A friend recently asked me if I was continuing the Knock Knock series, I replied in the affirmative. You may have noticed we have been slim on the ground with house tours; this, dear reader, is my desperation in trying to find houses. Many houses are lovely, rare and characterful, but don't hit that Tat note where I want to devour them. Thankfully, with Thierry's (as much as you are getting of his name), I waited, every so often, checking in to see if he was any more interested in the prospect. He relented. I was overjoyed. This home is everything I treasure, and his description took me to Normandy with him. I shall say no more as Thierry's images and story have done far too excellent a job for me to continue garbling on.
Early May 1981. In my memory, it's a bright sunny day. The previous days had seen torrential rains. The countryside can no longer absorb the water. The fields glisten under the blue sky. They say in Normandy, it rains grass. It's true. Everything here is incredibly green.
I came to spend the weekend in a bed and breakfast in Orne, the least known department of Normandy. Like most Parisians, I long for peace and nature. I often dream of having a foothold amidst the meadows. I'm twenty-nine years old and don't have a penny. But dreaming has never cost anything. So, to give some substance to my dream, I ask the farmer who is hosting me, "Do you know of a small house for sale?" Indeed, she knew someone...
That's how I ended up with my first house. A tiny building in the middle of nowhere. One room with a fireplace and a bread oven. No water or electricity. But being able to make fire was already a great joy.
I did some essential work, installed a minimum of comfort. But above all, I planted trees on the fairly large land: an apple tree, a cherry tree, a catalpa, birches, and a tulip tree which over the years would become splendid.
If I hadn't bought that first house, I might never have returned to Orne and would never have had the chance to explore this magnificent region. I discovered preserved places, a superb and varied architectural heritage, and met people from here and elsewhere.
In the beautiful season, I came from Paris by train. I didn't drive and therefore didn't have a car. To get around near my home, I bought a used moped. It was blue and almost antique. The ideal vehicle to discover this country to which I became attached.
That's how one day, while strolling, I saw in the window of a real estate agent the photo of the house where I live now. If the roof hadn't been redone, it wouldn't have been called a house, but a ruin. The interior was just a gaping hole, but on the east gable side, in what had been the main room, there was a large 18th-century trumeau fireplace in white stone. I fell in love with this fireplace. I think that's what made me buy the house.
I signed the deed of sale in the winter of 1989.
The house is small. The ground floor has only two rooms. It's a 16th-century construction that was "modernized" in 1728. The date is on the chimney stack, quite worn but still legible. Immediately, I started working on arranging the two downstairs rooms: a living room with a kitchen area, and a bedroom to which a bathroom was added. I barely touched the walls. I wanted to preserve the old lime plaster. As a lifelong bargain hunter, I furnished myself at local second-hand stores and auctions.
When I retired five years ago after teaching French to foreigners for a very long time, I settled here completely. I needed more space. I converted the attic into a single living space, serving as an office, library, and studio where I do collages and painting. There's also a small sleeping area. From a practical standpoint, the craftsmen I hired did a beautiful job. The roof was insulated with wood wool after the roofer installed a mansard dormer and four skylights. The frame was left exposed. The light is superb, and I greatly enjoy a beautiful view. In the distance, I can see the Ecouves forest, one of the largest state forests in France.
But the big project of these last years has been the creation of the garden. No initial plan, but an intuitive adventure, much like in my collages. I conquer the land bit by bit. I fight against the weeds, prepare the soil, and plant perennials. Harmony of blue, pink, and white with rare touches of red, yellow, and orange. Every spring is a fabulous adventure.
I have never regretted leaving the big city, even though it's always a pleasure to revisit Paris.