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
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