The Idealist

Renovating a Languedoc grande maison

Upping sticks and moving to the South of France is a dream many of us have mused over at some point or other, perhaps while gazing out of the window to see unbroken grey skies, or after a barbecue that ended with all inside, crammed in a living room eating oven-finished chicken mess.  Or perhaps it’s a yearning for a simpler life that France seems to promise.

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Alex Charles by the pool

London couple Alex Charles and Greg Taylor, enmeshed in the consumerist worlds of advertising and marketing, decided to buy into the South of France dream.  The couple didn’t really have much of a plan; accompanied by their dog, and with the car packed with the barest essentials – including the ice cream maker, they just went for it, and made the break.

Choosing the Right Spot

To begin, Alex and Greg stayed with friends in Provence. A business plan formed to establish accommodation for foreign language students, but house prices in Provence are prohibitively expensive, and in 2003 finding lenders for buy-to-let investments was tricky. A visit to Alex’s parents in the Languedoc region saved the dream.

Arguably as pretty as its more famous neighbour, Languedoc is home to all that is synonymous with the South of France: Vineyards and olive groves; history and art; beautiful beaches. The couple met a former UK policeman, who took them on a local tour of renovations and possibilities. Believing that fate happens when you open yourself up to opportunities, Alex and Greg took inspiration from their new friend, and bought three ‘ruins’ at £1000 apiece.

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View to the vineyards

Languedoc

Armed with no real knowledge of property development, but some practical skills, some savvy and the policeman’s team of Polish builders, Alex and Greg moved over to Languedoc and set about their first renovation. Doubling their money on the first property the couple lived for a time in the second, concentrating on their new venture, a web development company. When property prices picked up in 2007 they opted to sell their current abode and the third and final ruin and began to look for a larger project, a hotel.

The hunt for the house that would host the gay hotel/ guesthouse Cinq et Sept took place within a ‘tight search area’; the couple knew they wanted something rural and with a sizeable garden, yet close to a vibrant village.

Winemaking village

They found what they were looking for in Roujan, a small wine making village located a short drive away from the coast. ‘La Grande Maison’ is a nineteenth century mansion, built by one of Napoleon’s generals with the spoils of war. Since divided into three properties, it was an end wing that had fallen vacant.

Total disrepair

At the time of sale, only the middle floor of the property was occupied – by set designers that had made their accommodation very pretty on the surface, but had shown little love to the structure of the building, so the building was in bad repair. Also, being the end section of the building, the property didn’t have a front door or internal staircase, access was gained to every floor instead by a ugly external staircase.

But despite being ugly on the outside, and in poor disrepair for the most part within, Alex and Greg were sold. They bought the property, moved into the liveable-but-cold first floor apartment and set about renovating the property.

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The renovated Caux suite

The renovation

Initially the couple employed the services of an architect, but this turned out to be a disaster. Instead they decided to juggle, taking on the renovation while running their web design company. Alex admits that what followed was two years of hell, but they got there in the end – helped in part by a fantastic head builder.

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Elegant interiors


One of the largest aspects of the renovation was installing an internal staircase, with an iron balustrade hand wrought in Tunisia. Luckily for Alex and Greg historical buildings in France aren’t subject to the stringent regulations as they are in the UK. Buildings not considered to be ‘monuments de France’ – but still old and/ or worthy come under the jurisdiction of Les architectes des bâtiments de France, who concern themselves more with property exteriors.  So installing staircases and adapting the building where necessary was no problem – although the couple were always respectful of the house’s heritage.

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Terrace to the Chapel Suite

Guests

For the guest accommodation Alex and Greg decided to divide the property into six apartments, believing that there is an increasing demand for self-catering, and that people want more space and control while on holiday. The apartments themselves are bright, airy, and fairly neutral  – to appear fresh and welcoming. Money has been spent on things that can be touched and felt – comfy beds, raindance showers and soft furnishings. Money has been saved in the kitchens, with units from Ikea, and by reusing and recycling architectural materials where possible.

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Pool and outside lounge

But if the self catering apartments are designed to create an intimate home from home, outside is an altogether communal area. In addition to the obligatory pool, the gardens boast a ‘summer kitchen’, a shaded lounge area and a pool bathroom, housed within a cut stone vault discovered by Alex and Greg during renovations.

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Outdoor dining

Alex and Greg are proud that lasting friendships are formed at their Maison – and the fact that fifty per cent of their guests are return customers attest to the couple’s success, not only in renovating this tired French pile, but also to running a hospitality business – a far cry from the advertising houses of London.

Cinq et Sept is open all year round, prices start at €139 a night. Visit cinqetsept.com for more details.

Image courtesy:

Images courtesy of www.brylliantimages.com and Alex Charles at Cinq et Sept.

  • Charlie is a lifestyle journalist with a passion for snooping around people’s homes: the good, the bad and the ugly. She loves innovative interior design, period homes and antiques; loathes things with slogans on, and carpets. She lives in rural Essex with her husband and two children.

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