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Renewal and Renovation: Petit Bois Martin

As we are 4 months into Phase I of our renovation project at Petit Bois Martin, we thought it would be apt to give everyone an update on the progress made so far. 

Back in early April we started the process of returning our farmhouse at Petit Bois Martin back to its former glory; we stripped out all the not-so-attractive 60s fixtures and fittings and demolished any wall or ceiling that was not original.

“Dingy corridors and modern plasterboard – the farmhouse before we started renovations”

“A kitchen both impractical and ugly”

“Fixtures and fittings completely out of keeping with the history and energy of the building”

After many wheelbarrows lugged and skips filled, we finally peeled away the layers of modern render and revealed the beautiful stonework that had been hidden away for over 50 years. The house, with its original proportions and layout, suddenly felt like a completely new building; transformed from a gloomy warren into a space where one could be at ease and relax – the perfect space to house Life Itself and a conscious co-living community in the coming years.

“Breaking through – on the far wall you can see the beautiful stonework that had been hidden by modern render”

“Returning to the original proportions of the farmhouse has created more light and space throughout the property”

Raking out  – laborious but worthwhile work”

“As we worked through the building we kept uncovering hidden features – here we have what we think was originally a carved stone sink

The building team had deliberately held off from approaching the renovation in a ‘traditional’ way, with one main contractor running the project and managing the whole site, so as to allow us to take advantage of both of any new ideas or inspirations from the building team, but also to give the building a chance to talk to us once we had removed all the modern additions. Rufus and Sylvie wanted to be able to experience the space and the flow between rooms before we started putting things back into the building; the character of what we revealed is so amazing that we felt real care and attention was needed to avoid marring it. 

Once we had finished the stripping out of the main farmhouse we paused work here to allow for some contemplation about how we wanted to utilise the space. This did not mean that our building crew were given a holiday! Instead, we switched focus onto the apartment that is on the side of the barn (what we call the gite). 

“The gite seen from the attic of the farmhouse”

The gite on the inside was as non-descript as the farmhouse was”

 Our approach to the renovation means that we progress more slowly than a standard building contractor, which is why it will take over a year to completely finish the ground floor and attic of the farmhouse. As a result of this, coupled with Rufus’ and Sylvie’s eagerness to get the community under way at Petit Bois Martin, we decided to get the gite ready for occupation before the summer ended so that people could be there as soon as possible to start enjoying the site, not to mention to get work on the gardens and landscaping underway!  

“The perfect spot for well-earned break from work”

“Petit Bois Martin as seen from the bottom of its water meadows. The stream runs along the tree line on the left of the photo”

The gite did not need anywhere near as much work doing to it as the farmhouse (much to the building crew’s relief). The most significant improvement was the conversion of the attic space into a beautiful bedroom and workspace. In addition to this, a new kitchen was required so that it would be easier to cook for large groups of people, ready for the next gathering or building festival.

“Lighting up  – Laurent is our site foreman and master mason” 

“Alexie working on the new kitchen”

“Beautiful materials need only simple designs – the gite’s new attic bedroom and study space”

Whilst the gite renovation was in full swing, we also decided to turn the beautiful pigeonnier (a dovecote), which makes our site instantly recognisable, into a compact and cosy living space. Cue much head scratching and sketching amongst the building team about how best to organise the layout and how to maximise the stunning features of the pigeonnier. For those of you who have not renovated a property before, let us tell you that whilst you do spend a lot of time thinking about stylish fittings and what gorgeous timber you will use, you will spend far more time thinking about where the waste pipes run!

“Instantly recognisable – the pigeonnier”

“The two arched openings will be glazed, providing focal points for the internal renovation”

“The farmhouse’s kitchen-garden as seen from the top of the pigeonnier”

Part of the joy of our renovation project is being able to work closely with our building crew throughout the whole process, learning new skills and processes that we can employ on future development projects (we have the barn to work on next). Through a more ‘organic’ and hands-on approach, we believe that we can build a more powerful connection between ourselves and the buildings we are working with, and ultimately this will make the community at Petit Bois Martin more self-sufficient. Indeed, our wider-community members will be part of this process once we start hosting building festivals again as well as hopefully having people staying and working with us on the renovations for longer periods of time.

“Rufus starts removing the external render accompanied by the newest member of the Life Itself building team!”

”No job too big or too small  –  Laurent again demonstrates his resourcefulness”

Furthermore, through labouring at Petit Bois Martin, whether it be mowing the water meadow by hand with a scythe, cutting down overgrown laurel bushes, raking out hundreds of metres of mortar joints, or replacing broken roof tiles, we discover a sense of satisfaction and contentment at a hard job done well. Not all tiredness is weariness, and often the simple repetition of a physical activity can help the mind relax, think, and process. 

“The pigeonnier at dusk”