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15.10.13

The Kitchen Floor

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What to have as a kitchen floor is a question that requires some serious thought. I grew up with rush matting which wasn’t very pleasant, but gave the dogs and cats something to chew on and in. When it became too rotten and filthy to form a cohesive whole it was replaced by stiff linoleum. I remember it well because I cut my foot on a jagged piece that had curled up from the chessboard pattern. As with a lot of kitchen-design issues, practicality is foremost. Other rooms can be designed on a relatively laissez-faire basis but kitchens have a lot of considerations that need to be respected. One of these is a durable, water-resistant, easy-to-clean floor. Some sort of flagging or tiling is called for. In Burgundy the traditional solution is the best one, both stylistically and practically. Tomettes, the red square – or occasionally hexagonal – baked tiles are one of the most prominent and memorable features of typical Burgundian dwellings. Where they have been taken out of old houses they are in big demand for renovation projects. People hunt for rare and charming examples of tiles that were trod on by dog, or cat or hen before they were baked. The paw or claw of years gone by is printed indelibly on the surface, making the mark of domestic history for those who care to look. This homely sense of place is as essential as the traditional recipes to the character of a kitchen in Burgundy. Setting them in sand, as they have always been set, is still the

09.08.13

First French Pied à Terre. Part One -Doing it on a Budget!

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It's been a while since the last post and looking back I think we have neglected to show you some of the work we have carried out since arriving 'en France'. Our personal renovation road has been bumpy and somewhat labourious at times but, that said, we have enjoyed every moment and would not change a thing  - well, perhaps just the far too rustic salvaged oak kitchen Island we made, or the cupboards made from old chip board wine glass chests that we found at a vide grenier, or the.......oh, you get the drift. My point is that renovating a property is a massive learning curve and we all make mistakes at one point or another, its just all part of the learning process, anyone who tells you otherwise is telling porkies! Luckily we have been able to hone our skills and experience in the field of home renovations here in France over the past 6 years, in short we have probably encountered most of the problems we are ever likely to when tackling a caved-in roof, a dodgy stone exterior wall, a complicated planning application or a difficult artisan. We know the pitfalls, "been there, done that", "got the t-shirt", again 'got' and 'drift' spring to mind. Anyway here are a few photos we took of our 'pied à terre' tinsey house we bought when we first moved over here. I'm calling this 'Part One' as our current renovation project will be blogged about soon and therefore entitled Part Two. In the beginning.............   Outside wall pointed and two

24.06.13

Mr Men à la française

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Mr Quaintly Naïf wanted to replace a window at the front of his house as it was a little tatty. Having little else to talk about and little French to talk about it with, he let the two men – M. Saistout and M. Soulot – at the counter in the cafe in on his forthcoming endeavour. M. Saistout had a lot to say. Mr Quaintly Naïf couldn’t really understand a lot of it but he thought M. Saistout was advising him that he would need to go to the Mairie to ask about that. He was slightly surprised and asked the cafe owner if M. Saistout was correct. The cafe owner M. Proprietorial towelled a glass and told him it was true. Mr Quaintly Naïf went to the Mairie that very morning but it was 11:45 so it was shut for lunch. He had to go shopping that afternoon so he would miss his chance to go then. He twiddled his thumbs all weekend and wondered about what colour he would paint his new window. First thing on Monday morning he rapped on the door of the Mairie. Silly Mr Quaintly Naïf, he was always forgetting that everything was closed on a Monday. Tuesday he was at the dentist. All day. He thought he would go to the Mairie on Wednesday afternoon. He began to feel an incy-wincy bit put out when he found the big wooden door firmly locked. It was all his own fault really, Wednesday was a half day. Thursday was a fériér. Friday was a fait le pont. The following Tuesday he joined the queue to see Little Miss Totallyunhelpfulineverywaypossible, who was the

21.06.13

Interior Design Inspirations from The Mediterranean

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Inspirations of the Med Look to the mediterranean coastline this summer for inspirations in colour palette, wallpaper and interior textile designs. The mood is sun-drenched glamour reflected through Mediterranean landscapes, Turkish tile patterns and painterly flora and fauna. Inspired by the vibrant alfresco culture and rich decorative heritage, ornamental ceramic tiles, sun-bleached stone, colourful fired brick and stucco are teamed with natural cotton, rattan and linen. Shimmering, sheer chiffon and organza voiles feature alongside subtle metallic coatings across the home, providing a touch of old school

28.05.13

Up on the Roof …A Burgundian Dream

General advice on home maintenance

‘this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors.’ This may well have been the sentiments of a wealthy Danish industrialist looking up at the fierce sunlight poking through hundreds of chinks in the roof of his restoration project. Holding in his hand a devis for replacing the roof which details a sum considerably higher than what he paid for the house, his retirement must seem less gilded than he had hoped. He explains that he can’t allow himself to spend that much; the finished product will never be worth the amount he has to put into it. We understand; it’s an all-toofamiliar tune. He has made a good living observing Friedmanite laws: he can hardly function without the thought of profit, the thought of financial loss is inconceivable. He will lose money if he goes back, he won’t make money if he goes forward. Yet why is he here if not to escape these neo-Protestant ethics to some extent? The native hue of resolution is indeed sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought. We have investigated his options for him, outlined them and costed them. He’s paid us for our time. There’s nothing to do but shake hands and wish him luck. He knows where we are if we can be of any more service. We don’t hear from him for a long time. One day we’re passing by the village his property is in. With all the curiosity of Rosencrantz and Guildernstern we

13.05.13

New Green – Spring arrives in Burgundy.

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There is magic now in May, the children bring back poems from school to learn about fairies dancing on mist and trees singing to shepherds. The village youths – no longer under the spell of Maurice Carême – steal things from the garden and leave them out on the village square, a ritual May Day morning scene. People exchange bunches of muguet (Lily of the Valley), nobody I ask knows why, the most usual answer being: ‘Bah…c’est le premier Mai…’ (don’t ask stupid questions, particularly ones we don’t know the answer to). After a particularly grey winter, the colours are extraordinary, the white and pink blossoms are bunched on trees and sharp yellow is alive everywhere. The daffodils are dwindling but dandelions heavily embroider every lawn, cowslips are subtly taking over the edges of the woods and vast fields of oil seed rape are in flower, giant swathes of land too yellow to look at for long. But nothing is quite as vivid as the fresh green of the trees. Driving along wooded roads is to be swallowed by electric green light. The sun shines through the budding tress, and heat and growth radiate in the luminous new-green green. Everyday now we look out for the arrival of wild asparagus. Little tall stalks of this new green which, when they come, are almost impossible to find in the shadowy, newly entered woods. It takes five minutes to find one, and then another three to find another; at first they reveal themselves gradually, but then

30.04.13

Tales from the Morvan, Burgundy.

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  The following is more histoire than history, accuracy is not guaranteed: it’s a collection of impressions I’ve been put under by people here. I have not cross- referenced any of this information in books issued by respected publishers, neither have I searched through citations on-linear encyclopedias. The Morvan, in Burgundy, is one of the great western-European granite outcrops, its landscape echoing in Galicia, Brittany and Ireland. Lushly green, forested, traced by small rivers that stream into lakes, it is one of the most beautiful secluded parts of France. It’s geographical location as France’s heartland has isolated it over the years: the Romans made no notable roads here; the Revolution nearly passed it by; the train network did not subdue it, leaving it like a hole in a spider’s web on the map. Even today Morvandiau, the region’s language, has not died out. It’s an ancient part of an old country. Ronald MacDonald does not reside there. Woodlands powered Paris before coal came to prominence, the flotteurs floating vast trunks down the Yonne into the Seine (which incidentally should officially be called the Yonne, the tributary far greater than its parent) before walking back. Walking back like the wet-nurses when they had finished, a year or two after they had left their babies. The women took them along with them on the long walk to the city to make sure they kept their milk in. They presented themselves in a

26.04.13

An Englishmans home is his Chateau

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It seems that Now Is The Time to buy property in Burgundy. Whether it’s renovations or retirement-relaxations, it’s time to take advantage of European financial woes: the bull-pit is roaring BUY, BUY, BUY. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/an-englishmans-home-is-his- chateau-potential-bargains-for-brits-as-bottom-falls-out-of-french-second-home- market-8566497.html?origin=internalSearch This article was published early in April, bang on time to kick off the spring sales. The broadsheet reader (or is The Independent solely Berliner now? – unfortunately here at Bespoke Burgundy we only access the newspapers on line) can fold the article down to a neat square and bring it in to his wife, who is in the bath supping a G. & T. She will presently emerge refreshed and at dinner the talk will be of property in France. Being cultured people they will decide on Burgundy, the heart of French cuisine, the birthplace of the ever-fecund François Mitterand, the source of the world’s best wine; the centre of western Europe. They agree on June to avoid the school-holiday rush. He thinks on the location of his Panama hat, musing now on the little-known fact he knows about how they are actually Equadorian. She dwells on Époisses and Chaources, Bouton de Culotte and Claquebitou. The warmth of the sun and the dappled riverbank. This month The Independent seems to be determined to ensure the health of the Entente Cordial , it’s not just

22.04.13

A kitchen fit or a guide to Burgundys best.

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Two questions are recurring to me almost daily at the moment: why won’t it stop raining; why are fitted kitchens so expensive? I’m old enough to realize that the rain will stop eventually and that this isn’t the first Burgundian spring to arrive at the pace of a slug. Things take time here, some villages (not naming any names) still have their Christmas trees up. However, the older I become the price of a fitted kitchen is more and more amazing. Mars Bars used to be twice the size and 10p. To have a bottom-of-the-range kitchen fitted into a square room is at least €5000. Is there no-one who can explain this to me? I have a friend who renovates houses, usually in Burgundy, to sell them on – and he is often a source of wisdom. He often isn’t as well. Although in the last house he did he made beautiful open kitchen units out of recuperated oak roof beams – which lent a rustic charm to the finished pied-à-terre he was working on – he is now convinced that he won’t be able to sell his current project unless it has a smart fitted kitchen. I think he may have read a magazine somewhere that laid out a convincing argument about how fitted kitchens add inordinate value to sale-prices. Is this a reason why they are so expensive? Is this why chipboard units with ‘real’ –wood veneers and plastic legs, with conglomerate surfaces and flimsy hinges are more expensive than a hectare of good farmland? My friend, never one to compromise on ways to

17.04.13

The pleasures of parsimony in Burgundy

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It’s a relatively new truism, but a very apt one. Nowadays, you can have either time or money, but not both. In the depths of Burgundy time is abundant; it’s usually only successful vingerons who are in short supply. This time–money continuum is nowhere more apparent than in the world of furniture. The vista of antique and ancien wardrobes, beds, chairs, tables et cetera extends for kilometres in every direction. The bulk is dated, or in bad repair, but the dramatic dots that furnish the landscape make all the hunting worthwhile. From the one-to-one direct sales on leboncoin (a kind of French ebay), to Emmaüs (a charity that resells, among other things, lots of furniture and has at least one outlet in every self-respecting department), to overburdened depots, to laden brocantes, to sniffy antiquaires, there is an overabundance of choice. The only complaint the visitor has is that they do not have the time to explore. They are often on their way to source a recommended brocante when they weave off route to follow signs to a nearby vide grenier or vide maison (different genres of attic sale). And then there is the problem of how to tie a set of six farmhouse kitchen chairs to the roof of the rental car. Of course there are many places to buy antique furniture for those who do not have the time to seek out their treasures. To pay dearly for these things is not a shame: beautiful objects have a value that goes well beyond the transient