This Couple Spent Two Years Renovating A 16th Century Chateau
| LAST UPDATE 01/18/2023
Erin and Jean-Baptiste weren’t sure about a new life in France. That is until they laid eyes on the crumbling Château de Bourneau. Here’s what it looks like two years, and hundreds of hours of DIY later...
Looks Like Love
The story begins with Erin Choa and Jean-Baptiste Gois leaving their homes to study in Edinburgh, Scotland. Erin came from London and Jean-Baptiste from France, both with no idea what was in store for them.
Not long after touching down in the country, the engineering student and medical student crossed paths. And for Jean-Baptiste, who only wanted to study in Edinburgh for a year, it seemed his plans were going to have to change. A romance blossomed quickly, and the two lovebirds never looked back.
Decisions to Make
The couple both found work in their respective fields as a mechanical engineer (Jean-Baptiste) and an anesthetist (Erin). Soon a whole nine years had passed, and they had made a comfortable life for themselves in the Scottish capital. But Jean-Baptiste couldn’t hide his homesickness.
He wanted badly to return to France, which meant the couple had a lot to think about. Erin had to decide if it was worth giving up their life in Scotland for a new one in her husband's home country. It turned out to be an easy choice! "I am a huge Francophile," Erin explained. "I love the culture and the language.
It was time to sit down and think things through, to make sure it was the right decision. How easy was it going to be to find a job, for example? Jean-Baptiste was confident he would find a job in the same field, but for Erin, it wouldn’t be so easy, as she couldn’t speak French well enough at that point.
They needed a plan, and they found one. Living in France was going to be significantly cheaper than Scotland, and they’d have enough savings to purchase and renovate their own property once they got there. Perhaps this was something that Erin could dive into, with her husband's help.
A Piece of the French Countryside
They knew exactly what kind of property they wanted as well. Both Erin and Jean-Baptiste had a keen interest in history, and historic buildings and architecture. Throughout the French countryside were unique and beautiful heritage properties that needed renovating, so they were in luck.
But Erin was still a little wary of the move, and the possibility that her French would never be advanced enough for re-employment. But they soon realized they had nothing to worry about when they looked through the property listings. If they played their cards right, they could both be fully employed as home renovators!
Packing Their Bags
The big day had finally come - it was time to leave Edinburgh and start their new life in the French countryside. So they packed their bags and headed off to their newest adventure with their cat Oscar in tow. Now they had to find the home of their dreams.
Once they arrived, Erin and Jean-Baptiste, both dove into property hunting, trawling through online listings, and arranging as many viewings as they could. As we mentioned, there are plenty of incredible heritage buildings up for grabs in France, but they also need extensive renovations. The couple had to choose wisely.
A Fine Line
After all, the property they chose needed to be more than just a home - it needed to be an investment. Erin and Jean-Baptiste had to walk a careful line between choosing something that was realistic within their budget, but wouldn’t need renovations so extensive that it blew out their savings account.
And there was another important component that had to be considered: they needed to be able to use the property as another source of income. And they had decided they wanted to do more than just rent out a property. The house was going to become a business, whether that was as a Bed & Breakfast or venue space.
The Cogs Were Turning
And the more they looked through property listings, the more they began to develop their ideas and envision the property as something that could keep them both fully employed. If they found the right place it could be so much more than just holiday accommodation. It could be a venue for private functions and local events as well.
Now that Erin and Jean-Baptiste knew what they wanted, they were able to find ten properties that felt like they had the right potential. But unfortunately, after some in-person viewings, they felt that none truly fit what they wanted. “We were feeling a bit disheartened,” Erin explained. But that was about to change.
In the Nick of Time
Just when they thought that all hope was last, Erin’s dad sent them a listing they had missed. It was only 45-minutes away, so they figured it was worth a shot. And it’s a good thing they took a chance on the listing, which they later described as “a coup de foudre” (love at first sight).
They were absolutely enchanted by the property, a gorgeous building called Château de Bourneau. It was located outside of the village of Bourneau in Vendee, Pays de la Loire. They had been looking for a place in western France, so even the location was ideal.
A Fairytale Home
The house also captured Erin and Jean-Baptiste’s passion for heritage and historical architecture. The Château de Bourneau was built entirely out of stone, complete with turrets and a “Renaissance edifice.” The architecture was specific to Pays de la Loire, which only added to its charm. It was like a castle from a fairytale.
The property was enormous too: 50 rooms (30 of which were bedrooms), 4 additional cottages on the grounds nearby, and 16 hectares of woodlands and grounds included with the home. The cottages were also kitted out with separate swimming pools and gardens - they had their holiday home accommodation already sorted!
Part of the Past
There was a huge moat that surrounded the chateau, making the estate feel truly like a step back in time. But the history of the property was not quite so straightforward. The original Château de Bourneau, for example, had been built in the 16th century. But after a lack of upkeep over the years, it had to be entirely rebuilt.
In the 1860s the chateau’s owner hired the architect Arsene Charrier, to redesign the building as an ornate palace more befitting to the time period. So the new chateau was built in the ‘Renaissance-style’ inspired by the famous Chateaux that lined the Loire valley at the time.
A Long Road Ahead
While it seemed like an absolute dream come true on the outside, the interior proved to be closer to a nightmare. The home was in a state of absolute disrepair, which probably explained why it was still on the market. There was ruined furniture strewn across the floors, and a leak in the moat had caused extensive water damage.
This was partially because the chateau had not been inhabited for nearly thirty years, at least according to local rumors. The impassioned couple soon realized they were going to have to fix 30 years' worth of disrepair. At this point, some people might step away from the project, but Erin and Jean-Baptiste weren’t going anywhere.
Giving it Their All
Sure, the property wasn’t in good shape, and yes, it was going to take a lot of work to get back in working order. But they had known from the start that it wasn’t going to be easy. And at the end of the day, they now owned a 30-bedroom home for the same price as an apartment back in Edinburgh.
It just meant that they’d have to make adjustments to make their plans work. They began calculating the costs of renovation, including unexpected issues, plus a budget for taxes and insurance. It was time to get to work, so they could get the Chateau de Bourneau up and running.
Off to Work We Go
Unfortunately, the amount Erin and Jean-Baptiste had put aside wasn’t quite enough to finish renovations. The initial cost of the house (680,000€, or $800,000) had set them back enough, and now it appeared they would have to take out a loan to cover everything. But in their eyes, it was all worth the risk.
And once they had their finances in order, it was time to figure out where to start. This wasn’t an easy feat either, as there was so much that had to be done. So they set about carving out a place to live in the chateau walls while they worked on renovations, and dove into learning about the place they had bought.
Discovering Old Secrets
There was a lot of history to learn about their new home. When it came to finding a countryside estate with a rich heritage, Erin and Jean-Baptiste had hit the jackpot. The first chateau and accompanying moat had been built in 1564 after the first owner was granted building permission by King Louis XI.
In the 19th century, the first chateau was knocked down after decades of neglect. And though the moat had not changed since the 16th century, the only other piece of construction that remained from that time was a single turret behind the chateau, at the edge of the moat.
Water, Water, Everywhere
Erin and Jean-Baptiste were lucky enough that some areas of the expansive property were still liveable. The lovebirds were able to set up a house in one of the apartments inside the main body of the chateau, which still had indoor plumbing and central heating. They were off to a good start.
The first and biggest problem with the chateau was the water damage that had moved through the building via the leaking moat. Not only were the main floors soaked with water, but it had also spread to the cellars. It was no wonder that place had been abandoned - it was rotting from the inside.
Bit by Bit
The new homeowners proved that they were more than ready to tackle the building's biggest problems. Once they had settled in they began spending 14 hours per day working through the many issues they uncovered in the house. And with 10,700 square feet of space, there was plenty to uncover.
They soon realized it wasn’t just money they needed to pour into the property - it was also going to take all of their time and energy. The Chateau de Bourneau was likely going to be the biggest investment of their life, so they had to take their time and do the job properly.
As if the extensive water damage wasn’t bad enough, there was also a ton of chipped and peeling paint all around the building that had to be recoated. But before they could even start on that, they had to remove centuries' worth of old paint layered on every wall.
But of course, it wasn’t as simple as wiping it off the walls. They were going to have to carefully chip the paint away inch by inch, all without damaging any part of the walls and causing further damage. They then had to sand every surface, prime it, and add the new layers of paint to the entire length of the 14-foot walls!
Bridges and Moats
As for the moat, they needed to fix the leak that had caused so much destruction without damaging its structure. After all, the moat was one of the last pieces of the original 16th-century property, and Erin and Jean-Baptiste wanted to keep it as intact as possible.
So they plugged up the leaks, dealt with the water damage down in the cellars, and repaired some of the more dilapidated parts of the moat. They even had a photo from 1908 that showed what the moat had looked like over a century ago, along with the idyllic stone bridge that the couple had fully fixed up.
Now that some of the bigger issues were out of the way, it was time to work on more minor (but still very important) parts of the structure. This included pulling out and replacing the many window frames that had begun rotting away over the years and plugging the leaks in the manor roof.
Outside of the immediate renovations that needed to be done, they also had to take into account the ongoing maintenance they would have to carry out and pay for indefinitely. Things like groundskeeping for the surrounding woods, as well as plumbing, cleaning, and all the other tasks needed to keep the property in working order.
By this point in the renovation, Erin and Jean-Baptiste were completely overwhelmed by the task they had undertaken. They were giving everything they could to their new home. And over time it began to give back to them in the form of small treasures they found throughout the property.
After more than 150 years it’s no surprise that there were all kinds of relics scattered around the house, hidden in various nooks and crannies. In the kitchen walls, they found metal fittings, a set of keys that unlocked the library, and a pile of near ancient-looking books.
Furniture Left Behind
But that was just the beginning of the leftover relics waiting to be uncovered. There were also multiple pieces of intact old furniture, which Erin and Jean-Baptiste discovered as their renovations took them deeper into the building. For example, they found a gorgeous antique dresser tucked away in an office space.
Further along, in one of the 30 different bedrooms was a dusty old travel chest that was still in good condition. The couple felt that this was a sign that they were on the right path - the chateau was starting to give back to its owners in the form of antique statement pieces they could decorate their home with.
And as they started looking for places to put their second-hand furniture, they realized it was time to start making plans for the interior design of the house. As their renovations progressed their living spaces were beginning to come to life, and it seemed appropriate to start furnishing them.
So Erin and Jean-Baptiste embarked on one of the first truly fun parts of their huge DIY project - a shopping spree! They needed to find the perfect furniture to make their gorgeous estate complete, and it was a welcome change from roof leaks and rotting window frames.
But what furniture would work best with such a stately and period-specific heritage building? Erin and Jean-Baptiste decided to set up some criteria for the kind of furniture they wanted in their home: well-made, tasteful, and befitting of the chateau’s style and architecture.
And as they began moving in large mirrors and classic candelabras into the living areas, and giant urns in the courtyard, it was clear that their house was finally becoming a home. They even ordered all of the essential furniture, so that the rooms would be fully kitted out. It wouldn’t be long before the place was guest-ready.
Welcoming the Public
Soon enough and the couple had an entire section of the house fully furnished and ready for business. But it didn’t change the fact that they still had plenty of work to do - the Chateau de Bourneau was years away from being complete. For now, they’d have to balance business and renovation.
And so, for the first time in decades, the Château de Bourneau was (partially) opened to the public, who had been waiting to see what the two newcomers had in store for the iconic old building. There were plenty of people, from awed locals to curious travelers, who streamed in to get a look at the town's 'palace.’
Open for the Holidays
Erin and Jean-Baptiste had plenty of fun entertaining all of their visitors, but it was only a temporary distraction from the work ahead of them. It also drew attention to the fact that renovations costs were soaring through the roof, and they were running short on funds.
How were they going to pay for everything? Well, the answer was right in front of them. They decided to try and rent out rooms for the holidays, acting as hoteliers while still working on renovations at the same time. That way, they could earn while they worked, and everything would go straight back into the building.
Teaching the History
And so the Château de Bourneau was open for the holidays, and several eager holidaymakers jumped at the opportunity to be the first guests. And of course, many of them were eager to hear about the building's history. So Erin and Jean-Baptiste regaled their visitors with fascinating stories from the chateau’s past.
For example, the original 16th-century structure had been occupied for over two centuries before the French revolution began and it was promptly abandoned. Almost another century passed before a local family moved into the dilapidated structure, rebuilding it as a family home and living in it until the 1950s.
A Tumultuous Past
By that point, France was once again embroiled in politics, specifically the war in Algeria. Algerians who had sided with the French were fleeing their country, seeking refuge in the French countryside. The chateau became a haven for these people, and over the years it would open to others.
By the 1960s it also became a home for Vietnamese, Laotian, and Cambodian refugees who were escaping from their own war-torn countries. Most of these people were housed in the four cottages that still remain on the palace grounds, and their legacy is still shared with the visitors who stay in them.
Throughout their renovation process, Erin and Jean-Baptiste did whatever they could to make the process as eco-friendly as possible, even down to thrifting as much as they could. "You all know how much I love recycling," Erin shared on Instagram. "And repurposing my vintage finds from the château and charity shops."
When they found old discarded items around the chateau they did everything they could to bring them back to life. They also worked to alter and restyle items that didn’t work with the style of their home. If anything they found or bought didn’t quite fit, the couple would simply donate them or gift them to friends and family.
The Chateau Gets Attention
As the pandemic began to spread throughout the world, Erin and Jean-Baptiste had to put their business on hold. But this was somewhat of a blessing in disguise, as it gave them plenty of time to continue renovations and look for anything that might need fixing or replacing.
In just two years, the dedicated couple has turned their dilapidated work-in-progress into an absolute masterpiece, fixing up the majority of the building's issues. And over time the Château de Bourneau has caught a lot of people’s attention, resulting in a large group of followers who are keen to follow the couple’s progress.
It’s easy to see why so many strangers online were impressed and enthralled by the exquisite castle-like chateau. Erin and Jean-Baptiste had put plenty of effort into finding the exact furniture to match the style of the property, as well as choosing pieces that brought a touch of individuality to every room.
“Just look at these sumptuous bedrooms," Erin exclaimed. They had also carefully chosen pieces of art they felt would bring out the best of the chateau, perusing some of the best spots to buy items that were perfect for "History or French interiors," they shared on Instagram.
Where The Action Is
Over time visitors have returned to the Chateau de Bourneau, and it has become a thriving B&B once again. The kitchen soon became the center of the building, where they not only fed all of the hungry guests but also their friends and family who came to visit.
"Our kitchen is the heart of our home," they shared on Instagram. "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."
Lighting The Fires?
But one question lingered in their followers' minds. Yes, their enormous 50 room house was an incredible sight, but how did they keep it warm in the winters? With 14-foot ceilings, long hallways, and huge bedrooms, how do you keep such a space heated enough to live comfortably?
But according to Erin, a little bit of chill was part and parcel of living in the chateau. "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 shared.
La Chambre de Madame
With over 50 different rooms and 30 bedrooms, it took a lot of time for Erin and Jean-Baptiste to become acquainted with every corner of the house. And of course, they came to find their favorite rooms and nooks in the vast building. One of these rooms was La Chambre De Madame.
The couple had named it La chambre De Madame themselves, partly due to “a turret bedroom with the first châtelaine’s initials etched onto the façade," Erin explained. It’s a beautiful, calming space that is perfect to relax in. "With its dual aspect windows, the only sound is birdsong."
Providing a Much-Needed Break
The best part of renovating this stunning estate wasn’t just starting their own business and creating a place for themselves. For Erin and Jean-Baptiste, part of the magic of owning the chateau was being able to provide a one-of-a-kind experience to guests who came to stay in their rooms and cottages.
Together, they had crafted a peaceful escape from modern life in the walls and grounds of their palatial home, somewhere that visitors could wind down and take a breath. From the moment people drive through the grounds, they’re met with a still, restful atmosphere that sets the tone for a perfect holiday.
And It Continues...
There is no doubt that this lovely couple has made their home into an unprecedented success, turning it from a neglected wreck into a fairytale palace. To this day guests flock to stay in their rooms and holiday cottages, and they frequently hold private functions (and even film productions) on the estate!
Despite all of their successes, Erin Choa and Jean-Baptiste Gois still have their work cut out for them. The Chateau de Bourneau will likely take a lifetime to make perfect, but the passionate couple is willing to put in the hours. One thing’s for sure - we know where we want to spend our next holiday!