Couple Renovates a Crumbling 16th-Century French Chateau and Here's What It Looks Like Today
| LAST UPDATE 10/17/2021
Engaged couple Erin and Jean- Baptiste bought a 16th-century fairytale fixer-upper in the French countryside, for a steal. But while it may have looked gorgeous on the outside, the inside was far from pretty...
Love At First Sight
In the late 2000s, English-born Erin Choa decided to relocate from London to Scotland, to study in Edinburgh. Across the English Channel, Frenchman Jean-Baptiste had made a similar decision. Both young adults moved to the Scottish capital city for their respective studies.
Little did they know, their lives were about to change. Erin met the young engineer soon after arriving, and it didn't take long before they fell for each other. Jean-Baptiste had only planned to stay in Scotland for a year, but those plans soon changed after meeting his soul mate.
A Fork in the Road
Jean-Baptiste’s one-year stay in Scotland had somehow turned into nine years, and he found work as a mechanical engineer while Erin worked as an anesthetist. Despite living in happiness and comfort together in Scotland, Jean Baptiste still yearned to return to his home country of France.
The couple was faced with a difficult decision. To keep living the life they had shared for almost a decade, or take the plunge and move to France together? Thankfully, Erin had a great passion for her husband's country. "I am a huge Francophile" she would say in a later interview. "I love the culture and the language."
Back To The Old Country
So the couple began weighing up their options in a bid to make the final decision. Jean-Baptiste could be easily re-employed, but sadly Erin could not continue her work as a doctor, as at that point she wasn’t skilled enough in French. The young couple would have to find a new plan of action.
And they soon found it, in an unexpected source no less! Erin and Jean quickly realized that they could afford a much better lifestyle for themselves in France, and had considered purchasing a property they could renovate together. It became clear that this might be the perfect new opportunity for them.
A Slice of History
The couple both shared a unique interest and appreciation for historic buildings, and soon began looking into purchasing a heritage home that they could invest in, likely one that would need a bit of extra work. They figured that they could let out part of their property to holiday-goers as a way of making extra income.
Erin still feared that her French wouldn’t improve enough to land a job. As it turned out, she needn’t have worried. They perused the property market, looking at manoirs (manor houses) in the countryside. They soon realized that with the right property, they could turn their new house into full-time employment for both of them!
The Big Move
So the young lovers, along with their beloved cat Oscar, packed their suitcases. They made the move to start a new life together in France. But soon came the difficult part - finding the perfect property... So, they began traveling around the French countryside.
They visited many properties in person, as well as browsed through countless listings over the internet. Unsurprisingly, France's countryside is filled with gorgeous old buildings, but many require very expensive renovations. It became apparent that they had a lot to choose from, but only a few would meet their needs.
Worth The Risk
Erin and Jean-Baptiste knew that they had to be careful to make sure that their future property would be worth the investment they put into it. This meant an estate with a low enough price that was affordable, but also not so rundown that the renovation and maintenance expenses would become too much.
Not only that, but the property had to be a source of active income for them. They wanted a home they could also run as a business. This meant having enough extra rooms for holidaymakers, but also something that could be used as a venue for other business ventures. This would prove hard to find.
Their vision of a property that could provide them with full-time employment began to evolve. Being a simple holiday let wasn’t ambitious enough for the young couple. They wanted something more - an estate that could also act as an events venue for the local community, as well as, hold private events for international visitors.
Soon enough they had whittled down their list to ten properties. Sadly none of them really fit what Erin and JB had pictured, but they were the only reasonable choices. “We were feeling a bit disheartened” Erin shared. That is until her father sent them a link to a property they hadn’t seen before.
Just In Time
They were unsure, but the property he sent them was only a 45-minute drive from where they were staying. They figured it was worth a look, and that maybe luck would strike. And strike it did! The property was absolutely breath-taking, and they described their first visit as a coup de foudre - love at first sight.
The stunning estate was nestled in Vendee, Pays de Loire, a region in western France. On the edge of a forest near the small village of Bourneau, the building looked like something out of a fairytale. The couple knew that they had found their new home within the grounds of the Château de Bourneau.
A Palace In The Making
Erin and Jean-Baptiste were fascinated by the turrets and stone structure of the building, and its “Renaissance edifice” that they soon discovered was unique to the region. The home came with an incredible amount of space too. 50 Rooms, with 30 being bedrooms, and 4 sizable cottages used as stables and outbuildings.
The enormous building sat on equally impressive grounds, with a wide moat encasing the property and over 16 hectares of park and woodlands. Each cottage also came with it’s own private garden and swimming pool, which would be ideal as holiday lets for wayward travelers in the region.
Rebuilding the Past
Though there had been a chateau on the property since the 16th century, the majority of the structure was actually built in 1863, after the original structure had fallen into extensive disrepair. The owner at the time had commissioned an architect named Arsene Charrier to design a palace suitable for a well-to-do man of that era.
Charrier decided on a Renaissance-style building modeled after the Chateaux of the Loire, a distinct group of historic palaces that was built for royalty and aristocrats in the Loire valley. The love birds were grateful to their predecessor, as this meant they had both a historic home and “The advantages of Victorian plumbing.”
More Than They Bargained For
Seeing a property as stunning as this, begged the question - why had no one else jumped at the opportunity to buy it? Well, that would soon become obvious upon entering the building. Almost the entirety of the main building was in shocking despair, from chipped paint to broken furniture, to water damage from the leaking moat.
There were rumors that the house had not been lived in since the early-90s, so the new owners would have to make up for almost thirty years of neglect. It looked like an intimidating project, even for the most experienced renovators. However, Erin and Jean-Baptiste had their hearts set on Château de Bourneau.
In It to Win It
The couple soon acknowledged that they had been carried away by the romance of their purchase. After all, they’d bought a 30-bedroom chateau in the French countryside for the same price as a small apartment in central London. It was easy to forget how much work they had ahead of them.
They would have to expand their budget, to include the renovation taxes, insurance, and other unforeseen expenses that would soon add up. They didn’t regret their decision but knew they would have to start putting in the work, as well as find a way to make money from the chateau as soon as possible.
Putting in The Work
After spending 680,000€ (roughly $800,000) on the property. They knew they had to go all-in, plunging their entire budget into the project, and taking out a loan to supplement the costs of renovation. It was going to be a long process, but they were willing to put it all on the line.
They made some changes, but it was certainly overwhelming. Where do you start in a place that needs so much work? First, by adjusting to your surroundings. The couple took to living by very simple means within the chateau walls. And secondly, they began learning more about their new home.
Discovering Old Secrets
As it turned out, Chateau de Borneau was much more than a pretty face. It also had a long and fascinating history. The original building and moat were built and fortified on the land in 1564, with the express permission of King Louis XI, and remained there up until the 19th century, before it was deemed unlivable and torn down.
There is still one turret that remains from the original building, on the edge of the moat located at the back of the chateau. The moat itself was dug out when the first chateau was built and remained unchanged since the middle ages. Despite the work that needed to be done, Erin and Jean-Baptiste had chosen something special.
The couple settled into a small apartment nestled in the center of the building, ready to set out their plans. Thankfully, parts of the property could still work as functional living quarters. It was a great relief to them, as the modern conveniences of running water and indoor heating and plumbing would make their work much easier.
One of the biggest issues they identified was the extensive water damage throughout the building. Sadly, the ancient moat was leaking, and water had seeped into the cellars of the chateau. For all intents and purposes, the grand building had been rotting away in the countryside for decades.
Erin and Jean-Baptiste didn’t take their obligations to the new home lightly. They jumped at the challenge, and spent about 14 hours a day, chipping away at the building's many problems. At 10,700 square feet in total, it was an intensive experience just to take a look at every inch of the property.
The couple knew that buying the property was going to be a huge investment, not just of their money but their time, energy, and sometimes even sanity. They needed to uncover every inch of the house, but they were slowly making improvements.
A New Look
Aside from the obvious water damage, they also had to deal with the peeling paint and half-done jobs throughout the building. From room to room there was work that needed to be done, and this required painstakingly chipping away at every wall in order to remove the layers of paintwork.
Even the front doors leading into the entrance of the chateau needed to be repainted. Keep in mind, they were going to have to chip away the paint (taking care not to damage the walls), sand the walls, apply a primer, and then repaint. This all had to happen on walls that towered over them at 14-feet!
They had put a lot of work into the moat, as it was one of the most unique and grandiose features of the property, as well as one of the last remaining features of the original 16th-century structure. They had fixed the leaks, cleared out the old cellars, and wanted to fully return the moat to its former glory.
They had been given an old sepia photograph of the moat as it had stood in 1908. They knew that restoring the old bridge over the moat was the key. The bridge was fully fixed up and repainted so that it would truly fit the fairy tale image of the chateau grounds.
Moving On Up
Erin and Jean-Baptiste continued working through the building, making progress where they could. Along with the moat, cellars, and paintwork, they had replaced many of the rotting window frames throughout the building, as well as some of the major leaks coming through the roof.
While much of their home needed renovation, they also had to continue ongoing maintenance that would be needed for the rest of their lives. This included managing the woods and grounds, routinely checking drainage and plumbing, and simply keeping the immense property clean.
Fixing up the Chateau de Borneau was exhausting labor of love, that would have taken more work than the average home renovation. But it wasn’t all blood, sweat, and tears. While examining the nooks and crannies of their new home, they unearthed a few treasures from the past.
Such a huge and historic site would naturally have remnants of its old owners, just waiting to be found by Erin and Jean-Baptiste. Soon enough they came across rusted keys to the chateau library, as well as very old books. There were even metal fittings hidden in the walls of the main kitchen!
Not only that, but they were also lucky enough to find old furniture that had been abandoned by previous owners. As renovations progressed, the more they uncovered. In one of the old turrets in the attic space, they found a seemingly untouched antique dresser in fantastic condition.
They even found an old travel chest in one of the bedrooms. It seemed that the longer they worked on the chateau, the more it was slowly giving back to them. Soon they began thinking about how they might use these treasures as statement pieces, and how they might decorate in general.
It wasn’t a stretch to start thinking about interior design, and how they wanted the final product to look. The longer they worked the more areas of the building became liveable. But if they wanted to start renting the place to outsiders, they would need to dress it up a bit.
This would mean buying all new furniture for the renovated areas of the chateau. Erica and Jean-Baptiste went on a whirlwind shopping spree, hunting down the perfect furniture for their gorgeous abode. It was another big job, but a little more fun than patching leaks and chipping paint away.
They wanted well-made furniture that was tasteful and understated, while still matching the 19th-century style and architecture of the place. Their first find was an immaculate set of antique chairs, directly from the time period. Things were finally starting to come together.
They found giant period-style urns for the courtyards, as well as ornate mirrors and candelabras for the bedrooms and dining rooms. Bigger furniture like beds and tables were ordered, and the space was really starting to take shape. Soon, the ambitious pair would be ready to open to the public.
Open For Business
Erin and Jean-Baptiste finally reached their goal of opening up their home as a source of revenue. There was just one unusual problem - the house was still being renovated! As far as they had come, the work was not finished. The couple had estimated years before the massive property would be in full working order.
Despite this, they still opened up the sections of the house that had been fully redecorated, and visitors began to stream in. Some were locals, who wanted to experience the town's great ‘palace’ for the first time, while others were travelers who had heard about the chateau.
Despite the pleasant distraction of new guests, they still had a lot of work to do. Not to mention the cost of both running and renovating the property was seriously mounting up. How were they going to afford all the work they still needed to do?
The answer was fairly straight-forward. If they could juggle both letting out rooms to holidaymakers, all while working on the building, then their hard work would pay for itself. The plan was simply to funnel the revenue from holiday letting right back into the renovations.
Visitors to the newly opened chateau were eager to learn about the history of the stunning new homestay, as well as basking in the beauty of the French countryside. Erin and Jean-Baptiste would spend plenty of time sharing the history, enlightening guests with the many stories of the Château de Bourneau.
While it was lived in for 200 years initially, it was abandoned by its original owners during the French revolution. Left to sit for more than 80 years, the abandoned beauty was eventually rebuilt by a local family. It would stay with them until the 1950s, before undergoing multiple conversions.
Living in History
In the 1950s France was at war in Algeria, and the chateau was soon turned into a refuge for Algerian men and women desperately fleeing the conflict after siding with French forces. By the next decade, it had become another home for refugees, housing those who had fled to France due to war in Vietnam and surrounding countries.
The house had seen so much turmoil during this period, and there are still some remnants of that. The four cottages separate from the house had last been lived in by those South-East Asian refugees, and now house up to 42 guests of the chateau. Talk about living through history!
Keep it Green
Not only did Jean and Erin become masters at making something from nothing, but they also chose to be environmentally conscious. "You all know how much I love recycling," she wrote in an Instagram post. "And repurposing my vintage finds from the château and charity shops."
If there was an item that wasn't totally appropriate for their style, they didn't just throw it away. First, Jean and Erin would work on that piece until it was perfect. If they still couldn't get it right, they would donate the item to charity or a friend, after revamping it completely.
Gaining a Following
The pandemic forced the couple to stay inside, which gave them more time to work on their masterpiece. While they can't let out the property as much as they used to, Jean and Erin are always eager to find something in their palace that could use a little TLC.
It's been about 2 years since they started this project, and their progress is truly remarkable. The couple even gained quite a following on social media, as their fans loved watching the chateau slowly become the beauty it was always destined to become.
Keeping to the theme of the French Chateau, Jean and Erin made it their mission to find the perfect furniture. They gave each and every room a special touch, and needless to say, they certainly succeeded. With the help of some beautiful art, their palace continued to take shape.
In an Instagram post, the couple revealed that they had discovered all the best well-kept secret spots for any "History or French interiors." They were pleased with the final result of the above bedroom. "Just look at these sumptuous bedrooms," Erin gushed.
The Heart of the House
Of course, the couple had to place great emphasis on the kitchen, considering they had plenty of mouths to feed when the Bed & Breakfast was busy. Moreover, they didn't just use their kitchen for cooking, but also for entertaining family and friends.
"Our kitchen is the heart of our home," the couple wrote on a post. "We love to cook for family and friends and showcase the local French Vendéen produce, whether it's for a formal dinner party or a friendly lunch à la bonne franquette. We also enjoy the buzz in the kitchen when it's the hub of activity."
While many were impressed with Jean and Erin's work, they were also concerned about how the couple kept warm in the big castle. After all, with such high ceilings and endless space, would it ever be possible for them to truly feel warm and cozy at home?
Erin explained, "To me, the definition of "cozy" is to be "at home" and the Chateau De Bourneau IS my home. It may be a big house with 4m high ceilings (and sometimes a little chilly in winter) but beside a roaring fire in the château kitchen," she felt that the palace was the coziest place in the world.
La chambre de Madame
Erin and Jean loved every inch of their beautiful chateau, but there were certain areas that slowly became their favorites. For example, the bedroom below held an extra special place in their hearts. They called it the La chambre de Madame, and it offers a truly unique experience.
They gave the room the name La chambre De Madame because "There is a turret bedroom with the first châtelaine’s initials etched onto the façade," Erin wrote. She also said that "With its dual aspect windows, the only sound is birdsong." The couple took pride in providing a relaxing space.
A Little Escape
Jean and Erin loved the process of making their palace perfect, but they also enjoyed the fact that they could provide a unique experience to all their visitors. The Chateau felt like the perfect place for, as Erin put it, daydreaming and escaping...
They created many different corners inside the palace that had everything one would need to sit back, relax, and enjoy the silence. All their visitors had to do was arrive, and the interior, along with the beautiful views, did all the rest. We have to admit, it looks like the perfect getaway.
A Never-Ending Story
As of today, Erin and Jean-Baptiste are still working away at their dream home. They have come far since purchasing the property, from revamping to renting out holiday cottages, to holding weddings and private events. They even provided the location for several film productions!
The renovations are still ongoing, but the hard-working lovebirds admitted that fully restoring the estate is a lifelong project for them. They have more than settled in as chateau owners, picking up all kinds of skills along the way. Well, what do you say, are you thinking of paying a visit?