Kate Yates is a first-grader at Three Birds Reno, a mother of four and the smart creator of a fabulous family home in the south of France.
Before joining the Reno School in January 2018, Kate and her family moved several times to countries and houses, from a brand new detached house on a hill in the South Island of New Zealand to a matchbox-sized apartment in Japan, and then to several partially renovated houses in France.
When Kate’s family moved to Narbonne, a small town in the Occitanie region, they knew they would stay for a few years.
In December 2017, she came across the perfect property, just a few steps from the city center (a must for a plonk tasting on Friday evening and a dance along the canal) and with a southern aspect for the sun all day long. The well-kept 60-year-old house has been positioned at the front of the 520 m2 block, which is rare for houses in this area that are usually in the middle without a lot of space for a garden or a swimming pool.
However, during the renovation, the language barrier was not the only challenge Kate faced in transforming the humble Cottage into a refuge for her family of six. She gave us the lowdown on her French fling…
When I was moving from one country to another, I had always dreamed of the design improvements I could make to the houses where we lived, but when we were renting, I had never had the opportunity to bring one of these dreams to life. When we moved to Narbonne, I knew that we would be there for my partner’s work for a few years, so it seemed like the perfect time to fulfill my design requests. We decided to buy and renovate a house so that we could live our dream life for a while before passing it on to another family to enjoy.
During our real estate search, three birds announced the launch of the Reno School and I quickly signed up because it felt like a breeze investment for an Amateur renovator-talk about Perfect Timing!
The inspiration for our renovation came from our favorite destination for family weekends, Cadaqués on the Costa Brava, Spain. It is a beautiful Mediterranean fishing village hidden just behind the border with France. I wanted to create at home this relaxing holiday atmosphere in Spain by the sea all day, every day, all year round.
Our plans took six months to be approved, which seemed like an eternity to us, but apparently it’s normal for the region. Narbonne is an ancient Roman city, so plans have to go through several offices, including an archaeological sector, for approval.
It was at this time that I started planning, taking the Reno School course and taking individual French classes at night to study the whole language of renovation and building.
We had a lot of challenges along the way, like the builder who cleaned the whole garden despite my instructions to keep the old trees along the border – “Voila, it’s better that way, beautiful, clean and tidy,” he said. And the tiler who joined the edges of our fish scale tiles with black cement. The rendering took place during Ramadan, so the workers took turns sleeping in the garden during the day instead of advancing their work.
Then the cost of a glass pool fence would exceed our Budget, so I found a used one (on the French equivalent of Gumtree) and my partner and his friend drove a truck to the other side of France to pick it up. It meant that we had to change the plan of the fence, but it was worth it! We were as happy as he came together. Many friends came to help with The Installation, for which I am always so grateful.
We have the sweet but outdated house with a (carpeted-eek!) Bathroom, in a bright and airy four-bedroom, two-bathroom detached house. There was no dining room or laundry room, so we expanded into the oversized Garage to create a spacious new retreat for parents and a large laundry room. However, my main goal and the most important part of the renovation for our family were our outdoor living spaces.
The pool was built on the ground floor with the interior, so you can see it from the moment you enter the house and from all the indoor and outdoor seating. We extended the outdoor space to several areas to relax and eat, and connected it to the kitchen with the famous three birds staple, a gas spring window. It was outrageous on the field and it took a lot of time and a lot of effort to convince someone to make one for me.
I convinced the builder to replace the trees he had removed with a 2 meter high wall to give us some privacy, and in the end we got a beautiful white wall that fits perfectly into our Mediterranean coastal aesthetic and is beautiful as a backdrop for the new Washingtonia and Butia Capitata palms.
The use of artificial grass in the garden was one of the best decisions I made. The children were delighted. We all have it. This meant no maintenance, No dirt or stains, and they could picnic all year round. It was also a more economical option, because Narbonne is located in an arid region where it never rains, so real grass needs a lot of water. This is the only Request of our Children, for our next House!
My favorite part of the whole renovation would be the integrated white rendered planting box with a hand picked olive tree. I learned during the selection process that there are so many important symbols and beliefs that surround olive trees, so I had to make sure that I chose the absolute perfect (and I think I did!) I hope he will stay in the house forever.