On being … undaunted

By Ingrid Sapona                  

There’s a British show I’m obsessed with: Escape to the Chateau DIY. It’s the sequel to Escape to the Chateau (EtC), which was one of my mother’s favourite shows in her last few years. EtC featured a quirky British couple (Dick and Angel Strawbridge) who bought a 45-room dilapidated French chateau. EtC focused on their transformation of the chateau into a one-of-a-kind wedding/event venue. 

Angel is incredibly creative and imaginative. She can take scraps of material or odds and ends and create wall coverings that have to be seen to be appreciated. I used to love listening to my mother try to explain to me what Angel made or created each week. (Back then, the show wasn’t high on my list of things to watch. Besides, it was almost more fun for me to hear Mom’s descriptions and to try to picture what Angel had made.) 

Anyway, recently I noticed the initials DIY on the TV listings for EtC. Given that Dick and Angel’s rehab of their chateau was very much a “Do It Yourself” adventure, I wasn’t sure if that was the name of the show all along. One evening I decided to tune in and see what projects Dick and Angel were up to. To my surprise, the DIY show – though narrated by Dick – features other middle-aged Brits who have also bought French chateaus. 

The past couple months the CBC has been running EtC DIY weekday afternoons. So, I’ve kind of been binge watching it. The premise is similar – it features mainly couples (there are a few brave – crazy? – single women) who have always dreamed of owning a French chateau. The series features a mix of folks at various stages of their chateau journey. Some segments feature couples shopping for a chateau. It’s interesting to watch them as they consider just what level of dilapidation (in some cases it’s really dereliction) they’re willing to take on. Though the chateaus are magnificent – especially from the outside – many have not been inhabited for decades. 

True to its title, each episode features chateau owners tackling renovation projects. It might be something seemingly simple, like converting an empty room into a luxurious guest bedroom and bath. But even those simple-sounding projects can be huge challenges, given the age of the buildings and scale of the rooms. Indeed, I have a new appreciation for the usefulness of scaffolding and cherry pickers. 

Projects are often inspired by some item found in an unused room or at a flea market. For example, one couple found an old, cast-iron claw foot tub and they decided to make it the centerpiece of a new guest suite. A few chips and cracks? No problem – seems there’s paint that works wonders to cover such flaws. And while they were at it, they add some bling by gold-leafing the outside. And if the refurbishment wasn’t impressive enough, when the tub was ready, they had to move it into its new place on the second floor. I’m sure I wasn’t the only viewer holding my breath as they hoisted it up through the second story window using their cherry picker! 

But it’s not just living quarters that they’re re-doing. Chateau owners often discover some original feature that was covered over that they decide to bring back to life. When an owner discovered a brick bread oven that had been sealed off behind a wall for over 100 years, she decided to restore it for use. When she realized the flue was sealed about half way up the chimney, she came up with a work-around. She knocked out a hole in the brick flue wall and ran a pipe up into an adjoining fireplace flue one floor above. She managed to bring that bread oven, which used to be used by a baker that served 10 farms in the early 1800s, back to life. 

What I find most amazing is the chateau owners’ “can do” attitude toward everything. Centuries old stonework needs re-pointing? No problem! Hire a mason to teach you how to do it, and then get to it. One couple decided to turn an out building that housed the chateau’s huge, defunct water tank into a cinema lounge. The first order of business was getting rid of the old metal tank. No problem: get a special metal-cutting blade for your hand-held circular saw, don heavy duty protective clothing and what looks like welder’s goggles, and cut away. After that work, carting off the heavy pieces of metal seemed like child’s play. 

The chateau owners’ willingness to tackle repairs has lit a bit of a fire in me. So last week I decided to try to replace a few broken cam cleats on my boat. I won’t bore you with the details other than to say it turned out easier than I feared. The only tricky part was finding someone to help hold the screw on the top of the cleat while I worked the nut in a tight space below. Then, the true test came a few days later when it rained. I’m happy to report there were no leaks around the cleats. Pleased with the result and with myself, I realized part of what keeps the chateau owners going is the sense of accomplishment. 

Buoyed by my success with the cleats, I’ve decided to try to fix the toilet on the boat (the “head”, in sailor speak). I recently discovered the manual pump on it isn’t working. Though new toilets aren’t that expensive, they attach differently, which means I’d have to move the existing fittings. I called the toilet manufacturer to find out if they still make replacement pumps for my old unit and they do. So, undaunted – and channeling EtC DIY – today I ordered the part. And, when it comes, I’ll do as the chateau owners do: I’ll give it a go.   

© 2022 Ingrid Sapona


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