Then came Patrick

We continued on the house and worked long, hard days, often leaving after sunset, too tired to do anything but find an open restaurant, dinner and a bottle of wine. Friends visited to check our progress and stayed to help, pitching in with the day’s project, however dirty or difficult.

One Sunday in early April, Jacques and Patrick and Ulla arrived in Jacques’ big blue van with their boys, Titouan and Elias. It was their first visit to Le Pouget and a proprietary one as they had introduced us to the Périgord. Ever since the New Year’s weekend three and a half years ago, they had encouraged our enthusiasm – and now they were here to see what they had started. It was cold and drizzling that morning, but soon after they arrived, the sun came out and our property was at its springtime best. The boys headed out to explore the barns and pigsties while we showed the adults our workmanship and talked about plans: a focus on the dramatic walk-in fireplace for the kitchen and living space, but it didn’t inspire us. Patrick, the architect, walked the house; we had it wrong, he said. The old kitchen was north facing and dark; good for winter nights. The other wing was where the light was; the two small bedrooms, a bath and the parlor would have to go. By knocking down four walks and removing the ceilings, we would have an expanse of southwest-facing windows with a beautiful view of gently rolling fields, a woods and the ridge that rose above the Couze River on the horizon. Opposite, a window and door faced east onto our courtyard for morning sun. His solution was brilliant. The house had been renovated in the 60s, horribly: low dark bead-board ceilings, fancy wallpaper, and fussy light fixtures. I knew it sighed with relief. A grateful paradigm shift.

We started that afternoon: two walls went down: dust, plaster and bricks. The walls were constructed with hollow bricks, not wood and lathe, so knocking them down was very dramatic – crashes, dust and rubble. Titouan and Elias loved it. They beat walls with their small hammers and pulverized plaster and bricks. The adults took their turns with the sledgehammer, wide swings and percussive responses. Eventually the old walls yielded to blows from young and old. All that was left was a big pile of rubble.

Dirty and dusty and happy, we climbed into Jacques’ van and took off for Cadouin and to the only restaurant open on Sunday evening. The boys finished their energy kicking stones in the covered market in front of the massive 12th century Cistercian abbey. A wonderful day with good friends and an exciting new direction for us.

For many years we had stayed with Patrick and Ulla in their Paris apartment with French doors running its length on the top floor of an 18th century hotel. From Patrick’s inspiration and 18th century Paris, we redefined our steep-roofed Périgordian farm house, resolving to an architecture more familiar to me and the 1940s Frank Lloyd Wright-like house in Philadelphia in which I grew up. I found a comfort zone and solutions began to come easily. John was generously supportive and teased about the house we bought with all systems functioning.