before and after

Before & After: French Home Transformation

by Kate Pruitt

When a home is so beautiful to begin with, such as this large-scale period house in Cognac, France, it can be hard to envision the right way to renovate. Deterioration and decay can be quite beautiful, especially in photographs, and we often wonder why anyone would want to remove them, but living in a decrepit home is quite a different matter. When Russell & Judith Goldsmith, the couple behind this massive renovation project, started working on the house, it had no heat or running water and the walls were full of dry rot. While restoring the home to a livable state, they not only took great care to retain the beauty and grandeur of the original interiors, but also added a modern freshness that opens up and livens the space like a breath of fresh air.

The subdued creamy, neutral colors provide a wonderful contrast to the rich old wood, ornate walls and tiled floors. They also expertly paired modern fixtures with carefully selected antiques to create a harmonious blend of old and new. The home looks incredible, and I think its original inhabitants would be pleased with the love and attention paid to each and every surface, highlighting the home’s rich historical beauty but also imbuing it with energy and modern charm. — Kate

More images after the jump . . .

Time: The property was a live/work project. It’s important to get to know the house and feel, love and empathise with it, and by living in the property, you get a real sense of what it can become. It started out as camping in one room and slowly spread from room to room in about 4 years.

Basic Steps: Our main intention was to bring the house back to its former glory in a clean and simple way. To restore the old and make it a bright, welcoming space. It was important to us to make it a home, not only for ourselves but also [because when] we traced back the history of the property, we found that it had hardly ever been used as one. It has had many unoccupied years, sometimes used for storage, and it was even commandeered by the Germans in the Second World War. There is a lot of natural light that floods into the house through the large windows, and we wanted to maximize this by refraining from using any thick or heavy curtains, as well as keeping our paint choices to a soft light color scheme to brighten each room.

The large proportions of the property lend itself so well to a modern look but also pose a challenge, as the rooms were on a much grander scale than we were used to, so we found that some furniture that fit in previous homes looked wrong here.

We kept all the original fireplaces, restored ceiling roses and doors and brought it up to date with collected objects and furniture. Many pieces are things we have found on our travels — heirloom items as well as larger furniture we bought especially for each room. We also love combining old with new in an eclectic mix of objects and furniture from different places and eras. Also being conscious not to “over-renovate,” so there is still an element of the old French country home in many of the rooms either with objects or certain features we have decided to enhance.

We got through about 200 litres of emulsion paint and about another 100 litres of eggshell for the woodwork, having 44 windows and doors and double the amount of shutters, many of which were in a terrible state, [meaning] that there was a lot of repair work to do, as well as giving them all a good lick of paint once they were restored.

We always have our eyes open for the right piece; many are found at vide greniers (vintage sales) — you never know what you will find. We have several objects that are very special to us and that we have carried from property to property until we found its right home. The wood burner was one of these. We wanted to add a fireplace in the kitchen to make it lovely and snug in the winter, and remarkably, found an old broken fireplace in the garden, which must have come out of the property some years back. We restored it and fitted it into the kitchen along with the wood burner, and it looks as if it has always been there.

We love to buy a property in its rags, seeing the potential in it and what it could become. We have done this several times in our lifetime; each property has its own set of challenges and achievements, and this is what we love so much about it. Now that we are nearing the end of this project, we will be sure to be looking to move to a new challenge — who knows where the next adventure will take us.

Our advice to anyone about to embark on a project such as this would be that you must be in love with the property to get the best out of yourself and the building. Be committed. Once you start something, make sure you are prepared to finish it, as sometimes it can get a little overwhelming. On a project as large as this, it’s a good idea to tackle one aspect (or one room) at a time. It’s a good idea not to make too many big decisions first — we took our time and felt that by doing so we were able to fully research each idea, meaning we were able to make the best choices that fit our desires and budget. Most importantly, enjoy the life and remember to stop sometimes, relax, have a glass of wine and admire your work! — Zoe


Blanc casse eggshell — Ravi
Malted milk eggshell  —Dulux
Cuttlebone eggshell — Dulux
Limewhite eggshell — Bricolage
Ivory eggshell — Laura Ashley
Dutchwhite eggshell — Fired earth
Chalk white eggshell — Fired earth
Verd antique eggshell — Fired earth
Ecru eggshell — Fired earth
Travertina eggshell — Fired earth
Brilliant white matt — Crown

Large guilt mirror — this was in the property when we bought it. We moved it to the hallway, as before it was fixed above a fireplace and cut into the coving, which looked very awkward.
Wallpaper — A.S. Creation made in Germany

Living room
Giroscope — from a local antiques shop

Drawing room
Candelabra — Ikea
Painting: Russell’s own
Crockery — a mix of family pieces and ones picked up from vintage markets

Upstairs Landing
Lighting — agricultural light fittings found at a vide grenier

Sails — eBay
Old table — from an old local house for sale that we visited. The owner was happy to sell it to us after we fell in love with it.

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  • Good lord. This is an undertaking, and I am very glad they have under taken it so beautifully. Bravo!

  • The entire house is exquisite, I absolutely adore the staircase.
    Now I know what I’ll be looking for when I go house hunting…
    Jenni xo

  • “Deterioration and decay can be quite beautiful, especially in photographs, and we often wonder why anyone would want to remove them, but living in a decrepit home is quite a different matter.” CAN I GET AN AMEN?!
    This home received quite the gorgeous update.

  • It’s hard to even know what to say about this house. I love it in both it’s states, before and after. You are lucky to have landed there and your neighbors were also lucky to have you two be the ones who showed up to do the work. It’s a gift to everyone around.

  • Literally moved me to tears. And those fabric awnings outside! I’m dying over the whole place.

  • i would love to know when this amazing home was built. i can only dream of living in such a piece of history!

  • wow, this is a fabulous renovation. love the fact that they kept the floors and some of the wallpaper was beautiful. great job!

  • Well done! It takes a special type of person to be able to live in a home while renovating it. I’m not one of them. We are living in our home while we build it up around us, and I must say, there are days I dream of throwing a match on the whole mess and walking away! I live on Before and Afters because they give me hope! This one is stunning!

  • Beautiful exterior transformation. The interior walls are crying for some color/ paintings/ artwork.

  • Great re-do. Are those coffee grinders on the shelf above the wooden stove? I can’t quite tell…

  • A dream! I love what you have done and that you have clearly honored the spirit of this space’s origins while making it your own in this modern age. I took on a much smaller “fixer uper” two years ago and so have some idea of the amount of work it takes to realize such a transformation. Well Done!

  • Beautifull, I have been there and it is an amazing transformation, done with great taste and commitment to such a huge challenge.

  • Thank you for all your lovely comments,it makes it all worth while and reminds us not to take it for granted.Some answers; 1.We have a carving on the stone archway saying 1815 for the date of the house . 2.The facade is actually plaster work which had to be repaired as it was in a poor state in places.Around the windows are natural stone.The grey colour on the before photo is known as the” angels share”in this region;that is a type of fungi which flourishes on the vapours from all the cognac distilleries .we brought it back to its original colour with a fungicide -no paint.3 mostly meat mincers,we have a collection of over 100.

  • We have seen this fantastisk place and must say there is only one word “FANTASTISK” it looks like a livetime achivement. It is one of the must charming places we have seen.

  • What a thrill to see such a remarkable exclusive ‘show’! Excellent! seeing this has made my day. In real life it’s even better.


  • Wow, what an amazing subtle transformation from the apparent primative and neglected living space, to the superb modern timeless style, with everything appearing to be exactly where it wants to be and how it wants to be. The renovation shows that it has been lovingly and empathetically carried out. Many congratulations on your achievement.

  • What a beautiful transformation. I would never want to move, but understand the life work of restoration.

  • Great work here! Congrats! please can you explain how you restored the tiles in the staircase room? i have the sames in my house, and i don’t know how to clean them the correct way ?(or afraid of actually). Thx! (Carole from France)