Les Colonnes

Saint Romain en Viennois


The Renovation

Our renovation project started in November 2005 and 'finished' in September 2006. At least, the first major phase has finished. Can a project in an old house like this ever be finished?

Why did we do it?

For others it's a sudden "coup du foudre". For example, our Canadian neighbours in Saint Romain heard about their house via a friend in Vancouver. After two seasons renting it, they were suddenly presented wih the chance to buy. They didn't hesitate and, ten years later, they're still delighted with their decision. An American couple that we know offered on their house in Vaison la Romaine a little over 24 hours after they had set foot in the town -- indeed, the region -- for the first time.

For us, however, it was a long, slow and enjoyable journey. Although we had regularly holidayed in France since 1974, our relationship with the country changed when we spent a year in Grenoble during 1995-6. We explored the Dauphiné (the region around Grenoble) and then worked our way further south into the Drôme and northern Provence. Over the next few years we found ourselves returning again and again to the Drôme and Provence for our holidays. Eventually -- and inevitably, perhaps -- we began to think about having our own place. The search lasted until the end of 2004.

The Purchase

Phil found our house during a cold and rainy day of house hunting in December 2004. By April we were the proud owners of what was to become Les Colonnes. Some day we'll get around to telling the saga of the purchase -- an adventure in its own right.

Planning the Renovation

To be added. Yet another adventure. A story of delay, emergency trips to France and hurt feelings ... and not just our own.


We knew the roof needed work when we bought the house. Eventually, it became apparent that the best plan was to repace everything, beams and all. Gulp.

It's December 2005 and the house is open to the elements.
Looking down into the front guestroom.
The beams go in with panels of insulation above.
Here's what things looked like from on top before the roof proper was installed.
The roof itself is a waterproof composite above the insulation.
Finally, old tiles are glued on top.


Redoing the roof made it feasible for us to contemplate a terrace on the top of the house. We opted for a small terraced area opening off the sitting room via sliding glass doors. We put in a lintel supported by columns to maintain the house's basic roof line. The view to the east over Les Barronies is really wonderful and the space is well sheltered from the mistral -- not a trivial consideration!

This is the original sitting room, looking towards the window that would eventually be the terrace.
Breaking through the wall -- no more window.
Putting in the lintel and columns.
We had to close the old entrance into the sitting room and construct a new one. Here it is, viewed from the hallway. The opening to the right leads to the sitting room; the hallway continues to the back guestroom and bathroom.
Here's the new entrance, from the sitting room side looking back into the hall.
And here's the final terrace. The same view as above, but six months later.

Kitchen and Bathrooms

The original kitchen was just a small area separated from the dining room by a partition including a cupboard and some shelving. There were no worktops, no cooker, no space for storage. The nice stainless steel sink was too low to work at. It hurt your back to wash dishes. The changes including removing the partition by inserting supporting 'legs' and iron I-beams and opening the whole area. Then we installed an Ikea kitchen, adding a small fridge. We put a large fridge on the cooking terrace for summer cold drinks and produce. The first picture is the original kitchen. The second is of the start of the work. Keep in mind that there is a solid stone wall above this partition. It needs good support. The third picture shows the finished product as of September 2006.

This is the original.
The work begins!
Finished at last!


The original staircase to the top floor was confusing and seemingly dangerous.

This picture is looking down towards the diningroom from the original salon doorway.
The staircase split near the top to open into the salon or continue upward towards the bedrooms. (Note: Sky shows through the ceiling. This photo was taken during the roof renovation.)
The staircase has now been greatly improved by closing off the salon doorway to create the top terrace, heightening the doorway at the top of the stairs, and adding a handrail on the right side.

The Study (or 'Petit Salon')

At the back of the salon we created a study. With the addition of a sofa bed, this will make extra sleeping space. In the beginning it was a separate room with a narrow door and pokey window.

This is the original opening to the study.
The work begins! Notice that the tiny window to the rear has been "opened up" (to put it mildly).
The study now.

Doors, windows, plumbing and electricity

photoOh, yes, we almost forgot. The old windows and shutters (les volets) were in pretty bad condition. All of them were replaced with lovely hand-made wooden ones constructed by our fanstastic joiner, Georges. The wiring and plumbing were also in a poor state. They were completely replaced, too.





... and other surprises

The biggest surprise (and embarrassment -- we should have known) was the discovery that our house was not "tout à l'égout" (connected to the village sewers) but linked to an old septic tank ... in the basement. In August 2006 it was finally emptied, cleaned, filled with gravel and replaced with the sewer link we thought we already had.


photoFirst we must thank our many wonderful friends who, on the pretext of having a few days' holiday, have spent many hours slaving away over various projects in the house. Our painters, Margaret, Alastair and Richard did us proud making the upstairs front guest room and the hallway presentable. Michael advised us on framing pictures, created a mosaic floor, and painted the upstairs bathroom and the salon when he wasn't making ratatouille. David found the septic tank with the aid of water devining rods. Malcolm and Kathy painted woodwork, filled in the septic tank with gravel (after it was emptied and cleaned), made a sawhorse and cut all the old roof timbers into a supply of winter firewood. Muffy polished the hall floor within an inch of its life. This involved 5 various layers of chemicals, scrubbing and polishing - no mean achievement.Everyone lent a hand cooking or took us out to dinner when we all really needed a break. In addition, all these friends and others provided much needed moral support and comfort through this period of grieving for the loss of our son, a very great hurt despite the pleasures and fun of the house.

photoNext we'd like to thank our professional team. None of our small efforts would have been possible without their enormous efforts. First, Andrea, Joel, Remy and Kassim from Provence Renovation for the real work of removing and replacing the entire roof, opening up walls and windows, removing the old kitchen wall, putting in I-beams and wooden beams, creating the top front terrace, opening the 'secret room' and creating a bigger bathroom, plastering the entire top floor and many other huge construction tasks. Then Georges and Girard replaced all the windows and shutters, tiled the study floor, both bathrooms, then kitchen and glued and grouted the mosaic floor. Georges installed the kitchen, repaired doors, replaced locks and handles, attached the wine rack to the wall and performed countless other joinery tasks. Stephan, Veisoun and their team 'attacked' and replaced all the wiring everywhere. Christian Anaya and his team made a beautiful job of replacing all the plumbing. Thanks to them we have lovely walk-in showers and limitless (almost) hot water. Didier Woznicki drew up the intial plans and measurements and took the documentation through the Architecte de Conseil and the Mairie for Building Warrant. Measuring a house like this is no simple task! Alu-Vaison installed the sliding glass doors to the top terrace. Ets Brando installed the enclosed wood-burning fireplace in the salon. Finally, Laurent and Frank did such a good job decorating the salon and the front entrance stairs that all our own efforts elsewhere look really amateurish. But the rooms they painted are truly lovely and a pleasure to be in.


Last update: 5 January, 2011