The future garage

This barn is my next project. I’m thinking of keeping the side wall as is; demolishing the existing garage door and making two, neither of which is as hideous as the one Stuart left me with; repointing that wall; and sealing the whole thing up before the pigeons destroy it.

Not so long ago, I was delighted to welcome a pigeon. Caring mom, spindly little baby, so cute. MM kept telling me to get rid of that thing but I refused. Eventually, in their own time, they cleared out. That’s when I found out what a mess pigeons can leave, or thought I had. Now I know they were just getting started.

As you can see, they moved into the barn. I know from my days spent doing renovation projects in Los Angeles, pigeon shit can destroy a building in no time. Swifts have nested here, which didn’t thrill me. This is much more serious.

As you can see, pigeon poo is pitting the concrete floor. If you could see the lofts, you would see that pigeon poo is rotting them to the point that they are a safety hazard. Julien has done a fine job of sealing the openings to the barn opposite. Because of that large opening, this one won’t be so easy.

Here is Julien starting to make sense of the public side of that barn. The mairie was willing to sell me a strip of public land, enough to give me the right to install windows on this side, manage drainage, etc. This was once part of the original landholding. Over time I am learning more about how, when and why the property shrank to its current size. I’ll post something when I have a more complete story.

I remember seeing the movie Withnail and I, getting the visceral feeling that I wanted the uncle’s house: not the uncle, thank you, just the house. That feeling is a part of the reason I came here. I remember wondering why he didn’t fix it up more. Out at Domaine du Fan I couldn’t help but notice that outbuildings were being let go, that there was a lot of land but no real garden to speak of. As I settle in here I’m starting to think yes, that’s how it is. After a while you start asking yourself where each new project stands, considering the other priorities in your life. I have identified contractors who would do a great job of transforming this deluxe pigeon coop into a pigeon-free garage. But that work comes at a cost, in this case well into five figures. I have to think about whether this is really the best use of my money. The pigeons may force my hand.

15 thoughts on “The future garage

  1. Swifts don’t leave any mess at all. They nest tucked away in tiny roof spaces and are often invisible. They are very tidy house guests who take away their poo and they should be encouraged, as their nest sites are disappearing fast due to unsympathetic restorations which deny them access to the roofspaces. Are you sure you didn’t have swallows? They poo over everything under the nest and once they’ve fledged, where they roost.


    1. They could have been swallows. There were little poo pyramids beneath their nests.

      Interesting that you should bring this up. It’s not yet blog-worthy but one of my goals is to create a wildlife-friendly habitat. One of Jacques’ finer attributes is his mania for routing out those damned sport-killing cats. The lizards are grateful, along with who only knows what all that now lives — as do the cats, who eat plenty well at home. Birds like a variety of berries and all that we don’t eat, various heights of bushes and trees, etc. Many of my flowers are chosen to attract butterflies and bees. I am building hedgehog habitats; they were driven out by the contractors and have yet to return, so we shall see. I do want to be sure I good nesting areas for any birds I can attract. I don’t even mind the pigeons; I just don’t want them inside.


  2. Back in the day, domaines were inhabited by a very rich family and many, many very poor servants. Every inch was used. If there were pigeons, they were being raised for food.
    Good luck with your project. It’s a vicarious thrill to watch the thoughtful work of someone who has a better budget.


    1. It’s hunting season here. If some hunter wants to take out those plump and surely tasty pigeons, s/he is welcome to them. And OMG, don’t I wish I had a better budget! Some day we will surely find ourselves sharing some of your wonderful food and one of my better bottles, brought from California. I’ll tell you all about it.

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  3. Churches all over rural France will sympathise with you …. ours is currently being pigeon-proofed by an excellent firm of builders (French) who work only with buildings on the register of Monuments Historiques. We have been fortunate to get free advice from them. Which is just as well give that our budget doesn’t even run into 1 figure at the moment! I’ll be interested to see which way you fly (excuse pigeon pun) in your quest to free the building of its solvent poo-render.


    1. A lot of those Monuments Historiques guys really know their stuff. While I am grateful that I do not have to deal with the bureaucracy, I am a bit sorry that I don’t interest the craftsmen and builders who work with them. Anything they can tell you about how to close a garage door while you look for the cash to pay the guys to actually do the job right will be much appreciated — though I suspect their advice will be, “Find the cash!”

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      1. Oh I suspect they will just say use boards and nails …. we have a huge mountain to climb with our little house that was bought as a maison secondaire and has turned into far more of a labour since we began to unpick the ghastly mess made by a predecessor but remain determined to return it to what it should whilst respecting progress. Museums don’t interest me as living spaces but respecting the (rather unusual) history of the house from 12th Century Tour Seigneurial to hospice to home to women only for nearly a century to now does. I think the key to your dilemma is to seal the place and be patient until you have the resources. We have faced that daily for nearly 4 years and we have several more years ahead but, if we live long enough to achieve what we now absolutely know we want the final place to be, I will die content that I gave back the jewel in an appropriate setting. And fortunately, the village have always understood that we dont have any cash sewn into the linings of our coats and the monuments historiques guys get it too.

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  4. “Be patient” is an interesting challenge. I find that if I don’t visit spaces, I forget them. Things get lost or forgotten or else they mildew.

    Julien did a fine job on the other barn. I should have asked him to tackle it years ago. For this barn, chicken wire should work fine for the windows. Julien is genius at patching up personnel doors, using paint and bits from Mr. Bricolage. The challenge is that car-sized opening. I use it — covering the car, of course! Julien is looking into those ghastly plastic strip doors. If the MH guys have a suggestion for bird-proofing an in-use car-sized opening at minimal cost, I’m all ears!

    Your place was a hospice? It must be pretty big inside.


  5. Lynn

    It seems that nature – or at least air rats (as we refer to them here in the city) have a way of forcing you to contend with things on their schedule.

    Nice patio – and of course wonderful picture of Jacques surveying his kingdom!



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    1. Yeah, you know the saying: “He who calls the tune, pays the piper.” In that spirit I think the pigeons should chip in, don’t you?


  6. Do you have any purpose built pigeon nesting sites on the house or the outbuildings? We found them in nearly every house we bought. Nice meat for the off season, apparently.

    Where there were outbuildings we restored them, though not always as first designed. We had a hell up with the architect de Batiments de France about wanting to put a ventilated glass roof over a space where a roof had fallen in decades ago.
    The town was full of glass roofs but this one could not be approved…someone passing in a helicopter might see it and be outraged, apparently.
    We pointed out that his predecessor had approved a glass roof on the chateau stables one block away from the house. He made a mou…but we had the permission.
    Mark you, we were renovating with a view to selling on so the economic outlook differs from that which I imagine you have in mind.

    I know that you have people running interference for you…but check out those estimates. We were quoted enormous prices by local builders but the firm of Turkish builders recommended by a friend came in at less than half the price and did a superb job. The boss had worked for firms engaged in works under the aegis of Batiments de France and had a real eye for old buildings.

    I did like Jacques surveying his domaine.


    1. I was surprised that there were no provisions for birds. You want birds everywhere. You just don’t want them inside the buildings. I’ll have to figure out where they should go and get with it.

      Glass roofs? Do you mean skylights? Since you lived here, Velux has worked with English Heritage to develop skylights that are appropriate for old houses. I don’t know that putting three enormous ones, as I did in my attic, is quite what they had in mind, but it looks great and I do like having all the light.

      You were brave, fixing houses to sell on. I have no clue why but the French government hates that. They say it’s to avoid speculation but anyone in the countryside, where houses routinely sit on the market for years, would just laugh at that idea. Anyway, good on you for staring down the Monuments Man.

      I don’t have one of those but the whole town watches everything I do at this house. They like it but I find it interesting that the one thing they always mention is the work done by the guy who lives in town. Coincidence? I think not. He’s the guy who retiled the top of my stone wall. His bid for that was reviewed by the insurance adjuster. She said it was fair, so I gulped and paid.

      That said, I desperately need to find electricians and plumbers to pick up some odds and ends left by the last group. I don’t care where they are from and the local guy doesn’t do that, so there would be no pushback from the community. So far I’m not finding much and Vendee is not really a place that welcomes immigrants. The few black people that have recently moved in must be having a rough time.


  7. Before it was abolished by Sarko the taxe professionelle which local businesses paid went to the commune, so there was a lot of pressure to use the local guys. Having experienced the incompetence one of them I was cured of that idea for life, especially when I learned of the cartel operating in the building sector.

    In the immortal but misquoted words of Mandy Rice Davies your insurance adjuster would say that, wouldn’t she. Part of the mafia.

    We found the Turks by word of mouth…how are your networks there? Someone else must need electricians and plumbers…

    The roof in question was a proper greenhouse roof with automatic ventilation….the idea being to convert the area into an internal garden…and we were very pleased with it once done. The chap running the municipal garden service found us a good firm…and negotiated a good price for us too.

    We were renovating houses back in the dark ages before the French taxman cottoned on to the money to be made. No ten year guarantees of work, exoneration for Capital Gains Tax of three times the cost of materials…easy peasy. Then they started to get nasty…changed the rules so that you could not claim for work on walls or roofs…only work carried out by registered businesses would be eligible…detailed estimates down to the last nail had to be produced…so all the fun went out of it.

    But it gave us a great deal of pleasure to bring old houses back to life…and to top up the bank account.

    Nice people in the Vendee…but any area that elected the Fou du Puy to local government office has to have something seriously wrong with its brains.


    1. Funny. I suppose the adjuster would say that. I figured she worked for Allianz but, you know, Allianz is so far away, while the contractors are right next door.

      I should ask the realtors I have worked with who they use. Julien knows a couple of guys he can recommend. They will work on the rental but I think they are intimidated by my house. They come, they look, they never even produce an estimate.

      Any building cartel is nothing, compared with the French tax collectors. My situation, in the States, would be completely simple. Here it is simple, too, but they are so sure I’m cheating — and they get so mad when they can’t find anything — that they have driven me to consult a tax attorney to put my simple situation into words even they can understand. Apparently my headaches are completely typical. I have no idea how things will play out. The French bureaucrat’s mistrust of entrepreneurs is something you can’t believe until you have to deal with it.

      The atrium sounds wonderful. Winter light, out of the wind, is a precious commodity.

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      1. It worked beautifully as part of a house dating from the 14th century, tower, stone spiral staircase et al., pulling the place together and giving much needed light to the interior. Three stories high with galleries opening onto the rooms on the top two floors.

        There does seem to be an attitude in France that unless you are a fils de papa you shouldn’t be able to turn a penny, nomatter how honestly you do it – unlike the fils de papa, I had good relations with our local tax office, but really had to keep on my toes whe it came to the constant changes in legislation.
        Yes, the estate agents should have someone….the other thing is to ask the postman. Sounds daft, but they generally know a lot of people.

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