So what is a renovation?

I was recently treated by friends in the UK to a weekend here for a “significant” birthday. To me, this is what a restoration, as opposed to a renovation, is all about.
The owners are a charismatic young couple who devoted years and years of their life to the project - to the extent of tracking down original features that had been removed and sold, even going to America to buy them back. They’ve introduced a minimum of mod cons but overall it’s like stepping back in time, and we found staying there a very special experience.

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Example of Restoration:

Exciting times… when an Edwardian car broke a wheel in the town centre of Angoulême.

The driver leapt out and worked away using hammer, chisel and heaven knows what else… with slivers of wood flying here and there. We (the crowd) watched with fascination…as he replaced the spokes and bit of the rim… as necessary.

We all enjoyed watching a craftsmen and the wonders of restoration work … (the fact that he also resembled a bronzed Greek god was not lost on us ladies :wink: )

There was a round of applause as he tidiedup the mess, leapt into his car and roared off again … and a gentle sigh from all of us ladies…:wink:

Not that I’ve anything against the modern breakdown service… but… oh, that was rather special…:innocent:


What? This is a nice discussion!

Places like these for restoration are ‘ten a penny’ in France.

Places like these fully restored are ‘ten a penny’ in France.

Could you run a business like that in France with so much competition ?

Mark… I wonder if you mean to be quite so blasé…or perhaps you are unaware of the Specialist Marketing that is available…

Fortunately, there are still some lovely properties in France… which have been sympathetically Restored… and we can all enjoy them thanks to the Open Day scheme… when lots of Owners throw open their doors and welcome Joe Public…I am talking about Private Properties as well as Hotels/Business/Museums etc etc…

Also, there is a thriving trade in classy "olde-worlde"property for tourists’ accommodation… I’m not talking backpackers in this instance… I am talking of those tourists with holiday money burning a hole in their pockets… who will indeed pay a premium to stay in a place with has retained “history”… “character” and all sorts of stuff they don’t have/can’t get at home.

Yes, a well-Renovated property will probably be cheaper to maintain…and I can understand its appeal…but there are many who yearn for something different…


I didn’t know we were talking about running a business. No I agree, I don’t see restoration as a “business”, except for the specialist artisans and restoration companies who make their living from it. For the folks who actually buy the properties it’s a challenge, a vocation, an obsession, a hobby, a self-indulgence, dream-fulfilment, call it what you will.

Your first post said [quote=“MCA, post:3, topic:16218”]
For me renovation is bringing a forgotten miserable ugly old house back into the 21st century and turning it into a palace or a ‘coup de coeur’. No renovating it back to what it was before.[/quote] and I agree, that is a perfect description of renovation. I think that most “renovators” would agree with you that restoration is boring and pointless. Just as “restorers” would not get satisfaction from renovating because that’s not their thing at all, what they enjoy is the challenge of poring over old plans and documents and getting all the details right, they do it for its own sake not to make money. I imagine Stella will agree that it’s like people who buy classic cars - the purists will do a full nuts and bolts restoration and put infinite time, effort and money into getting hold of the right materials and parts and matching the original paintwork, for the sheer pleasure of doing it, whilst others will change the braking system and the lights and the suspension, stick a CD player in, paint it in metallic purple with go-faster stripes, etc etc. Whatever floats your boat.

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I have not said that restoration is pointless !!! :wink:

I am not an expert on classic cars, but a guess you could pick up a project for 15 k and spend 30 k and fully restore it to its former glory.

You could easily pick up an old monastery (for example) in France for 300-400 k but you would need to spend another 1 million + to put it back together.

Restoration of old buildings is a tad more expensive than classic cars.

[quote=“MCA, post:28, topic:16218”]
I have not said that restoration is pointless !!! :wink:[/quote]

[quote=“MCA, post:3, topic:16218”]
No renovating it back to what it was before. That is boring and pointless.[/quote]
My bad, must have misunderstood :wink: :wink:

[quote=“MCA, post:28, topic:16218”]
Restoration of old buildings is a tad more expensive than classic cars.
[/quote] Yes obviously but the point I was trying to make, it’s the same mindset. Like collecting stamps. Either you get excited about that kind of thing or you don’t. I don’t - bu I kind of understand the mentality.

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Restoration of a E type jag or a Chateaux I get if it is your passion and you have money to burn.

But the point is, restoring another old Longére or a Maison de maître into its former glory with stone walls and wooden windows to match in its ORIGINAL configuration is not a good idea. They are not very practical houses to live in to be fair.

We have renovated our house and the old fermette. It is a great success and the lady we bought it from is delighted with what we have done.
We bought it because of the wonderful view and the land. There was a house which was built in two parts, by her late husband and the old fermette.
We now have an excellent two bedroomed gite, and our own house which is connected to part of the old fermette.
We had to completely renovate the fermette, where our friend whas born and put in double glazing, insulation and knock through to make a kitchen diner.
Our house is on a sous sol, which makes the most of the views and gives my husband plenty of space to collect junk.
We have geothermal heating for the gite and swimming pool and we have created a totally new orchard and extended the potager.


No I totally agree, you need to choose your project carefully. A lot of properties are ideal for renovation but not suitable at all for restoration.

I live in a sixteenth century stone house that has been renovated/restored by me and appropriate artisans over the past 22 years. I also own a Vintage car. The house has many of its original features and although I have changed the doors and windows for bespoke oak replacements they are in character with the age and style of the property and sit in the original openings. The house had no plumbing or electricity when I bought it and both were installed sympathetically by local firms. The house’s concession to the times is that the ground floor is now tiled and does not have stone or the mud floors it had before and upstairs new chestnut flooring replaced the rotten old planks. The house has gained a practical bathroom and four bedrooms accessed by two hand made oak staircases. After serving as a holiday house for years it is now is a very practical, comfortable, individual home. It’s restoration and renovation took a lot of time and hard work but surprisingly little money. I love living here. My French neighbours live in very similar properties that retain the charm of a bygone age. I was never tempted to install bigger modern windows in the house and it is quite likely that if I had wished to do so I would have been prevented as the property is overlooked by the ‘ancient lands’ of two neighbouring chateaux. I could not imagine living in a placo box or a new build house. That is my choice and I’m very happy to have made it. My closest friend, whose roots are centuries old in the neighbouring commune shares my sentiments. My Vintage car is an impractical luxury but one I indulge as others indulge antique furniture, expensive hi-fi or other personal interests. I have spent a fair bit of time working on it myself as that is a real interest for me. I feel proud to own such an historic object and this week took it on a 150km round trip with lunch en route. Trips like that in the car are not for everyday but living in my beautiful house is. Each to his own, some people get real enjoyment from living in town centre accommodation with every mod con including a state of the art car to get them from A to B. Fine, but that is not for me, I’ve made my choices in life and am happy for others to do as they please. What I cannot accept is people on a public forum insisting that their way is right and my way is wrong, they are different. I have never invested money in either my house or my car with any thought of selling them on, they are for me in the here and now and hopefully into the distant future.


Just a light-hearted comment…

Isn’t it funny how in modern times it has become trendy to remove the render/crepi from the exterior walls of older properties…and the exposed stonework is so often considered to add a bit of distinction… (yes, it does look lovely)

A hundred or more years ago… when poor folk lived with their livestock…(presumably this helped with the heating).:wink: Only the affluent could afford to have separate living accomodation.

So, as a family gained status… they would expand the building or make a new-build… but rendered their living quarters and left the animal quarters in the standard stone. Thus, one’s position in society was there for all to see…:smile:

So, when the walls are exposed nowadays… does this mean we are back to sharing with the livestock…:anguished:


David, I think you are missing the point.
The OP wanted a debate so I was happy to oblige.

I live in a very old house ‘in town/rural ish’ (my second period home renovation) and attached to it is a 16th century grange which is actually a ‘monument historic’ . There was even a sign (before someone nicked it) outside telling passers by that it is a monument historic and its history. The cave underneath the grange is signed by people who used to live there. One dates back to 1752. The house was for sale for ages before we bought it because nobody wanted it. The placed needed serious help but we wanted to save it because that is what we like doing. We wanted to make it happy again.

Opposite us was some land and someone bought it and built a massive ‘maison achitect’. Bit naughty in front of monument historic mind you but nevertheless the place is stunning. It is superb. Everyone without exception who comes to visit us wants that house. They are not interested in my grange and longere and its history, they want that house. Who could blame them. Beams, cramped rooms with stoney walls are becoming at bit has been amongst my generation. They all want open plan.

The point I am getting across is, that it is all very well buying a historical property and keeping at a time piece but when it comes to sell you may struggle because the buying tastes have changed. Lets be clear, a lot of expats want to move back to the Uk but get trapped in the housing market because they can’t sell. So rather doing the ‘renovation thing’ why not do a grand design. Renovate a property into something that people want to live in. Whilst I have always loved old buildings, I have to admit my tastes are changing like a lot of people. I think if I moved again it would be to an open planned modern house.

Lastly, I can’t tolerate snobbery when it comes to houses or renovation. It seems to me that the ‘wooden window period home brigade’ look down on PVC windows, new builds and pavilions. They need to get out more.

I don’t think “snobbery” comes into the equation…certainly NOT on this thread… (apart from the snobbery of no longer living with the livestock :wink: )

It is NOT snobbery to like/prefer one thing rather than another… so let’s leave such unnecessary adjectives out of this discussion, please.

I really find it interesting to hear what other folk have done…or are doing… with their properties. Even as a child, I loved to visit building sites or “ripe for renovation” sites with my Dad… and we would let our imaginations run riot… I still love redesigning (in my head)…


Restoration need not always about money. Personally, the potential market or resale value has little interest to me when I am working on my home, I make it what I want to live in. Obviously, the work has to be affordable for me. For some of my clients different intended use will dictate a different mix of renovation and restoration. That again may differ dependent upon whether they are interested in the resale value or rental revenue. There are degrees of restoration too. In the case of properties that are considered important examples of their style, restoration architects may insist on certain features being retained. My experience of working with them, both here and in the UK though is that they are reasonable people and will make allowances for practicality and contemporary lifestyles. A lot of the properties that we live in here, as the conservation village that I come from in Scotland, would not have had interior toilets or bathrooms, let alone Sky tv. The question for me is often one of character and, yes, aesthetics, which, of course are a very personal thing. I don’t think there is a right and a wrong. It’s horses for courses and all that. For me, one of the reasons that I live where I do is that I like the character of the place and I think the character of the people is closely linked to thelandscape and the vernacular architecture that has evolved into what it is for often very practical reasons.


As I have pointed out several times you are entitled to your opinion just as I am to my own. I just don’t like your generalisations. My daughter owns a flat in an Edwardian building. She bought it because she loved its large sash windows, high ceilings and period detail. She could have bought a small, easy to manage box but that did not interest her. My son is an architect and has a passion for older buildings. It has nothing to do with generation or age. It’s an individual thing. You have been quick to use the term expat and group the entire population together when comparing them to that other large group you use, the French. Such divisions do not exist. People are people. Some French people love architecturally designed new builds, others detest them. The expat population is the same. In my area many expats live in new built homes, often to their own specifications while others live in renovated or modernised homes. There are all sorts. You yourself display one very British attitude, one that is typical of part of the expat population, you seem to believe that property ownership and renovation is about money. For me and many other people it is not and never has been, it is about the pleasure of ownership. You seem to base your argument on your position and then claim that a nation and at least your generation has given you a mandate. That is not true. I am quite happy if you want to put plastic windows and roller shutters in your historic house, that’s your choice if your local authority allow it but it’s not for me, other people who share my likes and dislikes and many other groups of people as well. Thank God we are not the same. Your modern fittings might make your property easier to sell, especially to a particular group of people but, in France, they are unlikely to make a difference to the value of the house. Wasn’t it you who claimed that all flats in the whole of Paris were priced in the same figure per square metre whatever their position or condition? Please do not call me a snob just because my tastes are ditterent to your own. I am entitled to my choices just as you are to yours.
PS I love my old house and Vintage car but when it comes to boats I wouldn’t touch a wooden one with a barge pole. Fibreglass and anodised aluminium all the way. That perhaps shows that even individuals needn’t be set in stone in the everything they do.


Some people do. Other people prefer to restore it into something that they themselves will get pleasure out of.

I’m with Stella, John and David - I think you’re still refusing to accept that people don’t all want the same out of life, don’t all have the same tastes and the same motivations, and also that renovation and restoration are two very different things that appeal to different personalities. There’s nothing judgemental about it and no snobbery. It’s good to have your own opinions, as long as you respect the fact that other people are also allowed to have their opinions, which will not always be the same as yours. Facts can be right or wrong, but we’re not talking about facts here. That’s what makes it an interesting discussion.

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What do ‘people’ want to live in? Some close neighbours renovated their French house into a very comfortable home with insulated placo, ensuite bathroom, modern kitchen and fitted carpet throughout. My French neighbour appreciated the work that had been carried out but disliked the interior and thought that it was, ‘typically English’. The neighbours then moved back to a small box in England and put the house on the market. The house was reasonably priced and attracted a lot of interest. As I was the key holder I was usually around when people came to view. Without exception everyone who viewed thought that the house was OK but not for them as they were looking for something with more ‘character’. I knew exactly what they meant. About a month after the Brexit referendum it sold. The couple who bought it had decided that the outbuildings suited their needs enough to allow them to accept the bland interior. They moved in early this year. Since then they have added their furniture and done some minor redecoration. The biggest change, however, has been to rip out the fitted carpets and expose oak flooring. The character of the property has changed dramatically. Their next project is to do something about the bland, modernised fireplaces.
Overseeing the sale of this property has reinforced my opinion that the modernisation of a property that suits one owner perfectly is no guarantee that it will appeal to others. Interestingly a neighbouring house, a four year old all singing and dancing new build was for sale at the same time. It is still on the market.

I’ve just realised… I can perhaps offer an excellent example where Renovation was the better choice…

Many years ago, a small ivy-clad ruin in our garden was in danger of falling into next door…possibly burying our neighbour as he toiled below…
We got permission to dismantle and move it backwards by a few yards.and rebuild it (Restoration).

However, on investigation, it turned out to be an outside privy (very, very old-style)… the sort where the night-soil man would come with his barrow every morning to take away… whatever…:fearful:

So we were allowed to do a Renovation.(move it…more or less, do what you like…so long as it stays roughly the same size and its not habitable)…

The young mason (with his mother as water-carrier/slave)… took an age to carefully cut out the ivy… so many stems, as thick as a man’s wrist, were locked between the stones. Days later we started to see a new building gradually emerge out of the pile of rubble. It had been cost-effective using the Mason, but it bit into our budget.

The whole roof needed replacing and it was a question of finding a suitable product at a price we could afford… only a “garden-shed”, after all.
Discussions followed, with our local woodman and tile merchant… after some haggling, both came up trumps,…and deliveries blocked our frontage while OH got his act together (and gathered a few strong friends to help).

We (neighbours and I) almost held our breath as the simple roof structure took shape… phew…then just the tiling left… but here OH used a modern sub-base to fix the tiles onto… so much easier for the amateur.

Et voila…finally one very smart garden shed… (never had one so grand-looking before… with its lovely exposed stonework. :innocent: )… and bottles popped as we all shared a glass or two in celebration…:grinning:

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