Thursday, 19 April 2012


They are not necessarily the most glamorous things, but with a bit of digging it is possible to find some very beautiful and interesting stove design.
The typical modern European stove is either a tower with a big window and a nasty stone finish, or something akin to a squashed TV. Either way they are often too big for the spaces available, dominating the spaces both with their physical presence as well as their huge heat output.  Three houses ago we had a burner that sucked all the oxygen out of the room, and baked us dry if it was operating at all efficiently.
At the previous house we had this lovely model, however.  That's the fire, not the lady.

It refers to the original simple firebox-style stoves of the past, but has a funky dimpled surface, legs like some kind of animal, a small window giving a glimpse of what is going on inside, and a hotplate for keeping the stew/tea/mulled wine hot.  Best of all, it's a decorous size - it doesn't dominate, just sits quietly in the corner like a well-behaved pet.  Normally supplied fitted for use with gas, it can be bought in a log-burning version.
I think it will sit really well on the ground floor of the house - with an open spiral staircase running the height of the house it will also be perfect for heating the rest of the building during the winter.
The stove is by Austroflamm, model G1: see it here.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Bare Bones

Well, the stripping out is as complete as it can be while allowing you to walk to every floor of the house.  The new oak beams are due to go in in the next week or so, and first-fix electrics on the top two floors.  We stayed over Easter at the wonderful B&B La Maison Pavie in Dinan - a great find, and of real interest as it has period panelling which can act as a reference for the panelling we are intending to create on the second storey of the house.  Jerome and Camille are terrific hosts and have created something exceptional in their lovely place to stay.

La Maison Pavie

As for the Petit Manoir - I think it suffices to let the images of the inside speak for themselves...

The ground and first floor - awaiting new beams

Everything on props...

The rubbish heap now at head height

The best thing about this visit was to see the outside of the building being transformed by the repointing.  On the easily-accessed terrace and courtyard elevations this has entailed chopping out the cement mortar and replacing with lime mortar.  The side elevations will be much quicker to repoint, as they have never had cement pointing.  The difference between the cement and lime finishes is astonishing, and a powerful illustration of the need to use traditional methods and materials in such settings.


We have found a supplier of French limestone flooring, who has this lovely brushed stone in sawn slabs for a clean look.  As it is good for exterior use as well as indoors we intend to use it on the ground floor of the house as well as the terrace.  The colour picks up the warmth of the existing stone and will go well with the painted render of the walls inside, as well as the rendered garden walls outside.
Julian at Urrutia Stone has a great selection - stone flooring for every setting, and exports to the UK...

Friday, 30 December 2011

Ramparts of Dinan

This panorama shows the prominent position occupied by the building on the medieval ramparts in Dinan.  At far right is the Chateau, with the Constable's Tower in the centre of the image.  The Petit Manoir is to the left.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Proposed Elevations

The architect on this project, Andrew Allen, has drawn up elevations of the proposed restoration for submission to planning control.  As the building is in a highly sensitive historic area of Dinan it is essential that we retain a traditional style for the exterior joinery.

Our hope is to be allowed to use unpainted oak for the exterior - this reduces future maintenance costs and will gradually weather to match the grey stonework of the house.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Look away now...

The point at which a structure is completely stripped back to the essentials prior to restoration can have two effects on the way you feel about it.  On the one hand is the excitement of seeing the building in its raw state, full of potential and promise, one the other is the rising panic that comes from the realisation that every single square centimetre, inside and out, needs attention.
To be fair, we did feel the former during our first visit to the house last weekend - subsequent visits, in poor light and freezing weather tended to encourage the latter.

The clearance of dry-lining and stud walling has thrown up a few unsuspected problems with the building - none of them major, but all needing to be budgeted for.  The ceiling to the ground floor we had hoped would consist of decent old beams - behind the plywood cladding, however, the beams are badly degraded, and will never look good, even if they prove structurally sound.  Given that a third of the ceiling has been replaced with modern joists at some point in the past fifteen years, we are looking to replace this floor entirely - probably using oak beams with new oak floorboards over.

The simple, modest panelling that has been revealed in places hangs on to scraps of old wallpaper - faded and decaying, these scraps are layered over each other, and it is interesting to speculate on their age - the patterns suggest nineteenth century origin.  Elsewhere, plaster has crumbled, stonework has become loose as the lime mortar decays and the shadows of water staining and fungal growth decorate the flaking paint.  There's the picturesque decay of, say, Venice, and there's out-and-out decrepitude: I think we are dealing with the latter here...

With final decisions on the layout and materials and finishes to be made over Christmas, we are looking forward to our next visit to inspect the house once the wood has been cleaned and the worst problems solved.  The trick, as always, is to restore the building while retaining its charm and unique atmosphere.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Current thinking...

With everything to consider, there are dozens of decisions to be made when renovating a building in its entirety.
Our builder, Matthew Tucker, has had the house stripped out completely - all the accretions of dry-lining, unnecessary cheap joinery and defunct copper piping have been removed and the house is a shell. 
The clearance has thrown up some interesting developments - it is apparent that there has been a fire in the house at some point, and the plywood cladding to the ceiling on the ground floor which we hoped was covering ancient timbers was in fact just hiding some modern softwood joists.  There will be an extra expense involved here if we are to restore the ceiling to its original state.
We already knew that the timbers had insect infestation, but apparently there is one roof timber which is in need of replacing - the others are structurally sound and will respond to wood treatment, so there is relatively little to worry about there.
In the interval since our last visit we have been drawing up plans for the kitchen and bathroom layouts, and beginning to think about issues such as lighting - this last needs consideration surprisingly early in a project if you are going to end up with sockets for lamps and light switches in the right places.

There will be more about the finishes such as flooring and exterior paving in the future, and we will be collating ideas for the interior styling of the house in the spring - hopefully by then the reconstruction will be well underway!  In the meantime I hope you like these first views of the computer model...