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Collapsing cottages, Normandy

'If you have tears, prepare to shed them now' .... if you're a lover ancient, vernacular architecture that is.

Cottage 1

We spend every New Year in Normandy where we rent a beautiful old half-timbered regional 'longere' (long house). We go on long walks and have had plenty of opportunity to witness the tortured, gradual decay of similar centuries-old houses throughout the landscape.

Why oh why oh why???? We ask ourselves as each year we see them sink further and further into the earth.

(excuse the blurriness of the odd photo, some they were taken on maximum zoom from a long way away)

  Cottage 2
Hard to even be sure there is a building under all that ivy!

Cottage 3

Just look at the scale of this wonderful roof and imagine the massive beams used in its construction. I really hate to see the work of the skilled carpenters and builders of the past disrespected with out a second thought.

Cottage 4

Cottage 5

This is one of the saddest of all. It's just down the lane from the cottage we stay in, and each year we visit there's less and less of it left standing. The terribly tragic thing about this one is that the charming couple from whom we rent our cottage (they are ex-antique dealers so you can imagine our interior!) tried repeatedly to buy this empty cottage from the farmer who owned it but to no avail! They wanted to restore it and rent it as a holiday gite and they would have done a spectacular job. I don't know how they can stand to drive past it every day!

You can see from this shot that the house is one room deep and there are windows on both sides - that's part of the charm of the Normandy 'longeres' - the rooms are nice and light and you can catch the morning and evening sun.

Yes, we get the picture!

House 6
This is more of farmhouse than a cottage but its situation is equally tragic.  We spotted it was empty last year and this year we spotted it has a sad-looking 'for sale' sign outside. We sneaked through the rusty gate to have a peek and I'm glad we did because when (or if!) somebody buys it no doubt they will 'restore' it to within an inch of its life, discarding all its character into the bargain - well that's what usually happens in France anyway.

I put my camera lens right up against the window glass to take these interior shots - hence they are a bit fuzzy, but you get the picture.  I was staggered by the interior which looks to have been unchanged for decades.

What period do these faux finishes date back to I wonder? They could be 1940s. Unbelievable.

A beautiful wooden staircase and the stained glass is gorgeous.  I reckon these farmers were pretty successful and built themselves a very elegant house - which makes its abandonment even more heart-breaking.

Another fantastic tiled ceramic floor. Please don't rip it out next owners!!!!

Yes, I definitely think these people took great pride in their farm and house - these are all the awards they won for their prize cows!

I did find it terrible sad to think that this family had come to the end of its line and their farmhouse left to rot - or end up in the hands of strangers.

This is the back of the house.

This is the view into the little back kitchen through the door above. I found this room particularly poignant with the old sieve and broom.

....the state of the west wing of the house. Despair!

Fantastic iron staircases on both wings. What a sorry, sorry destiny for this once-proud Normandy farmhouse.

cottage 7
On and on it goes......

This was bang in the middle of a working farm - I wonder if the occupants event notice their beautiful collapsing barn any more?

Beautiful - and typical - tiny red Normandy bricks - what a waste. When people in the area (like lots of rural France) build themselves new house they are usually rendered and painted a sickly peach. I'm just saying!

Cottage 8

...and hand-made roof tiles, all irregular and characterful.

Barn 9
All the original barns are made of wattle and daub - and they are still standing! Unless, that is, they're unlucky enough to come under the ownership of farmers who can't be bothered with a bit of basic up-keep. I just hate to think of the wasted work of the previous generations who  built these wonderful agricultural buildings and who presumably took pride in contributing to the vernacular architecture of their region.

No doubt you've got to the end of this and like me, are asking the same question i.e. why, why, why ??? I think sometimes the reason is to do with complicated French inheritance tax laws but otherwise the only conclusion one can draw is that some French people simply don't value their architectural vernacular heritage - and it's a crying shame!

Good news!!! I am totally delighted to have my erstwhile blog helper, Adelina, back on the case! Adelina helped me while she was studying for her design degree in England but has since returned to Romania where (as I predicted!) she is now pursuing a very successful career in the interior design and architecture world - see her website definitelydesign.daportfolio.com .  
I was drowning under a sea of work in my studio, preparing for my solo exhibition in April and my blog was going west so I sent Adelina an SOS and I was thrilled that she's agreed to help out again. She has an amazing flair for creating a visual story from a disparate pile of images - my last post on Budapest was her arrangement and she did a million times better than I could have.  So thanks Adelina!! Im so happy you're back on the case!!!!


  1. Yes, why indeed. It is difficult to understand why the farmer couldn't sell the half timbered place. Is it a ferme bressane? I was looking to find out about them yesterday. I live in Burgundy, we have a similar story here. See my latest post we have crumblers too.

  2. Hi Kathy :)
    'Unfortunately' this pictures are beautiful! I bet you had fun exploring and documenting this amazing set :D
    Thanks for sharing!!

  3. Hello Kathy, Only just discovered your work and site. This is the first of your posts that I've read and it is deeply impressive. Those images are utterly heartrending. I had no idea it was such a widespread problem. The irony is that despite the horror of their decay they look so exquisitely beautiful and even, on some level, enhance the landscape. If they could be sprayed with some magic solution that kept them exactly as they are it would be bearable. It is the inevitable decline that is so upsetting.

    They remind me of Crete, and several other otherwise lovely Greek islands that are utterly ruined by the awful sight of the many half-finished houses that dot and marr the landscape. At least that is not due to decay but rather to tax avoidance. Grrr!

    Will keep checking you out. Thanks, Tricia

  4. Hello, very interesting and very hard to see this historic building crumbling away!
    We found a grand building in similar condition in Normandy - an old postcard of a classically beautiful 17th century castle took us to Cahaignes. What we found was beautiful but terrible decay. See the château and read more here http://www.normandythenandnow.com/cahaignes/


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