Welcome to Atelier Charneddy!
If you follow me on Instagram you might have seen that my husband Tom and I bought a HOUSE this summer! It’s in a terrible state and it’s in the middle of nowhere, but it’s the start of a huge new adventure for us. Our plan is to spend the next year or so renovating it ourselves in our holidays. We were never the sort to spend a fortnight sunbathing on a beach anyway!
We’ve been documenting snippets of it over on Instagram, but I thought you might like to see a bit more of what we did, how we did it, and where to find the best cider in Bretagne…
We always knew we wanted to move to somewhere remote eventually, but we originally thought we'd only be able to do it in retirement. But then we realised "it's totally feasible NOW!"
We started looking online for French houses and within 2 weeks we were on our way to Bretagne to see our favourite ones out of the hundreds we saw online.
We set off early one Saturday morning in March. We'd rented a car in Boulogne-Billancourt to save us the trouble of driving in the city. The car was a super-modern, super-orange Micra. It was so modern, in fact, that upon arrival at the first service station we couldn't work out how to lock it! The key fob didn't seem to have a real key on it, and the 'lock' button didn't seem to do any locking. We *did* think that maybe the car is so modern that it can sense the key in its vicinity, so Tom tried walking far away with the key while I tried opening the car door. It didn't work. An old French man even gave us banter about the wonders of modern technology! After a LONG time we realised that there was an 'off' button inside the car that needed pressing before it would lock. Thank you, Google! We did love the cruise control and the Bluetooth audio system though.
We hadn't been able to make an appointment to see one of the houses we'd liked (the owners lived in Paris), so we drove through that area and stopped for a few minutes to take a little look around. The village was really nice, and the post lady was super friendly, but the house was SO close to lots of other buildings around it. The land wasn't adjacent to the property - you had to walk down a path past other people's gardens to get to it - all in all, not remote enough.
On we went to the next house, which was just on the edge of a little town. It overlooked a couple of modern bungalows which was a bit weird, but the house was HUGE and had a great loft space. Unfortunately it had no utilities and was pretty run down, for a price that didn't make sense for us given the amount of work we'd have to do. On the bright side, we could have lived like the previous owner who ran it as a forge and used the garden as a toilet!
That night we stayed in a really nice AirBnB near Brest (*snigger*) that overlooked the sea. We were so exhausted from the full day of driving so we thought we'd get a nice takeaway from somewhere local....but only Dominos Pizza would deliver to our area! As it happens, it was very tasty and we ate it whilst watching a French TV show in which contestants had to remember the words to songs we didn't know.
The next morning (Sunday) we were up bright and early to visit our favourite house from the online search - the White House. It was a little cottage just outside a hamlet in the Parc Naturel Régional d'Armorique, and we were met by one of the neighbours (Sylvie), who had the key. She explained to us that the house was being sold by the family of an old man who had died four years previously, so it was quite run down but structurally solid. Well. It was literally the best house ever! It had huge windows at the front, evidence of insects eating the pine door frames, a lovely staircase, and a gap where a radiator was before it exploded. All our criteria! It also came with a whopping 3000m2 of land, and some small out buildings ('dépendances' in French) that we could imagine turning into workshop spaces in the future. While we were looking round the house, Sylvie told us about the local creative scene - the yoga studio in the next village, the craft beer brewer a few houses over...she also mentioned that, if we were really interested in the property, we might like to say hi to Monsieur Le Maire the next day. YES Sylvie!
We didn't want to tear ourselves away, but we had another viewing that afternoon so we took about a million photos, and off we went to the next location. We're not sure if the next house was terrible in general, or just paled in comparison to the white house, but it seemed SUPER WEIRD. We met the owner in the local church carpark (strike one on the weirdness-o-meter). He told us that the house was about a kilometre away, so we might as well get in his car and he'd drive us down there (strike two on the weirdness-o-meter). Typing this now, that seems like the creepiest thing ever and WHY would we ever get in his car, but we had phone reception and he seemed fairly legit....so we went for it. He told us all sorts of stories about the area while he drove (all in French of course), narrowly avoided running over a dog ("don't worry, it's fine, I know this dog"), and he pulled over when he saw an English woman walking in the road. "Ils sont anglais aussi" he said. "Oh very nice, hello" said the woman. "Hi, yes, we're English too", we said, because what else was there to say? End of weird conversation (at least strike twelve on the weirdness-o-meter).
When we got to the house it was really weird (did we mention how weird it was?). From the outside it looked fine, but inside it was dark with low ceilings, and had an "old people's home" vibe about it. Luckily the old man had made everything in there himself, so he was able to show us all the features which included but were not limited to:
A large home-made box on wheels which wouldn't fit out of the door (but it's okay, he said, you can wheel it right up to the door, and that's good enough)
A chicken hut with a better plumbing system than the house itself
A bedroom which also doubled as a sauna, thanks to it's floor-to-ceiling-and-ceiling-to-floor pine panelling
Some VERY well-used flatpack furniture which he offered to sell us
A toilet that was plumbed into a concreted-over septic tank (i.e. worse than no toilet at all)
We took zero photos, which in hindsight was a mistake because it would be good to look back at that big box on wheels, but we knew from the moment we set foot in there that it wasn't for us. The man was nice enough to drive us back to our car though, via a pub run by a Welsh man.
That evening we ventured out on foot along the beach to Brest, and found a nice crêperie in a little park. While we were there we received a text from Sylvie saying that she'd rung the mayor, and we could go and chat with him and his secretaries the next morning after we'd taken another look at the house.
Spoiler alert: the house was just as great on second viewing - perhaps even better! We got there slightly early so we loitered outside for a while taking pictures. Whilst we were there, the nearest neighbour drove past and waved in a friendly fashion, so we waved back, trying not to look like burglars. When Sylvie let us in the heating was on again (not bad for an uninhabited building!), and we took photos of all the diagnostic documents so we could look at them properly at our leisure. We then drove the 30 seconds over the river (RIVER!) to the Mairie, where we met the world's coolest mayor. He was maybe in his 60s, wearing a gilet, and couldn't understand why we'd ask him if there were any local laws regarding the installation of solar panels. Roughly translated, his answer was "well I make up the rules, and I like solar panels, of course you can have them. Hein", all the while being super cool and casual.
Monsieur Le Maire then went into a meeting, so we stayed to talk with Sylvie and the mayor's two secretaries. They were so nice, and taught us how to haggle the price of the house down by a few thousand euros (for the record, we thought it was pretty well-priced to start with!). They also quoted their exact internet download and upload speeds (to the nearest kb/s). How useful!
Soon it was time for us to set off back to Paris, but not before stopping to talk to the neighbour we'd waved to earlier. He was now re-pointing a small wall in the village, seemingly out of the goodness of his heart. What a guy!
From there we drove the 7 hours directly back to Paris, confident that we'd found THE perfect Atelier Charneddy.