November 30, 2022


Professional Real Estate Experts

French farmhouse renovation: Benji Lewis’s 18th-century house restoration


hen interior designer Benji Lewis to start with visited the crumbling farmhouse in rural France that he’d noticed advertised in the local paper, it was in a bad way.

Outdoors, the farmhouse was practically obscured by sprawling undergrowth which experienced started to climb the again walls of the household.

Inside of, trees were increasing as a result of the kitchen area ground, and rainwater was seeping by the roof, rotting the initial timber and triggering damp.

Benji experienced been in France for the previous 23 years, and had moved from Bordeaux to Les Landes, inland from Biarritz in the southwest corner of France for his partner’s perform.

The residence had initially caught Benji’s focus six months before, but to his dismay, he’d been informed that it had by now been offered. Now, by opportunity, the estate agent had introduced him back on a gloomy February day in 2016 – the sale, it transpired, had fallen as a result of.

The house’s hallway runs from entrance to back again, allowing in the mild

/ Benji Lewis

“It was in a actually poor condition,” states Benji. “The thing that appealed to me about the home was that, even on a dim, February day, at the time the shutters experienced been opened and the gentle had been authorized in, you just went: woah! This light just went front to back by means of the dwelling.”

A four up, four down with a barn at every side, the assets is intersected by a hallway functioning from the front to the back of the household. “I love the simplicity of this household. It is an uncomplicated construction and I really favored that,” suggests Benji.

The property, identified as Maison Noe – which means spot of security or shelter – was designed in 1806, and had belonged to the identical relatives considering the fact that. Its owner, who lived in Paris, experienced left the home unoccupied when she died, the spouse and children made a decision to promote. Just after viewing it, Benji put an give on the dwelling, and the sale went through swiftly.

Benji experienced his do the job minimize out. Was he apprehensive about using it on? “No. The position of buying an old French property is that the allure is in its dilapidation,” claims Benji. “It’s not for the faint-hearted.”

Benji acquired the house 6 yrs in the past, and splits his time among France and Berkshire

/ Handout

Benji’s 1st port of call was to repair the roof in the main building. Following, he had the house’s cement façade stripped, leaving the stones exposed, with a render nonetheless to be redone.

“If you want a healthful residence, as I like to phone it, you’ve acquired to get rid of the blinking cement,” claims Benji.

“Old houses answer unbelievably poorly to cement, simply because it locks in humidity. As soon as humidity is locked into old stone, when the temperature drops and it freezes, the stone just cannot breathe and it type of bursts. It dilapidates really quickly and rots.”

Benji’s prepare, as soon as he has approval from the mairie, is to utilize a tender lime-based mortar to the internal and outer walls, to allow for the stone to breathe. Although the property’s aged timber windows have endured, Benji intends to salvage them by insulating them with hemp.

“My aim with the assets is to close up with a healthful aged residence. I really don’t want to shed the character of the property or to reside in a museum, but I also like the plan that features and supplies that would have been utilized when the home was created are reinstated.”

In the kitchen, for case in point, Benji has replaced the white, 1970s porcelain floor tiles with reclaimed 18th century terracotta ones, excavating the floor and developing it back again up with pebbles, air bricks, slate tiles and new pipework to take away the moist.

“A flooring like that would have been in the home, but it had all been changed,” claims Benji. “The tiles are terribly fairly, but they are not primary to the house…it’s all storytelling.”

Maison Noe’s sitting down home, with a person of Benji’s Indian textiles on the appropriate

/ Benji Lewis

Restoring the residence is a time-consuming – and pricey – course of action, with Benji eager to obtain the appropriate people to carry out the operate, and to use artisans. Because obtaining the property six several years in the past, Benji anticipates that it may well get a even more two several years to finish.

“The interiors are pleasant – it’s properly adorned for guaranteed – but I nevertheless will need to do rather a large amount to it,” states Benji. This is not shocking: as an inside designer who started his personal firm in 2003, Benji also gives interior suggestions online, by using Zoom That Home.

Inside of, he states the home has “eclectic, timeless” décor. “I really do not want to get frozen in a time capsule exactly where I dwell in a museum and the furnishings are all authentic to the time period of the home, since I enjoy mid-century I enjoy up to date I adore 18th century,” claims Benji.

“It’s a cocktail of all kinds of matters that I take pleasure in. I decorate the way I appreciate it.”

Benji’s Spanish sideboard and champagne eyeglasses

/ Benji Lewis

Appropriately, Benji’s furnishings largely comes from local flea markets currently being close to the Spanish border lets him to forged a broader internet with old French, Spanish and Basque items.

His treasures include things like blue Basque chairs from a junk store on the west coastline a pink cardboard column adorned with white bouquets and two large Indian textiles occupying an complete wall of his sitting down home, picturing colourful birds atop the blue branches of a tree. “I adore massive, ornamental statements like that.”

Opposite, in the dining home, there is an desirable, orange-painted Spanish sideboard, covered in vintage champagne glasses. “I do not definitely drink liquor, but I adore outdated champagne coups – the ones they say are based mostly on Marie Antoinette’s left breast. I consider and get crystal glass – I enjoy that,” says Benji.

He adds: “I like issues that inform a story. I invest in factors that remind me of very good situations – if I have received a buddy keeping and we’re owning a superior time or having fun with daily life and we go to a junk shop, I’ll almost certainly get some thing to remind me of them.”

Benji’s home furniture comes from local flea marketplaces

/ Benji Lewis

Benji’s favourite room in the house is the rustic, terracotta-tiled kitchen area, with its wooden beamed ceiling, dim wooden desk and sideboard (finish with extra glasses) and door major to the yard. It helps make, he says, a perfect space for dancing, audio booming, with his three canines. “It feels like a truly good place to be.”

Along with his associate David and canines, Benji splits his time involving Maison Noe and his house in Berkshire, doing work on assignments in equally the United kingdom and France. This has grow to be more and more complex since Brexit, only getting able to commit 90 days at a time in France as a United kingdom resident.

“I don’t like staying denied access to my own household,” says Benji. “I seriously do not like to go away the residence for 3 months.” And with a house like Maison Noe, we’re not astonished.


Benji’s best guidelines for interiors:

After advising additional than 100 persons about their interiors more than lockdown, here are some of the problems that cropped up most routinely – and Benji’s tips for perfecting the furnishings of any property.


For the duration of lockdown, a single of the most frequent issues Benji been given in the course of his Zoom That Place periods was how to make a snug get the job done from dwelling room. Lighting, he insists, is essential.

“Position your desk so that you have received organic gentle coming onto it – you don’t want to sit with the mild behind you,” states Benji. “If that is not probable, [try] to get two desk lamps on to your do the job station, a person on the still left and just one on the ideal.”

This will carry washes of gentle on to your desk, letting you to see correctly. Which prospects us onto the up coming point:


“Comfort is vital,” states Benji. An ergonomic established up is crucial, so look for a chair with proper back and arm assistance, and situation your desk at the suitable peak.

Evaluate your room

If you are purchasing for furniture, know what your room availability is. Evaluate the house just before you leave, get a tape evaluate with you, and know accurately what you’re looking for right before you leave the dwelling. There’s no use acquiring an monumental sofa if it’s way too major for your living space.

Receive correctly

When procuring at flea marketplaces, Benji will have a clear strategy of what he’s searching for. “I go with a goal – I know what I’m just after. Interact that solution – never just go: ‘that’ll do’. Which is hopeless,” he states.

Buy in accordance to the way you dwell

Opt for home furniture that will in shape in with your way of life, Benji states. In shorter, if you just cannot see your self arranging and plumping cushions, do not acquire a couch with a thousand cushions.

Acquire in accordance to your desires and choices – and choose furnishings that will suit the way you stay.

Assume exterior the box

If you’re quick on room, get inventive. Instead of a coffee table, for instance, Benji recommends an upholstered ottoman, which can operate as more seating – or, with a tray on leading, can be made use of as a hard floor for drinks.