Ren­o­vat­ing a 19th-cen­tury house in Char­ente proved all the more chal­leng­ing on a very tight bud­get, yet David Carr and Lane Hunt have man­aged to achieve some very big changes, as Gillian Har­vey finds out

Living France - - CONTENTS - num­berone­

Cover story Ren­o­vat­ing on a bud­get is a big chal­lenge, but David and Lane were ready to rise to it when they moved to Char­ente

When David Carr first vis­ited France, he soon fell in love with the coun­try he now calls home. “I spent a won­der­ful week in Granville dur­ing which I dis­cov­ered the food, the wine and fell in love with it all!” he says. “I saw my­self liv­ing here one day.” The only prob­lem? At the time David (now 48) was just seven years old and ac­com­pa­ny­ing a class­mate on a French ex­change.

It was nearly 40 years later in 2015 that David was able to ful­fil his am­bi­tion to move across the Chan­nel, after he fell in love for a sec­ond time – this time with artist Lane Hunt. “I was work­ing as a man­ager in the mu­sic in­dus­try when we met, and Lane was start­ing an in­te­rior de­sign de­gree at Southamp­ton univer­sity,” David ex­plains. “The in­dus­try changed, and I de­cided to quit while I was ahead; so while Lane com­pleted his stud­ies I took ad­van­tage of an un­usual op­por­tu­nity – join­ing a French circus com­pany and tour­ing Nor­mandy! It was great fun, and also re­newed my love for the coun­try.”

With Lane also keen to make the move to France and em­brace a new way of life, when his de­gree fin­ished in 2015 the cou­ple started look­ing for a ‘for­ever home’, even­tu­ally set­tling on their 19th-cen­tury man­sion house in the small town of Cham­pagne-Mou­ton in Char­ente.

“I had a dream of liv­ing in the coun­try­side, so be­cause the man­sion is in a small town I didn’t even want to view it at first!” says David. “But Lane was keen to look at the build­ing – mainly due to the large hall­way and stair­case in the house, so I agreed to go along. As soon as we got out of the es­tate agent’s car in the court­yard, we knew. That was it. We can­celled all other view­ings and here we are. It was love!”

As well as its size and po­ten­tial, the build­ing is also steeped in his­tory: dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, it was oc­cu­pied by Nazi sol­diers. “The town sits right on the de­mar­ca­tion line,” ex­plains David. “There was even a pho­tog­ra­phy studio in our at­tic for pro­cess­ing the pic­tures of those want­ing to cross into the ‘free zone’.” In later years, the house was di­vided into apart­ments, one of which was used as a doc­tor’s surgery, but the cou­ple have re­in­stated the house as one res­i­dence, which they now run as a luxury cham­bres d’hôtes.


“As the house was larger than we had imag­ined, we were left with a very small bud­get with which to ren­o­vate it,” says David. “This has meant that Lane and I have had to do most of the work our­selves. The only ex­cep­tions were em­ploy­ing a builder for three days to take out a stair­case and move some ra­di­a­tors, as well as em­ploy­ing a pro­fes­sional dec­o­ra­tor to hang some of the wall­pa­per Lane se­lected – which was far too ex­pen­sive to risk in our in­ex­pe­ri­enced hands! Other than that, we’ve learnt as we’ve gone along. There are so many help­ful peo­ple about – both English and French – who have given us ad­vice and re­ally helped us along the way.”

Al­though many would find the prospect of ren­o­vat­ing such a large house daunt­ing, the cou­ple have taken the work in their stride. “There was one stage where we had nine rooms un­der­go­ing renovation at the same time, with just the two of us, which felt rather over­whelm­ing,” ad­mits David. “But liv­ing here, we have the time to learn to do things and en­joy it too. We’ve dug over gar­dens, re­stored fur­ni­ture and sanded floors, and we’ve gained some use­ful skills along the way – we can now re­store on a shoe­string!”

How­ever when the cou­ple ar­rived at their new home, their first job was to deep clean the three-storey house, which hadn’t been lived in for about six years. Dur­ing this time, the cou­ple made some rather in­ter­est­ing dis­cov­er­ies. “There were wash­ing lines and pegs in the at­tic left be­hind by the Nazi sol­diers and Ger­man writ­ing on some of the walls,” says David. “We even found that the roof of the or­angery was cre­ated from an old sen­try box that used to stand out­side the house, and it still has Nazi in­signia on it when viewed from un­der­neath. We also found guns, bul­lets, and var­i­ous pots and po­tions left by the doc­tor. The most un­usual find, how­ever, was a 15th-cen­tury can­non­ball!”


When it came to the dé­cor, Lane, as an in­te­rior de­signer, pro­vided the bulk of the ideas. “I wanted to re­store the house to the best stan­dard pos­si­ble, us­ing au­then­tic fur­ni­ture from Napoléon III and Im­pe­rial style to be in keep­ing with the age of the house, but then added my own stamp us­ing con­tem­po­rary wall­pa­per and light fit­tings,” he ex­plains.

“The orig­i­nal wall­pa­per was dark and de­press­ing, or very pat­terned, so we’ve gone back to fea­ture walls us­ing strik­ing wall­pa­per, but only on one or two walls,” adds David. “Lane is a per­fec­tion­ist. If a room has a theme, even the hooks on the walls will be spe­cially cho­sen. In the guest room, which we’ve named the ‘Gar­den Room’, ev­ery­thing has a mo­tif, a bird or a plant on it some­where.”

With their mod­est bud­get, the cou­ple ex­plored an­tique fairs and bro­cantes in or­der to source the right fur­ni­ture for the house. “It’s amaz­ing what you can find if you re­ally look,” says David. “The French are mov­ing into smaller houses and a lot of the older fur­ni­ture is too big for the new builds. We have made some won­der­ful finds and re­stored them to their for­mer glory. Luck­ily there are no ar­gu­ments when it comes to taste, and we’ve found that we’re both drawn to the same items. We seem to have the same vi­sion for the house, which is great.”

The cou­ple were also able to source a few pieces of fur­ni­ture in the UK be­fore they moved. “We were ef­fec­tively home­less for three months,” ad­mits David.

“We’d sold our house in the UK, but had to wait un­til the pa­per­work came through for the French prop­erty. We stayed with friends and took the op­por­tu­nity to scour lo­cal char­ity shops and an­tiques mar­kets, buy­ing a lot of fur­ni­ture to take over with us. Iron­i­cally, one of the items I found – a ta­ble I picked up in Croy­don – was orig­i­nally from France. Its owner had brought it over from a vil­lage just 10km away from Cham­pagne-Mou­ton a few years ear­lier!”


Al­though the cou­ple ad­mit that the renovation is a bit like the paint­ing of the Forth Bridge in that “it’ll never truly be fin­ished”, the house is now up and run­ning as a B&B, with all guest ac­com­mo­da­tion dec­o­rated to David and Lane’s ex­act­ing stan­dards.

“We’re a B&B but we didn’t want to live sep­a­rately from our guests,” David ex­plains. “We want peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing in our house, just as friends or fam­ily would, and that’s our USP. That’s why ev­ery­thing is dec­o­rated to our taste.”

De­spite hav­ing a third floor that, while cleaned, re­mains un­touched, the cou­ple have shifted their at­ten­tion to the gar­den and or­angery in re­cent months. “The gar­den was orig­i­nally very for­mal,” ex­plains David. “Ev­ery­thing was over­grown and it hadn’t been in its orig­i­nal state since the early 1900s. How­ever, we found the plans from 1854 and re­turned it to its for­mer glory.”

The or­angery has also be­come a pro­ject, and the cou­ple re­cently used the build­ing to host an art ex­hi­bi­tion in De­cem­ber 2016. “One of the lo­cals is a pho­tog­ra­pher and he and a friend, who is a painter, wanted to put on an ex­hi­bi­tion and asked us whether we had a suit­able space. We’d just started to clear out the or­angery and thought it could work re­ally well. Even­tu­ally, there were six artists ex­hibit­ing, in­clud­ing Lane and my­self,” says David.

Lane sub­se­quently went on to do a solo ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled ‘Faces of Cham­pag­neMou­ton’, hav­ing ap­proached the mayor, doc­tor, baker and other lo­cal fig­ures to ask if they’d mind him draw­ing them. With both ex­hi­bi­tions a great suc­cess, the pair now hope to even­tu­ally con­vert a large space above their coach house into an art studio and gallery. “We’d love to run a gallery which would be free to the pub­lic,” says David. “I love the idea of giv­ing some­thing back to the lo­cals; ev­ery­one has been so wel­com­ing to us.”

Of course, life in France is not all hard work, and the cou­ple are also en­joy­ing the re­laxed life­style that the coun­try has to of­fer. “We only got mar­ried just be­fore com­ing here,” ex­plains David. “We’ve ce­mented our re­la­tion­ship in this house, and have dis­cov­ered how well we work as a team. We have time to see friends, both English and French, and re­ally en­joy be­ing to­gether. And al­though we spend al­most all of our time with each other, we’re never bored. The ex­pe­ri­ence has brought us even closer to­gether.”

“We’ve gained a lot of use­ful skills along the way – we can now ren­o­vate on a shoe­string!”

This page: The dark and dated hall­way has been painted in a vi­brant shade of green

These pho­tos: David and Lane have trans­formed the cel­lar ( left) and li­brary ( right)

Above: The gar­den has been land­scaped and is based on the orig­i­nal plans from 1854 In­set: The gar­den as it looked be­fore gravel path­ways and flower beds were added

Above: Guests can en­joy break­fast in the or­angery

Clock­wise from top: The cou­ple re­cently used the or­angery to host an art ex­hi­bi­tion; in­te­rior de­signer Lane had a clear idea when it came to choos­ing wall­pa­per and paint colours for the rooms

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