A much deserved holiday in France…

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Over the last 12 months David and I have worked really hard, both on the house and our day jobs. We have taken a few days annual leave here and there, but mainly to do work on the house.

We needed a holiday – a proper break to recharge our batteries.

We both love travelling and exploring new places, but there is one place in the world that we love to return to time and time again – David’s family home in France.

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Week one

We arrived in Nantes early on Sunday evening, picked up the hire car and drove the familiar route to the house. We opened up the house, freshened up and hungrily made our way to La Roche Bernard for a late supper.

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There is something extra special about that first evening on holiday – you can exhale and feel all your worries fade, smug in the knowledge that you have two weeks of holiday bliss ahead of you.

The following morning, after a relaxing coffee in town, we went to the supermarket to stock up on supplies. In the afternoon we did nothing but make ourselves at home, lounge in the garden, read books and drink Aperol spritz.

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Come supper time, feeling slightly woozy, we rustled up a simple supper – fresh langoustine and salad.

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Determined to make use of the bicycles stored in the garage, that evening we got them out, pumped up the tires, adjusted the seats and took then for a test ride.

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All around the house is beautiful open countryside and David and I relished at being free in it.

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Tuesday’s plans were scuppered by some morning drizzle – unfortunately Brittany’s weather can be just as unpredictable as the UK’s. We took it as a sign to lay low and spent the day reading and snoozing.

When the sky’s cleared in the late afternoon we went for a gentle stroll down to the river.

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There is a little spot, not too far from the house, where a few rocks jut out forming the perfect platform to sit and enjoy the river flowing past.

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The house is situated near the Lower Loire wine region, in an area known for Muscadet. Feeling relaxed and well rested, on Wednesday we were set to do some exploring and made our way to Clisson, just south of Nantes, in the heart of the wine region.

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Clisson is a picturesque little town and we had been reliable informed it was an excellent spot for lunch.

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After a long and scrumptious lunch at Restaurant de la Vallee, we found our way to Château de Cleray for a tour and tasting.

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Château de Cleray

Thursday is market day in La Roche Bernard – an event not to be missed!

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Stocked up with lunch supplies, we headed to Kerhinet, a small chocolate-box village in the centre of la Brière Natural Park – the perfect spot for our picnic lunch.

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After lunch, and a quick stop at the tourist office, we mapped our route for an afternoon bike ride – through the National Park, winding our way through its pretty villages and thatched cottages.

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That evening, hungry from our bike ride, we went to La Roche Bernard for a delicious supper.

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The following day, we went to Guerande – one of my favourite towns in Brittany. It is a charming medieval walled town, it has beautiful shops and is the perfect place to spend a morning slowly wandering down its narrow lanes and exploring its markets.

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Feeling the heat of the sun, that afternoon we hired a canoe and took to the water for a very laidback paddle and meandered our way up the river.

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Week two

After a day of rest on Sunday, reading and snoozing in the garden, Monday called for a little bit more action – so we made our way to the Guerande salt marshes for a guided tour.

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The Guerande salt marches cover 1,700 hectares of land and produce 15,000 tons of cooking salt a year, using the same simple methods as a thousand years ago.

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On our way home we picked up some locally caught mussels and that evening we dined on homemade moules marinière. Simple and delicious!

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Tuesday, the 14th July, was La Fête Nationale – what we Brits refer to as Bastille Day. It is a day of celebration to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille on 14th July 1789.

Towns and cities all over France celebrate La Fête Nationale, so we decided to spend the day in La Roche Bernard and join in the festivities. During the day we hired a motor boat to explore a bit further up the river.

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David and I took it in turns to be captain – a role which David took a slightly more relax approach to!

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In the afternoon we found a good spot on the trestle tables and enjoyed watching the festivities start up around us.

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Everyone eats moules and frites and drinks cidre or Muscadet.  Children stay up late, bands play and everyone joins in the fun.

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The evening is concluded with a spectacular firework display over the river.

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After a long, lazy breakfast on Wednesday, we took to the water again – this time on a yacht. Gael, our captain, offers a tour of the Gulf of Morbihan aboard his yacht, La Betelgeuse.

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I took my place on the deck, watched the world go by and felt completely relaxed and at ease with the world.

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David on the other hand, could not resist the temptation to get involved and delighted in the opportunity to help pull up the sails and take over the stirring.

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Thursday was set to be another hot hot day, so we spent our penultimate day on the beach.

David had discovered this great little restaurant, right on the beach that hire out sun loungers. Arrive early to secure your spot and then, once you are ready, you are welcomed into the beautiful restaurant for a mouth-watering three course lunch.

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After lunch you can return to your sun lounger and enjoy the rest of the afternoon on the beach, with someone popping out every now and again to offer you ice cold drinks – very civilised.

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On our last day, we enjoyed just being at the house and took a final stroll to our favourite spot by the river.

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On Saturday we went for one last coffee in La Roche Bernard before departing for London.

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This holiday was exactly what we needed – the opportunity to refocus, reenergise and come back ready to start our next project. The garden.

C x

Kitchen diner – the final touches…

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With the kitchen diner nearly finished we could start to think about those final touches – I love this part, when you get to add personality to a room and it really starts to come to life.

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The back of the house faces south. With four windows and bi-folding doors we are lucky that the kitchen diner has lots of natural light. Over the kitchen area we have spot lights, which we can dim to create a cosy atmosphere, or turn right up when we need to see what we are doing.

Over the dining area we have a single pendant. If left to me, I probably would have stuck to something fairly safe, but David was determined to have something really special – a statement piece. For months, long before the kitchen was finished, David researched different options. In the end he narrowed it down to two choices and when we went to see them in the flesh, we fell in love with this one.

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Tom Dixon Brushed Stout Beat Pendant, Brass

Artwork

In one of my first posts about the kitchen diner I said that we really wanted vibrant artwork to add a pop of colour. We have been very lucky to have been given just that!

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David’s uncle, an art enthusiast, no longer had the space to house this particularly large oil painting. Growing up David had always admired it and so it was very kindly gifted to us. We absolutely love it and it is a real talking point.

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By not having top cupboards and installing open shelving, we not only saved money but created a great space to display a few of our favourite things and add some character to the kitchen.

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We wanted something quite rustic and chunky, so went to our local timber merchant and picked out some beautiful untreated American oak.

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Skirting board

Our final task was to install skirting board. In all the other rooms we had used pine skirting, but this time decided to try pre-primed MDF.

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To start with we were a little reserved about using it, felt like we were cheating somehow, but it was so much easier to use. No filling, no knot treatment, no sanding and once painted it looks really good. I am not sure that we will be using pine ever again!

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The most exciting thing was unpacking everything into the new kitchen. Many of our kitchen items including lots of our wedding gifts, had been stored in the loft since we moved in, so it was great to get everything down and put away into their new home.

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The final, final touch was to move the dining table into place. The dining table was one of the first big items David and I bought together as a couple, many moons ago. When we first bought it, housenumber59 was not even on our radar, but it fits perfectly and I love that after years of lugging it around rented properties it finally has a permanent home.

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Kitchen diner – worktop fitting…

I really wanted marble worktops, but having heard horror stories about stains, scratches and water marks, we soon realised that it was not going to be the worktop for us.

Alicia from Woods of London recommended that we look at Quartz worktops, a composite of quartz and resin that is non-porous and 100 times harder than marble.

After some intensive research we went with a company called Set in Stone, who had been recommended as the best of the best, and it turns out they really are. James and his team were polite, professional, perfectionists – all the ‘p’s you could ask for!

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Making the templates

I love it when you meet people who are so good at what they do, work hard, take such care and provide great customer service all at the same time.

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And the worktop itself, is stunning. We are thrilled!

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Compac Quartz Carrara

The kitchen was really starting to take shape now, but we still had a long list of finishing touches…

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Kitchen diner – kitchen fitting…

Although Woods of London thought David was probably more than capable of fitting the kitchen himself, we decided to use their fitter to ensure we get that professional finish (and to save David the stress). We were warned that their fitter is a ‘bit of a character’ and that he was. You definitely knew when he arrived in the morning, if you know what I mean.

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The first day was probably the most exciting. All the units got taken out of their boxes and put into place. So the shape of the kitchen came together really quickly. Over the next few days it was just a case of fixing everything down, putting on end panels, filling gaps and touching up paint.

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It was when everything was finished, the cooker in place and we were just waiting for the worktops to be fitted, that we realised a fundamental problem.

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The draw on the peninsula could not open as the oven was blocking it, and if the oven was pushed back to allow the draw to open, the cooker doors could not open.

Mistakes happen, we are only human and in this kind of situation it is not the mistake that matters but rather how it is dealt with.

Paul from Woods of London dealt with it very well. He came over first thing the following day to assess the situation and work out what needed changing. He liaised with the fitter and asked him back the next day to re-gig the units. He also spoke with the worktop company to explain what had happened, as the worktops had already been cut at this point and new templates needed to be made.

It could have been a disaster, but it was not. It could have been really stressful, but… well it was quite stressful!

But with everything now sorted, with draws that open and a cooker that works, we could finally get the worktop fitted.

Woo hoo!

C x

Kitchen diner – kitchen delivery…

I cannot put into words how excited we were the night before the kitchen was delivered. We cleared everything out of the kitchen diner ready for its arrival, we were warned that the units come in huge cardboard boxes and to make sure we had enough space.

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That morning we were so twitchy, every time we heard a noise one of us would rush to the window. Luckily we did not have to wait long.

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The kitchen fitter was not due to start for another two days, but we could not resist the temptation to open a few boxes and get a sneak peak at our new kitchen!

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C x

Kitchen diner – choosing the kitchen…

It was decision time.

Designing a kitchen from scratch requires making a lot of decisions. Cupboards, worktops, handles, sinks, taps, tiles, appliances, colours, finishes, quality, quantity, budget – the list is endless. We find the best way to make lots of decisions is to make informed decisions. Cue months of research online and driving lengths of the UK to see products in the flesh.

Kitchen

We looked at quite a few kitchens, all in different price brackets, but once we saw Neptune Kitchens it was very hard to consider anything else.

We visited two Neptune retailers. The first – Kitstone, a chain of shops owned by Neptune. The second – Woods of London, an independent shop that stocks Neptune. Kitstone were good and had an extensive range on display, but David and I always get drawn to independent shops.

So far Paul and Alicia, the husband and wife team behind Woods of London, have been great. They know their product inside out and have that perfect balance of offering great advice, and recognising when you have your heart set on something.

Alicia who does all the designing has been super patient with us whilst we have been back and forth on dozens of design changes and has been very honest about what is worth and not worth spending money on within the Neptune range.

After months of fine-tuning the design and saving our pennies, we have finally put in our order!

We have gone for the Suffolk range, painted in Dove Grey with a mixture of chrome button knobs and cup handles.

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Neptune kitchens

We decided to get rid of all the top cupboards from our original design. Partly to keep costs down, but also to help the kitchen to feel more open and spacious. We plan to have open selves on one wall to display a few nice pieces and cook books.

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I really had my heart set on marble, but having heard mix reviews about how practical marble is in a kitchen, we decided not to risk it. Our kitchen is not going to be a ‘show’ kitchen – it is going to be well used and I would hate to be fretting about spoiling such an expensive item. There is nothing worse than having to chase after guests with coasters in fear of ring marks!

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Compac Quartz Carrara

After a lot of research and some wise words from Alicia, we went for Quartz. Slightly more expensive than marble, but this stuff is bullet proof (well not quite bullet proof, but you get my point). We went for the closest match to marble we could find, Compac Carrara.

Appliances

Whilst we patiently waited the six weeks for our kitchen to be delivered, we turned out attention to appliances. We have chosen an integrated fridge-freezer, dishwasher and washing machine – so I cannot get too excited about those. But the cooker we could get excited about. We have left a whopping 110cm gap for the cooker. She is going to be big so she has to be beautiful.

We were torn between the Rangemaster Elise 110 and the Falcon 1092 Duluxe. We really struggled to find anywhere in London that had either oven in store so we could view them in the flesh. Luckily Gardiner Haskins in Bristol, my home city, came up trumps and had them both in store so we could compare them side by side.

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Rangemaster Elise 110

In the end we went for the Rangemaster Elise, but preferred the Falcon super flat extractor hood and came to the conclusion that it did not matter if the brands did not match.

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Falcon Super Flat Hood

We ordered all the appliances from a local independent shop and actually managed to get a better price than if we have ordered from AO.com. It just goes to show it is worth shopping around and do not assume that buying online will always be cheapest.

Now all we have to do is wait for it all to be delivered!

C x