Walls, Windows And Doors
When you fall in love common sense flies out of the window. This is how it was for David and Doris Johnson when they found a down-at-heel mini chateau in the heartland of France. A three year restoration began - and with it a journey of discovery.
Doris was in charge of renovating the interior stonework. Charente limestone looks good and cleans up well.
She uses a product called ‘Enduit de Parement Restauration’ – which translates literally as ‘Coating of Restoration Adornment’. The product is available in a kaleidoscope of shades – each subtly different. So, as with other adornments – such as wallpaper, hair colour and car touch-up paint – it is vital to remember the product number.
Doris had her own working method. First she took out just enough mortar to show off the natural shape of stones; she found an old screwdriver best for this. When she had finished picking out a section, she attacked the wall with a sturdy, stiff brush. Then she made a thickish mix of proprietary-branded grout (the traditional formula is sand and lime) and pushed it into the gaps using her fingers. Some people trowel it on from a float while others throw the mix at the wall and wipe off the excess. Whatever method is preferred it is essential to wear rubber gloves because of the lime. When the grout was almost dry Doris brushed again with a stiff brush, this removed the excess which was then remixed and reused.
After that it basically depends on the stone. I have seen a silicone coating – painted or even sprayed on – used effectively. It protects the stone and gives a soft sheen finish. We thought the stone work looked just fine as it was so we left it ‘au naturel’
We had hoped to restore the two large windows in the living room, but close inspection confirmed that they were too far gone, which meant new frames and glass. The glass was traditional two millimetre but the now more common four millimetre offers much better insulation. You can, in theory, put four millimetre in an old frame, but it’s tricky as there’s not much gap for the putty. We decided to do it properly putting the better quality glass into new frames.
Ricky came to the rescue. Someone else he was working for had a couple going spare and they were brand new. The man had travelled 100 miles to Poitiers to get them and had already treated them with ten year varnish. They looked wonderful. The only snag was that they didn’t fit, and, as he had already coated them with ten year varnish, he couldn’t take them back.
Ricky measured them and was confident they would do for us. I offered the purchase price less 20% and this was accepted.
The only problem was that Doris had already decorated the room. The last thing we wanted was the mess of fitting new windows. Again Ricky came through, fitting them in two days with barely a scratch. We felt that our luck was changing.
The next job was to get rid of the old back door and replace it. Doris had set her heart on a stable door arrangement. Again Ricky felt he was up to the job.
‘You price up the wood,’ he said, ‘I don’t think it will be very expensive. Then I’ll sort out the job. I reckon it will cost you a couple of days’ wages.’
Again he was 100% right. In fact it worked out even better than that. The wood was cheap, the job was perfect and the new door made a huge difference to the appearance of the back of the house.
Our rear barn doors were on their last legs. They had not been a priority. I reckoned that as they had done the job for 150 years or so they could last a little longer, but now the back of the house looked tidy, they stood out – no longer shabby chic, just knackered. They sagged and swayed and there were gaps in the planking that let in enough cold air to freeze the pipes in winter.
I had considered the problem for months. Openings for doors and windows made from huge hand sawn blocks of Charente limestone are usually true, but when I measured the barn openings nothing was remotely so. I decided the first thing to do was to put a straight strip of concrete across the floor of the opening and work up from there.
Once the openings were true I started with the ‘small’ door first. I made a frame from 4x5 inch pine and filled this in with two centimetre tongue and groove floor boarding. As the door was two metres high by a metre and a half wide, I knew that when the bracing battens were added, it was going to be heavy.
Doris had gone to England to welcome another grandchild into the world and, with Ricky employed elsewhere, I was on my own. The door was ready but horizontal and I had made and fitted a rebated frame. The problem was how to lift the door to the frame.
I considered a cry for help to one of our local friends but my stubbornness got in the way. There had to be a way. It took a while before I came up with the solution – the wheelbarrow.
I managed to get the new door on to it without injury. The problem now was that – as I could not see over the door – I was travelling blind. I turned a little at a time – feeling round the edge of the frame to check my course. When I was confident I was in position I tipped the door out of the barrow roughly into position. Then with a shove or three I wedged it into place and completed the job by fitting the hinges. It was now simply a matter of doing the same thing with the other, larger, doors.
When Doris came home I could not contain the triumphant tone in my voice.
‘What do you think?’ I said.
‘Wonderful,’ she said, ‘but I see that you’ve left me the job of staining the wood.’
Ricky left us in June as there was not much for him to do now and he was keen to start his new business.
The last job he did was making and fitting a window in the big bedroom. Again it was first class workmanship. I made a new inside sill and Doris fitted some drapes.
‘We’re going to miss Ricky,’ said Doris.
‘Well, he did suggest that you visit him soon,’ I said.
‘To help him set up the business?’
‘No, he’s got all the help he needs. He was thinking that you might be a customer. A gesture of appreciation for all he has done. And he said you wouldn’t have to have a particularly large tattoo ...’