Go­ing off the beaten track took Jane and Gary Lang­ton to Uzès where they trans­formed an 18th-cen­tury silk farm into their dream home. Ca­tri­ona Burns meets them for cof­fee

Living France - - CONTENTS - mas­dau­gus­

Cover story Step in­side a charm­ingly ren­o­vated 18th-cen­tury silk farm in Uzès

Com­ing across Uzès in the south of France was some­thing of a happy ac­ci­dent for Jane and Gary Lang­ton. On their way to Mont­pel­lier, the pair stopped in the mar­ket town for a bite to eat, pass­ing a bliss­ful Novem­ber af­ter­noon eat­ing lunch out­side on Place aux Herbes and en­joy­ing the hus­tle and bus­tle of mar­ket day.

Some time later, hav­ing made the de­ci­sion to leave their busy Lon­don lives be­hind for a new life in France, the mem­ory of their af­ter­noon in the quaint, tucked-away town came back to them. Even though the cou­ple had never heard of Uzès be­fore, their stopover was enough to con­vince them that the town had ev­ery­thing they were look­ing for and so they started trav­el­ling back and forth at week­ends to view prop­er­ties in the area.

As well as be­ing cer­tain about their choice of lo­ca­tion, Jane and Gary were just as sure about the type of prop­erty they were look­ing for.

“We knew what we wanted,” says Jane. “For me, the prop­erty had to be nice and light, with sun­light stream­ing through the win­dows. I wanted some­where where you walked through the door and said ‘oh wow’.”

The pair found the wow fac­tor they were look­ing for in Mas d’Au­gus­tine in the com­mune of La Bruguière, 15 min­utes from Uzès. A for­mer 18th-cen­tury silk farm, the prop­erty ex­uded a time­less char­ac­ter, with arched en­try­ways, stone stairs and ter­ra­cotta ceil­ings giv­ing an­cient ap­peal.

“We both loved it at first sight,” beams Jane. “Most of the stone houses we had viewed were dark in­side with small rooms. This prop­erty had plenty of light flood­ing into the main rooms which were a good size; the stonework was old but beau­ti­ful and the gar­den was very large and I loved the huge lime tree in the court­yard.”

But the cou­ple’s plans for the prop­erty ex­tended beyond an idyl­lic hide­away for just the two of them, as they planned to open a cham­bres d’hôtes. “While it had never oc­curred to Gary to run a cham­bres d’hôtes, it’s some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to do,” ex­plains Jane. “I’ve al­ways wanted to run a re­ally nice, bou­tique-type ho­tel.”

Un­for­tu­nately, Gary did not share the same ro­man­ti­cised vi­sion, as he ex­plains.

“Jane said to me, ‘I have this dream,’ and I said, ‘It sounds like a night­mare, but you know, let’s crack on.’ ”

It was just as well Gary had such a can-do at­ti­tude, as there was plenty to be get­ting on with, in­clud­ing rewiring the prop­erty, in­stalling hot-wa­ter sys­tems, re­plac­ing the cen­tral heat­ing and damp­proof­ing the en­tire prop­erty. There was also no kitchen for the first six months, some­thing that might have been a chal­lenge for a keen cook like Jane, but she more than made do with what they had.

“We bought a small fridge and a hot­plate and us­ing our Ge­orge Fore­man grill, we sur­vived. I even cooked us Christ­mas lunch!”

How­ever, not be­ing able to cook gourmet meals was far from the big­gest hur­dle to over­come, as Jane re­mem­bers.

“The big­gest task was ren­o­vat­ing the ground-floor rooms. We had to dig down over a me­tre to en­sure the damp-proof­ing would work and the rooms would be dry and warm all year. Also, all the drainage was lo­cated in a huge tan­gle of pipes in one of the sta­bles that was des­tined to be a bed­room. Re­lo­cat­ing it and keep­ing our bath­room work­ing at the same time was a very com­pli­cated job,” she re­mem­bers.

With the help of lo­cal French builders, the restora­tion process took around 18 months to com­plete, with both Gary and Jane hav­ing their own sep­a­rate roles to play to en­sure ev­ery­thing went as planned.

“I was re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign and Gary was re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing sure it would work prop­erly and that we could af­ford it!” Jane laughs.

Af­ter the main build­ing work was com­pleted, Jane fo­cused her at­ten­tion on the prop­erty’s de­sign, some­thing she was very fa­mil­iar with, ow­ing to her for­mer ca­reer as an in­te­rior de­signer.

“I was re­spon­si­ble for the de­sign and Gary for mak­ing sure we could af­ford it”

Want­ing to re­spect the time­less style of the orig­i­nal ar­chi­tec­ture, Jane dec­o­rated the prop­erty in a tra­di­tional French coun­try style, mind­ful to main­tain the old-world charm of the prop­erty. Ex­posed beams, open fire­places and stone walls im­bued the prop­erty with coun­try­side charm, while Jane added cop­per pots, wicker bas­kets and old paint­ings and mir­rors to in­cor­po­rate true French vin­tage.

Splashes of colour are not only found in the gar­den, where soft pas­tel-coloured flow­ers bloom, but equally in­side the prop­erty, where a soft French grey shade dom­i­nates, punc­tu­ated by splashes of colour from the French linen cush­ions and bed­cov­ers. To keep the look truly au­then­tic, the cou­ple sourced ev­ery­thing, bar the beds, lo­cally.

“We vis­ited lots of bro­cantes and an­tique mar­kets and just picked up paint­ings, mir­rors and fur­ni­ture from all over the area,” ex­plains Jane. “I painted a lot of the fur­ni­ture my­self and I’ve painted or waxed all the doors and beams as they were a hor­rid or­ange colour be­fore.”

De­spite the time and ef­fort Jane has put into the look of the house, her favourite part of the prop­erty is as­so­ci­ated with the laid-back life­style that she and Gary have been en­joy­ing since mov­ing to France.

“My favourite spot is the ter­race off the kitchen as we can eat lunch out there al­most all year, and break­fast and din­ner about eight months of the year. I also love the wine cel­lar as the stone walls and coved ceil­ing is just beau­ti­ful,” she says.

It’s clear that the cou­ple aren’t the only ones en­joy­ing the good life in such a beau­ti­ful house, what with all their fam­ily and friends visit­ing from the UK and neigh­bours drop­ping by for a so­cia­ble drink. And play­ing host­ess with the most­ess in such a beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tion has Jane think­ing about fu­ture en­deav­ours.

“I was de­ter­mined that this was go­ing to be my last project,” she smiles be­fore adding, “But I don’t think it will be.” Let’s hope not.

Above: Jane and Gary en­joy host­ing meals out­side on the ter­race Be­low left: The ta­ble set for din­ner

Clock­wise from top left: Clean, bright lines give the prop­erty a fresh look; home com­forts out­side; many guests choose to lounge by the lux­u­ri­ous pool dur­ing the day; the stone stair­case and walls have an old-world charm; the cosy kitchen; Jane en­joys hav­ing meals out­side on the ter­race

Top: The ter­race decked out in French and Bri­tish flags

Bot­tom left: Jane and Gary en­sure their wine cel­lar is well stocked

Bot­tom right: There are olive and fig trees in the gar­den, as well as roses, blue­bells, daf­fodils and pop­pies

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