Painstakingly Renovated – Part One

There is no shortage of stories about how an individual or family decided to chuck it all, purchase a rambling stone farmhouse in the French countryside, and relocate with the purpose of a complete renovation of the property, and a wonderful new life. There is also no shortage of tales of the calamities that befell these people while they attempted this massive undertaking.

Freezing to death, roofs caving in, stonewalls crumbling, flooding, no materials or contractor available, et all….and going broke in the process.

But miraculously, by hook or crook, most of these people will tell you they would do it all over again for the beauty that surrounds them, the savoring of life, and because who doesn’t love SUCH a challenge.


In case you don’t know, I used to be massage therapist and esthetician to the A list. Movie stars, hedge fund bazillionaires, old blue blood money, new wall street money, clothing designers….you get the pic.

I would get lost on my way for a midnight snack…
I would sleep here.

It allowed for seeing some tony real estate. Ocean front, bay front, harbor front, amid fields and flowers, Park Avenue, blah blah blah. It all came with interior designing, artwork, and landscape architecture that was flawless. Everything was just so….color palettes, the succulent garden, that Picasso over there, the leather bedroom floor…and HOLY CANNOLI, the kitchens!!! Where do I begin, to tell the story of amazing kitchens….. (to be sung to the tune of Love Story).

We loved our homes in East Hampton. But we no longer loved the electric, oil, and tax bills.

A very typical Skidaway Island home. I thought it was my old house until I realized the number 80.

Next came Savannah. Our private community island indeed had some lovely homes. But they became a bit homogenous. The retirees playing with ideas of their dream house. There was always an accent wall, heavy brown furniture dragged down from the North, swags and tassels….Mostly it was just, meh. But the golf was great and the city of Savannah is just lovely. Including the historical real estate.

Then there was North Carolina for a while. The land of what I call ‘multi material houses.’ We lived near Lake Norman, and that means Carolina Panther players, NASCAR racing conglomerates and drivers, Bank of America big wigs…living on lake front property in houses that often used bluestone, brick, stucco, wood, at least 2 colors of paint, other stones I don’t know the name of…kind of like if you build it, why not use all of these things???  Not my cup of tea, but there WERE DEFINITELY some refined beauties among this mess. And please note, all of our friends had beautiful and tasteful homes that we loved being invited to.

A good example of a large and busy lake front home. And really, this one is very tame.

I myself lived in a cookie cutter neighborhood where every third house was the same. All trees were cut down and the prescribed one planted in the front yard, and 2 planted in the backyard, by the builder. Sheer nonsense. She was and still is a good little house that suited our lives, at the time. But the incessant building of these homes showed no signs of abating, and it was a source of tremendous stress for me.

No tree was safe and I agonized over where all the wildlife would go.

And so we moved to France.

The view from Dana’s window. The countryside of Lot-et-Garonne is stunning.
I just love the use of beams and stone…most recycled from the ancient barns.

Where we were very lucky to live with an old friend for a month, in her fabulous house on the outskirts of Monflanquin, in a unique situation that can best be described as a compound. A series of dwellings built in to the structures of old barns, utilizing all of the stone and beams in a wonderful blend of character and modernity. And no 2 houses are remotely the same. This builder was genius.

We were spoiled rotten. By her house, by the village, by the land, by the friends we made and the wine we drank with them.

But all things come to an end, and we needed to start to figure things out for ourselves. So, we moved to a cottage in the countryside above Limoges.

For a very specific reason.

Most people, when dreaming of moving to France, envision an adorable stone cottage or farmhouse, among rolling hills and sunflowers, and possibly, sheep. We know ourselves to some degree, and being native New Yorkers, we were dubious that THIS is what we wanted.

Our little cottage – La Amelia. She is teaching us that we want central heating…

So what better way to find out, then to rent. Which we are doing. In a tiny hamlet named Cromac, in the Haute Vienne. A landscape that is rolling pastures separated by hedgerows and invisible wire. I have been trying to channel my inner Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, but it is not working.

No cattle today….

These pastures are filled with the Limousin cattle that feed France its beef, and sheep, that do I don’t know what – except prove the point that they do indeed follow each other…..but they ARE cute and I always love when I find the one or two black sheep among the herd.

There is a plethora of giant hawks, large wooded areas, rivers, and right now, incessant grey skies. The country roads are very well cared for, as France diligently tries to keep its population employed, and there is always a team maintaining perfectly maintained roads.

Waiting for summer, no-one in residence at this time of year.

But these roads can feel like they lead to nowhere. Villages are really far apart, Hamlets line the way but I notice there are few if any, cars in them, and the shutters remain closed. I know this and feel this because we are actively house hunting.

Barn that is quite typical in a hamlet. Cattle and sheep live outdoors year round…massive round hay bales fill these structures.

I have no shame in telling that we want to be budget conscious, and this part of the country has a lower entry price than most other regions. So we have started the process, and this series of posts – Painstakingly Renovated – will highlight some of the hilarities, false advertising, creepiness, and contenders, that we have viewed.

Stay tuned….


P.S. I know it has been a minute. Moving up north took the wind out of my sails for a few weeks. Then we went to Madrid for Christmas, which was magical. Between that and making new friends, and finally meeting friends that had been made via social media forums, has made the relocation that much easier. Happy New Year to all. I wish everyone a healthy, COVID free future. Omnicrom has made it’s way to France, so masking is mandated, still. We pray France avoids another lockdown.

9 thoughts on “Painstakingly Renovated – Part One

  1. Avatar Sharon Marie Buckler says:

    Dear Laura Lee:

    I am just loving your blog and look forward to hearing all about your adventures!
    Happy New Year to you and Howard.

    Love, Sharon

  2. Avatar Kathleen D'Angelo says:

    Happy hunting and happy new year Laura Lee, looking forward to what the future brings you. Stay safe.

  3. Avatar Jenny says:

    I cannot wait to come have a glass of wine with you all and hear some of these stories first hand. Love it!

  4. Avatar Nancy says:

    Laura Lee,

    Thank you for shairng the info and pictures! I loved reading the article and getting a fresh perspective.

  5. Avatar Rosemarie Rash says:

    Happy hunting have fun and good luck

  6. Avatar Jaime Myers says:

    My favorite one yet! I keep saying that however I am truly looking forward to the oncoming hilarity! And of the peek into French real estate!!

  7. Avatar Teresa Faulkner says:

    Absolutely love reading your bloggs…ours was such a tame journey to come and live in France by comparison. So great to have got to know you both. Good luck for the future and “keep blogging”

  8. Avatar Lynn Stewart says:

    You “paint” a perfect picture.

  9. Avatar Dana Dolan says:

    Thank you for the kind words about me and my house. Some of the stone walls and beams in my house are original to the 300 year old structure. I’m very lucky to have purchased this fine house and to have such wonderful neighbors, I hope you find a lovely house.,

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