In France you can’t make the home renovation equivalent of a fashion faux pas

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Beneath the picture, there was speculation that it was for sale, that it needed a tremendous amount of work. One woman said, “I hope that the buyers won’t massacre it! And especially will not add those terrible rolling shutters which are so ugly on old houses.” Someone else was furious about the possibility of air conditioning units on the façade.

The concern has not abated with our arrival. In our first week, my husband was working in the garden when an elderly English woman introduced herself to him: “I want to come and look around your house before you ruin it.” There is also a certain kind of English resident, who has trod this path before you, who can’t wait to tell you what you’re likely to do wrong, as though the concept of “house” is a brand new thing you may not have not heard of before. The French don’t do this, possibly because many of them seem to prefer nice modern villas in a quartier recherché on the edge of town, with central heating, pools, garages, and a view of the lagoon.

Anyway, just in case I was about to make a terrible error of judgment and cover the place in stone cladding, à la Vera Duckworth of Coronation Street, I have acquired the 64-page document from the town hall about the suitable decoration of houses. It opens with a punchy Victor Hugo quote: “The façade of a building also belongs to the viewer.” There are maps, diagrams, colour charts and copious illustrations of doors and door knockers of note. There are pages and pages of not just suitable colours, but also suitable colour combinations for walls, doors, balconies and windows (nothing too dark, nothing too bright). There are dire warnings against “banalisation”, the ironing out of period detail with unsuitable paint, uPVC windows, doors from the big DIY chain stores, modern ironwork and too much cement.

And, most thrillingly or perhaps terrifyingly of all, it is illustrated with real houses in the village. It reminds me of those fashion dos and don’ts columns which used to be a popular feature of women’s magazines – photographs of ordinary people just going about their business, their faces blurred out, being praised for the jaunty tying of a scarf, or condemned for an inappropriate legging.

In my detailed reading of this document, I note our house appears on page 27 (example of front gates) and page 36 (example of a suitable shade of green for ironwork). No criticism detected. Yet. Imagine the ignominy of being found guilty of banalisation so soon after unpacking one’s pots and pans? Once more unto the paint charts, dear friends, once more.

Is it surprising I am plunged into paroxysms of doubt? This is even worse than when I had patches of 20 different shades of cream painted along the hallway in our London house. (My husband: “For Christ’s sake, just pick one! Stop going on about the light, I beg you.”)

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