation routes; poisonous to water organisms". Throughout its short life it continues to out-gas. An FSC certified wood with a good (non PVC) paint system is longer lasting and much more sympathetic to an old building. Anyone who says that PVC is 100% environmentally friendly needs to do a bit of homework.

Mairies do not support anyone with grants. If you wish to seek a grant then there are a number of routes you can take but in my experience as Lis is trying to say, they are usually only beneficial to those who pay taxes in France in the way of a reduction set against tax. DRAC will be prepared to consider giving a grant to the owner of a listed historic building if they are prepared to match the same and carry out the work with recommended and specialised contractors.

I have to say that the French don't work in mysterious ways. There is a very clear set of rules to work within and it is simply a question of getting to know those rules, why they are made and who makes them.

Peter Kellow is a British architect working and registered in France and specialises in such work. This is his link. I should say that although I am an architect I am now retired and I have not registered or practiced in France and have no connection with Mr Kellow. I can say that my experience with the Architectes de France has been pretty positive assuming you consult with them first. Up here in Brittany we are in a national park and they tend to insist on certain rules like roof coverings, colour of render and yes windows. In a traditional building the window sizes and proportions were governed by the price of glass at the time the building was first built and all openings tend to be narrower than they are high. Thus no picture type windows but there may be exceptions. They don't like plastic windows and neither do I as frames generally are rather clumsy. (I only used them once in the UK in my career which started in 1963!) They will accept timber or powder coated metal. Most houses have roller shutters which are not very attractive, the old hinged ones are much more the thing. However I think the listed building officers and English Heritage etc in the UK are far more draconian!

Patrick - you said you were in South East France, but then mention Saint Antonin Noble Val. I assume you meant South West?

Patrick - I am an RIBA architect also registered with the Ordre des Architectes de France and am based 10 mins from St Antonin. We run a bi-lingual English-French practice. Send me a message and I'm sure I can help you. We have done lots of historic renovations and we're used to dealing with the ABF. Currently doing a Historic Monument monastery near Perpignan, so you can imagine the hoops one has to jump through for that! Look forward to hearing from you.

I would try and find out which architect is associated with the village mairie. Having said that, we had the ‘mairie
Architect’ round last autumn, and there were a lot of ahh, ohh, fantasique lots of compliment about what we wanted do to our old house and it’s windows, doors and shutters! C10 days later I got an email from some lady at the mairie with 3 attachments, and NOT one word about the windows, doors and shutters?
So we’ll write a registered letter to them and if we do not hear from them inn he next 6 months we will go ahead and replace our windows, doors and shutters with PVC, and we can hear everybody say oh no, but today there’s a PVC product that looks ecatly like wood! We would never ever put piain OVC in our lovely 18th century house, that would be a crime!
We had a friend here, when the architect came, he’s been high up in one of the window and door companies, so just happen to know a thing or two about this subject! He educated the architect, and we were all very surprised that the architect did not know this, that PVC is today pretty close to 100% environmentally friendly, not completely, but nearly green, and you cannot see the difference between real wood and OVC, and of course no maintenance!
Wood however, has to be transported from faraway, which is costly and certainly not green!
If ‘your house’ is part of the old part of the village, surely the mairie would want any house to look ‘good’ so traditional, however, the French work in mysterious ways!
Make sure any letter(s) you write to architect and/or mairie is fine by registered mail, that way they cannot say that they I’d not receive your letter(s).
I wish you good luck (not sure how helpful this has been)! :slight_smile:
PS! Forgot to tell, that the mairie would love support us financially with grants, however, be aware, should this supply yo you, as this would mean that they would be in charge, which would not be a hood thing, as if you wanted to cough, you had to have permission as to when you wanted to cough, and you house would no longer be your house, this of course is very much for old and historic houses!
Again…good luck! :slight_smile:

Charles Smallwood at Agence Union in St Antonin may be able to recommend a local architect who is authorised to deal with Batiments de France.

Thanks for both responses. We're in St. Antonin Noble Val so I think maybe I should try a consultation with a local architect who hopefully speaks English and then head for the Marie. We know of a French/English contractor so that is also a start.

Have you an architect’s opinion?
I can put you in touch eith an architect in Marseille who deals regularly with Batiments de France. His office is in Marseille and he speaks English.