The Restoration work

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The Restoration work


The walls of La Maresque are, like many in the Tarn countryside, without foundations and built of stone and earth. The woodwork is made up of beams and joists that had been put, frequently, to other uses beforehand. A quick look will reveal notches and carvings that once housed metalwork, latches, pegs and so on. Others, by contrast, were hardly worked at all and still in some cases have their bark on them.

Begun in 2001, the restoration took us two and a half years to complete.

The builder’s first job was to secure the walls which threatened to collapse. With all this ancient, recycled woodwork, upon which successive generations had added new floors and roofs with no regard for symmetry, all pressing down on one supporting wall, there was hardly a straight line in the place! Despite the simple buttresses put in place over the last hundred years, this supporting wall was sagging dangerously in several places and had even collapsed in others, letting in the wind and, more damagingly, the rain. A stone wall held together with earth might be an excellent protection against the sun and other invaders, but it can’t stand up to running water, and the great storm of Christmas 1999 caused a serious deterioration in the south wall of la Vieille Maison.

The builder laid a concrete floor, now the first floor, anchoring it on the exterior walls to distribute the weight of the upper parts of the house. Once the woodwork was removed, the upper levels were secured with steel ties. The two floors now being solid, the house was stabilized and the restoration could begin…..

The builder created a number of openings (the large bay window and the french windows in the south wall for example), rebuilt where necessary and finished the major construction jobs. The plumber and electrician then added the modern comforts without intruding on the house’s basic character. We kept for ourselves the next steps, determined to recreate all its original charm.

Before the builder started, we had taken up all the terracotta tiles (tomettes), removed the interior joinery and put to one side all the other old materials we found (blackened oak planks which supported the original floor, hearth bricks, hand-forged nails, shelves of untreated elm, cupboard doors etc etc). A big job – shared by the whole family. What amazed us all were the tons and tons of stone which had to be recovered, sorted and piled for later use… but we also had all the fun of amateur archeologists, exploring the house’s old secrets, here a bit of wattle and daub wall, there a decorated door-frame unearthed from beneath some plaster (this very frame now graces the entrance to the bathroom in “la chambre aux grains” in La Vieille Maison), …

Relaying the tomettes turned literally into a puzzle. They were worn in different places according to their original positions near doors and so on, and we had to examine each one compared with its neighbours to refit them. We sorted through the beams and joists so as to put the most beautiful and interesting in prominent places and similarly repositioned the original doors and the hand-built cupboard so people could admire their beautiful old latches. Fixing up the old stone sinks was our first go at using cement, but certainly not the last!

The final touches – putting colour into the plasterwork, ceilings and woodwork was entrusted to a professional female decorator. The paints mixed with natural pigments, in alliance with hand-drawn designs and stencils, create an ambience that is soft, clear and warm all at once… and that we love to share…

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