It’s a brave man who takes on a building project in rural France. Tradesmen pick their own working hours, neighbouring curtains constantly twitch, builders’ merchants close for long lazy lunches and materials delivered can bear little resemblance to those ordered as the details get lost in translation. Best leave it to the experts.
With six years developing in Burgundy under their belt, husband and wife team Su and David Bishop of Arena Park France have enough ingredients for a feature length movie on the subject – a black comedy of course. Specialising in high quality conversions in the famous name wine villages of the Côte d’Or, Arena Park France is putting itself in the firing line as it brings temporary disruption and modern living to centuries-long peace and tradition. However, thanks to some silky diplomacy and a close eye on the rule book, Su and David have had nothing but positive Anglo-French relations to date plus a growing band of happy customers.
Su Bishop, an interior designer from London, explains, “When my husband, a carpenter by trade, and I moved to France back in 2003 we made the assumption that we could transport our skills to Burgundy and apply the basic principles as we would ‘at home’. Of course we soon discovered that there were actually a hundred ways of doing the same thing and the option which we knew and worked the best ‘back home’ was actually the worst possible one to apply here. Our most useful skills by far are now an even temper and a good sense of humour. In fact they’re the only skills that comfortably translate into any language.”
Despite having a good grasp of French, language has been the source of plenty of amusement for the Bishops. Even the trusty building trade dictionaries haven’t prevented builders’ merchants eyeing them suspiciously pondering which planet they’ve just landed from. Su recalls a time when, “We thought we’d ordered one sheet of copper measuring 1 metre by 30 centimetres but ended up with two 30 metre long rolls of the stuff.” The sense of humour comes in handy here. Paint, a most innocuous item, has also been an enigma for Su and David. For some unexplained reason it costs five times as much in France as it does in the UK and is about as many times as thin. Coat after coat is required for good coverage. Bizarre.
The French adopt a tricky daily timetable which Arena Park France has learned to work around. Pretty much everything in Burgundy closes between 12 and 2pm for lunch and by 11.45am they’re gearing up to pulling down those shutters, so it pays to be organized and stock up early. This two hour window allows for all workers to go home, eat a large meal, snooze it off and then return to work fuelled for the afternoon. Bonne idée.
Arena Park France has also discovered that certain innocent-looking little old ladies can be deceptively shrewd. Su recalls, “One lady arrived at one of our sites accompanied by the Mayor as she thought that a new window was larger than shown on the plans and therefore contravening planning permission. She was wrong but it’s strange to know you’re being ‘watched’. These wily pensioners are also good at extracting a few favours on the pretence that our building work is inconveniencing them. So far we’ve cleaned a loft that had gathered dirt for 40 years and contributed to a neighbour’s winter heating bill whilst our roof was off next door. Whilst arguably we were liable for neither, it pays dividends for us to be seen as fair and reasonable and really we receive very little hassle considering the disturbance we cause.”
“It’s also fun to reverse the tables and play the French at their own game. Working on a large restoration project in the middle of Pommard, a very famous architecturally sensitive wine village, we discovered that Arena Park France was the talk of the town in the bar on a Friday night. Curiosity was rife but the villagers were too scared to ask for a nose. We arranged a grand tour for two neighbours, old ladies of course, who turned up in Sunday best and were honoured to receive the invite. Inevitably they proceeded to hold court in the village with the insider gossip – it probably kept them going for months…”
Arena Park France is currently involved in renovation projects across five villages in the Burgundy region. Prices start from 220,000 euros for a two bedroom cottage within a stone barn in Demigny and rise to 520,000 euros for a three en-suite bedroom home in Meursault.News submitted by Sarah Drane, Arena Park