Markus says that he is tired of seeing that awful picture of the supermarket every time he opens our website, and he certainly has a point, so here’s a post that I have been meaning to write for some time now. And an altogether more attractive header image!
Some of you may be wondering what has happened to the barn renovation project. Well we are now heading into our second Christmas since work started and we still aren’t there yet. Painters come and go occasionally, the tiles and floor are laid but shrouded in protective covers, jolly electricians turn up and wrestle with miles of cable, then disappear.
The carpenter who is supposed to be making the shutters “fait le mort”, the plumber is anxious to install the sanitary fittings but needs to wait for the painter to finish . . . and so on and so on. Fortunately our project manager François is the one who has to chase them all up and he is doing the best job possible in the circumstances, but even his patience is wearing thin.
So, on the plus side, here’s a story about a spectacular success. In the planning stages we decided, after much deliberation, that we wanted a small terrace, but we were very anxious not to disfigure the house and barn. The challenge was to come up with a design at once classical and elegant that would somehow manage to blend in and not look out of place. Then, as an afterthought, Markus very cleverly realised that we needed a staircase up to the terrace from the courtyard in order to integrate it successfully into the space. This turned a relatively straightforward project into quite something of a feat of engineering and design. At times it seemed almost impossible to create a staircase with a graceful curve which would hug the wall and arrive pleasingly by the well – but not actually in the well!
But we knew what we wanted in terms of wrought iron. Just before the first lockdown we had been in Provence setting up a hiking itinerary for a tour company. We stayed in the most amazing studio, hosted by a very delightful couple, and fell in love with the place.
The more time we spent on the terrace, in between hiking recces, the more we were struck by the beautiful wrought iron work of the balustrade. It is a decorative but unfussy design, with no obtrusive horizonal lines, and the section of each of the verticals is so slim that at certain angles they seem to disappear. We asked Jean our host about it. He told us that when he was renovating the property, which has been in his family for generations and on which, by the way has done the most spectacular job, he found a length of these railings in a junk shop. There was not quite enough for his purpose so he got a local blacksmith to create an extra section. On our second visit to Vaugines Markus made meticulous scale drawings of the design and we knew that we had found the perfect fit. Now we needed to find someone able to handle both the engineering and the craftsmanship.
Aurore is a friend of Lisa and Brice. We have toiled in the vineyard with her and shared the highs and lows of getting the Morlanche adventure off the ground. She is a remarkable person. Originally trained in a legal profession she had a complete change of heart about twelve years ago and decided to turn her life around. “Fire”, she thought, “and metal are what I need” and so she took herself off to Brittany and started to learn the craft of forgeronne or blacksmith. It’s all very appropriate since her name translates as Dawn and her hair is flaming Titian blonde.
After her initial training, she was employed in a very upscale forge in Lyon as an ornamental metalworker. There she designed and constructed the most extravagant balustrades, gates and handrails for some extraordinarily extravagant and prestigious properties. She travelled widely to install her creations and has told us some pretty incredible tales of her highly quirky and demanding clients. She stayed with this atelier for eight years, swiftly rising to the position of foreman, indeed forewoman – a considerable achievement in this male dominated world.
Then she decided it was time to set up on her own and started looking for a suitable forge. Initially she hoped to find something not too far from Brice and Lisa and we joined in the hunt for possible properties. We did indeed discover several abandoned forges in the neighbouring villages but good sense finally prevailed and Aurore realised that she needed to be closer to potential clients for her type of work and in a metropolitan area. So it was back to Lyon.
She was immensely fortunate to find the last working forge in the centre of the city, just behind the university and two blocks from the river, whose incumbent was retiring. The building is pretty rough and ready, but she has fixed up a flat for herself above the workshop and is gradually expanding into the space and making it her own. She has been there for three or four years now.
We asked her to come up with a design and quote for our job and once she showed us her initial sketches we knew that we were on to a winner.
After some complicated measuring sessions, (greatly hampered by our enormous wisteria, which sadly has not survived the experience), Aurore started work last winter. She sent us pictures of her progress and in February, once the structure of the terrace was made, she invited us to her altelier to see her at work forging the volutes. Since pictures are worth several thousand words, here she is at work.
By May everything was ready. 152 volutes had been heated, hammered and shaped, each requiring four or five separate operations before being joined in reverse pairs.
Aurore realised that in order to keep the design harmonious as the railing went down the stairs she needed to modify the curves and so made four different patterns to accommodate the differences.
The structure had been erected and tested in the workshop and finally she and her team arrived and unloaded the various parts.
Brice and Lisa turned up to give a hand and after some serious measuring the first girder was bolted onto the wall. The structure of the terrace was hoisted and slotted onto the girder – a perfect fit! Next, the two supporting posts were positioned.
The staircase, which is cantilevered, was anchored in the wall, adjusted and bolted together in sections.
And finally the balustrade!
We were enchanted to see all the months of planning and discussion and all Aurore’s hard work and craftsmanship come to life. And of course delighted with the result.
We invited Roger round to be our first guest on the new terrace.
Then it was time for Aurore and her team to walk down their beautiful staircase and join us for a celebratory apéritif.
We absolutely love the new addition to the house (currently adorned with Christmas lights) and Jean and his wife from Vaugines have promised to come and see the our take on their design. Although there is no telling when the barn conversion will finally be finished, we have enjoyed evening drinks and occasional breakfasts on the terrace.
The view is spectacular and we never tire of admiring Aurore’s work. The craftsmanship is so impressive and her attention to detail faultless. If you are in need of some superb wrought iron work … she’s your gal!