Thistle Cottage at last – A French Homestead Life

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The little house was a grim sight when we first purchased the farmhouse back in 2019. Very unloved, it was full of dumped furniture, cobwebs and grit from the windblown gaps in the tiles. We were unsure what this building would be but settled on a guest house for friends if they stayed over. We planned to extend it and make a private garden at the rear, a retreat after a day if sightseeing, being near us but not with us all the time.

Last summer with it happy green face.

Fast forward to summer 2020 and the Covid virus, things had changed. I had also finally ascertained what path I would be taking, now I had effectively retired from tax accounting, and settled upon my passion for sewing, illustrating and photo work. We had premises an hour away in Gouzon, a small but busy town with all the amenities, but at weekends I needed a quiet bolt hole to get the creative juices flowing. The creative moments come and go and often after an hours drive the moment has gone forever. The dining room table was impractical too and trying to sew, paint, and work on a pc in one space was starting to get frustrating. Tony and I had for years crammed our business work on small tables in tiny rental rooms. In Woolwich, London, we had worked side by side for a year on a table just one metre by fifty centimetres. Somehow we still remained married and sane!

With the now determination to make the little house a studio, I set about renovating the exterior. The wall needed repainting, the well too, plus the shutters and door. I found Opi oil based paints were great for the French extremes of weather and they had good coverage. I had repointed our barn with lime mortar, so the little wall was completed in about four hours. The painting was to put it bluntly, hard work. The sprayed stucco left a creviced service that the roller merely sputtered all over and me too, and a large whitewash brush couldn’t reach most parts either. I ended up finding a medium stiff brush, cutting the bristles down to a sort of stone, removing the handle too, to create a sort if palm brush I could stipple the paint on. It worked but took hours! In all eight two hour sessions competed the front.

I had bought a lot of masonry paint over from UK and found a green that was old fashioned and allowed the shutters to stand out. I painted the window area yellow to give the sense of sunshine when you were inside and to emphasise the opening which has a lovely red brick sill.

The old table got a repaint to match the shutters. Not a slave to perfection, I rub the worst loose paint layers off, paint a careful smoth coat of oil paint and once dry give a light rub down with fine sandpaper to remove the gloss. In time a few chips will matter not.

Upstairs I repaired the little attic window and added a brick sill to match the downstairs one but also provide a better runoff for rain as the existing cill leaned towards the house!

I still need to work on the front. I have two gates that we are removing from the entrance to replace with older more grand ones we found in the hangar. They are rusted but can be renovated and actually were very likely the ones originally on the front. Somehow modern ideas think cheap metal and plastic is better than wrought iron. I dont get it at all. But waste not, the modern ones will be painted and mounted either side of the door as a sort of porch affect with trellis running up and over the doorway. They are strong and have a structure so are fit for purpose.

I renamed my little studio Thistle Cottage as I have a good dollop of scottish blood and our field is full of Scottish thistles too, the lovely three foot high ones with huge purple flowered tops and the bees sap nectar from every single one meticulously. I even have a thistle tattoo!

I also needed a logo. Thistles seemed too obvious but my love of poultry felt right. This is Heff with his girlfriend Daisy. Shortly after we lost her to a predator pine Martin. I was in shock for sometime, this being the first time any of my pets had been attacked and killed. I lost my special needs duck Darcey at the same time, as she couldn’t walk, she didn’t stand a chance. Penquin was lucky. She survived and is now Heffs companion. I wanted to celebrate their short lives somehow. Daisy was Heffs girl, so these two together seemed the best way.

Heff and Daisy as my new logo.

Hopefully by autumn the interior will be finished too. We have insulated the roof and the spiders have headed off to the coop. The stairs need new treds and I will knock another window through to bring more light and a view to the garden beyond. I have all the furniture and with another eureka moment and more akin to a five year olds imagination, its going to be themed as a pirate ship! Yes a walk the plank, pieces of eight pirate ship. Peter pan would be nervous!

Not pretty but safe.

Childrens stories and designing fabrics for childrens rooms had not been an idea I had thought about until I found myself sitting on a very delayed ferry to France back in 2016. Bad weather in March and driving our hire van that somehow the rent fee had been refused but too late, we were on the high seas floating just out of Dover, I was day dreaming and jotted notes on a pad. Images of characters and tales of a wooded world and a whimsical imaginary creature grew out of the pages. By the time we had finally chugged slowly across to France I had scribbled almost twenty pages of notes. Forward to now, I have over 30 tales and nine books in progress.

I wanted the room to reflect that imaginary world of fun, adventure and colour. I have a wooden pirate ship and recently found an antique rocking horse that I use as photo props, plus sifting through all our brocante finds, I found a barometer, rope for rigging, my two rapier blades, a couple of old chests, four wooden desks that make the interior look like a captain’s cabin and a bell. My mother in law is from Transylvania and gave us a huge gothic mirror that will work perfect for the room, along with a collection of gypsy style fabrics I have been collecting over the past few years, picking up another pattern or colourway each brocante visit, for few euros apiece. Pieces of eight, pieces of eight! Couldnt resist that.

Always wanted a rocking horse. My mum thought I would damage her skirtings…1950′ obsessions about perfect homes, so I never got the horse. Silly notions that somehow always affect you. Back in England rocking horses are rare and expensive. This one was €60 but I am so pleased to give it a home again and use it for my work too.

Hopefully in a couple of months the interior of the studio will be taking on its character and feeling loved again. I want every building and room to have a use. It seems a waste just to leave them empty or simply used as a dumping ground for unloved belongings. With imagination everything can re revitalized, even if its simply a place to unwind with a couple of chairs, a rug, and a table for books. Simply cleaning some of our rooms has given rise to some new ideas and even altered the layout of our home altogether. I hope you have your favorite creative and relaxing spaces…a place to escape to. If not, find any unused space and make it your own.

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