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Doing Up an Old Property

The ugly duckling

Most people want to update their new home or make some changes to it. Maybe you will replace the bathroom fittings or install a new kitchen, or you might have greater plans for turning the old barn into a habitable building to make a gîte.

Restoring old buildings is a favourite pastime of foreigners with a home in France and there are beautiful barns, merchant’s houses and cottages littered all over Burgundy, just waiting for someone to lavish care and attention on them.

Transformed and restored

Building regulations are very tightly controlled in France. There are rules for just about everything, but on the good side of this, at least you know where you stand.
What you can and can’t do is clearly spelled out.

Planning permission is issued if the application is in accordance with local or national administrative regulations. Of course if you are in an area of historic interest, restrictions will be tough and you really will have to conform.

Planning Permission

There are demolition permits, outline planning permits and minor works... the list goes one. Where the building changes are small you do have to submit a form, obtainable from the Mairie. For any major work, and some minor work, especially to the exterior such as window openings or change of window style, you will require planning permission. This paperwork goes through the Mairie and the local authorities, and if you are in an area such as a Natural Park, their architect’s department too.

For full planning permission, the required dossier is quite a hefty affair and needs to include the following:

  • The form ‘Demande de Permis de Construire’
  • Volet Paysager - a folder with the description, area map from the Mairie, photos and graphics to show aspect, proximity of neighbours etc.
  • Plans of existing buildings and plans of proposed building work

Four copies are needed of each and all these papers have to then be taken to the Mairie who will forward them to the various departments for approval. Permission takes two to three months and once obtained, the work has to be started within the stated period on the permit.

For large jobs, a local architect can save you endless time and effort preparing the paperwork. He will know his way around the system, what is permissible, and submit it all correctly.

In the Morvan Park

The Park authorities are strict about what can and can’t be done in the Morvan Natural Park and all plans have to go through their architect‘s department before approval. They are keen to preserve the authenticity and tradition of the area and particular emphasis is put on the exterior to keep it in character. For example you have to keep the large barn doors, even if there is a modern glass frontage behind. Dormer windows may be allowed where new window openings will not be.
There is a well illustrated booklet , ‘Habiter en Morvan, Guide de rénovation et de construction’, showing what is acceptable and what isn’t in the area. It is available from Maison du Parc, 58230 St. Brisson, Tel: 03 86 78 79 00

Plan ahead

Everything you have read in the lifestyle books is true - workmen are like gold dust. If you are getting someone to do the work for you, plan ahead - you will have to wait for quotes and then wait again for the workmen to come, maybe over six months. An estimate, ‘devis’ is essential and try to get several quotes to compare the prices as these can vary considerably. For larger jobs it is advisable to get a local architect to supervise the work and recommend the tradesmen. Alternatively get a building consultant to do this work - a bi-lingual person is essential if your French is not up to the mark.

Go on recommendation

You will be using workmen in your local area but always look at the work they have already done to get an idea of the quality and, if possible, get a recommendation from someone who has used them.

If you are doing the work yourself, shop around for raw materials, prices vary enormously from one supplier to another. There are seasonal special offers on kitchens, wood burning stoves, garden equipment etc. which are worth waiting for.

avoid headaches

If you want to save time ploughing through the various authorities and permissions, there are English speaking professionals at hand. In Beaune, Caroline Gigandet runs Burgundy Home and Services with architects, builders and interior designers on hand to project manage.