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  • Writer's pictureNigel Wakeham

Le Pic Vert: a Renovation Project in South-West France

Updated: May 12, 2022

UK Overseas Development Aid
Le Pic Vert: a Renovation Project in South-West France

Le Pic Vert: a Renovation Project in South-West France

My wife and I first became interested in living in France during a visit to Provence in the early 90s while we were on leave from working in the Solomon Islands in the SW Pacific. We subsequently had several holidays in the south of France and eventually decided to try and buy our own house to use first for holidays and later as a retirement home. Having worked for many years in the tropics we were not very happy either with the climate in England or with the traffic in Bristol where we were then living.

We looked, for a number of years and without success, for a suitable house until it was suggested that we explore the Tarn et Garonne department. In 2003 therefore we spent our holiday looking at properties in the villages and small towns west and north-west of Toulouse. It was a very frustrating couple of weeks: the houses we saw were either too big or too small; had been so badly renovated as to make them past redemption or had no garden. Then, on the penultimate day of our holiday, we saw a house that had just come back on the market.

The house was in small, once fortified village on top of a hill overlooking the valley of the Gimone, a tributary of the Garonne. The village is set in rolling farming country about six kilometres from the market town of Beaumont de Lomagne. See photos of the village and surroundings.

We managed to get inside the house on the last of our holiday and made an offer on the spot which was accepted. It was much larger than what we were looking for and required a great deal of work but it was more or less in its original state and had not been ruined by badly thought out renovations. It also had a lot of original features and a small garden at the rear together with a wooded area across the road. We could both see that it had the potential to be a really lovely house and three months later it belonged to us! See photos of the house before renovation.

The house, which faced on to the main street of the village, was built in 1860 and although structurally sound, it was in a fairly dilapidated condition not having been lived in for a number of years. The walls were 40/50 centimetres thick built mainly of un-burned bricks faced with burned bricks on the south-west facing sides; the rain coming mainly from this direction. The ground floor was finished in terracotta tiles laid straight onto soil and the first and second floors were constructed of timber joists with tongued and grooved boarding. All of the external openings had either timber lintels over or shallow brick arches. The roof was constructed of massive timber members (mainly poplar) with simple mortise and tenon joints fixed with timber dowels.

It should be noted that although the house was over 150 years old, that it was 2½ stories high, that the walls were mainly constructed of un-fired bricks and that no concrete had been used in its construction, the house was structurally sound and required no major repairs. I often use the house as an example of what can be achieved using locally available materials without large amounts of concrete to colleagues that I work with in developing countries who insist that concrete structures are the answer to all their problems!

The accommodation originally consisted on the ground floor of an entrance door from the main street leading to a central corridor running from front to back of the house with what was originally an ‘epicerie’ on one side at the front with a very basic kitchen behind and a sitting room and staircase on the other side. There were three large bedrooms and a very basic bathroom on the first floor and a ‘grenier’ or storage space for farm produce in the roof. There was also a barn/garage on the ground floor (with a large double-height barn over) attached to the rear of the house which blocked off any access or view to the small garden at the rear and down one side of the house ran a long narrow shed used for drying garlic (the village is in the heart of a garlic growing area). See drawings of the house before being renovated.

I had a lot of ideas about what to do with the house but it took nearly a year to finalise the plans and obtain planning permission for the changes we wanted to make.

On the ground floor, the main changes were to do away with the central corridor in order to increase the size of the sitting room; demolish the wall between the épicerie and the kitchen to form a large open dining room and kitchen; insert a new utility/bathroom behind the staircase and move the main entrance from the front of the house to the rear. The barn/garage at the rear of the house was turned into a terrace with access from the dining room and opened up to the garden through two new, large openings. A store was constructed at one end of the terrace to house the central heating boiler, garden tools, bicycles, etc. The roof to the garlic drying shed at the side of the house was removed and the space became a small garden with access from the ground floor sitting room.

On the first floor the three bedrooms and the bathroom were retained and renovated (with a new access door to the bathroom from the main bedroom) and the barn at this level was converted into a large sitting room with full-height windows overlooking the garden and the country beyond. This room was nearly seven metres high on one side (all the roof timbers were exposed) and had a new staircase at one end leading up to the second floor.

On the second floor the staircase led to a gallery that gave access to a new bedroom in the roof space with an en-suite bathroom and walk-in cupboard and a new mezzanine floor over one end of the first floor sitting room. The gallery and the new mezzanine both over-looked the first floor sitting room. See drawings of the house after being renovated.

We employed an English builder who had been in France for many years to carry out the main construction work and manage the joinery, electrical and plumbing work and this made communication easier than it might have been. Even so it was not easy to manage the work as we were based in Bristol and I was spending a lot of time travelling for my consulting work. The main construction work was not completed until the end of 2007 and internal finishing work took much longer. The delays showed how difficult it is to run a project from a distance especially when there are limited opportunities to visit and check on progress (they did however enable me to make various changes to the planning that greatly improved the house). All builders can find an excuse for delays and changes that have not been approved when you are not there to supervise them!

The original ground floor was replaced with an insulated concrete slab finished with traditional tiles and all the external walls on the ground floor and in the sitting room on the first floor were lined and insulated. The roof was stripped, some minor timbers replaced and the roof tiles re-laid on insulation and new roof boards. A new gas-fired central heating system was installed with under-floor heating on the ground floor and radiators on the first and second floors. All the windows were replaced with new, double-glazed timber windows with shutters.

I carried out most of the finishing work myself (with assistance from family and friends) in periods fitted in between my consultancy work and this took a lot longer than planned. I fitted the kitchen and the new shower units; did all of the wall tiling in the kitchen and bathrooms; fitted new doors, architraves and skirtings where necessary and did most of the painting. All of the rooms were large and all ceiling heights were over three metres which made for a very comfortable house in the summer but the area of walls and ceilings that required painting were enormous and all of them had three coats of paint!

Although it was an old house, finishes and furniture were simple, modern and effective: walls and ceilings were all painted white with colour provided by the doors, architraves and skirtings and by the furniture and the large collection of books in numerous bookcases. See photos of the house after renovation.

Even before the house was finished we spent most of our holidays there and we finally moved into the house in 2013 when my wife retired. It was a wonderful house to live in and we thoroughly enjoyed village life and made many friends here. For family reasons however we eventually and reluctantly decided that we should move back to UK and with much regret we have sold the house.

Hopefully, the new owners will enjoy living there as much as we have.

Gallery - Before Renovation


Gallery - After Renovation


Gallery - Local Village


Architecture in Developing Countries: A Resource

The design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health in rural areas of the developing world.

Nigel Wakeham is an architect who lived for 23 years in Southern and West Africa and the SW Pacific working on education, health and other projects. He has since worked for over 20 years as a consultant for national governments and agencies such as the World Bank, DFID, ADB and AfDB on the implementation of the construction components of education and health projects in many countries in the developing world.​

​The objective of this website will be to provide the benefit of more than 45 years of experience of working in developing countries to architects and other construction professionals involved in the design and construction of appropriate, low-cost buildings for education and health. It will provide reference material from the projects that Nigel has worked on and technical information on the design, construction and maintenance of educational and health facilities and other relevant topics and these will be added to from time to time.

I am happy to be contacted by anyone requiring further information on any of the projects or resources referred to in this website or by anyone wishing to discuss work possibilities.


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