(CNN) – After spending many years renovating a nearly finished California home with her husband, the last thing graphic designer Mark Goff was thinking about was taking on another big project.
But his curiosity got better when a blog about the renovation of the ruins of Chattou in France came up on his computer screen, and he began to read it carefully.
Before he knew it, he was looking at how much the chats cost and how fast they could sell and go to Europe.
While some may need some time to consider the possibility of buying a large neglected property and relocating abroad, Goff’s husband, data engineer Philip Angel, could not be more confident.
“He was on a conference call,” Goff told CNN Travel. “I turned my screen, and just said, ‘Would you like to buy a chatto in the south of France, restore it and build a boutique hotel or entertainment venue?'”
Within seconds of clicking on the photo on Goff’s screen, Angel gave him a thumbs up.
Mark Goff and Philippe Angel are the proud owners of Chetau Avensek, located in the French village of Avensek.
“He went back to his conference call, and I started looking at plane tickets,” Goff adds.
Once they made the decision, it was a small task to finish their California homework, put it on the market, sell it, find a suitable chat and move on in the process of relocating abroad.
Before taking the plunge, the couple made two “discovery” trips to France, where they saw a French manor house in the market to see what was available to them.
However, it will take a few years for their affairs to be sorted out, and the Covid-19 epidemic further delayed their action.
Goff and Angle were granted visas in late 2020, “clicks that changed the course of their lives” and moved to the south of France in December, four years after the country was in a lockdown.
When things reopened, they were able to see the properties, focusing on their search around Gers, a countryside in southwestern France.
Unfortunately their original selection was reduced, but they soon found a listed historic chito in the small village of Avensek, with a population of less than 50, all marked on the appropriate box.
“We fell in love with her,” Goff says. “Chato himself is wonderful. The position he sits in is amazing.”
‘Lords of Chatto’
Chatto has about 48 rooms, including a billiard room, library and wine tea.
After making the offer in March, he became the “lord of chats” in September 2021.
Chateau Avensac, which measures approximately 1,200 square meters, with less than 3 hectares of land, has set them back about $ 1.2 million, including taxes. The deed they signed is about 700 years old.
According to Goff, the previous owners were three siblings who inherited the property from their father, who is considered French.
“They grew up in that house, so it was very difficult for them to let go,” he explains.
Although the Chatto was apparently built in the early 19th century, it was actually built on the site of an old 14th century Chatto. It has about 48 rooms, including a billiard room and a library.
“It’s a manageable size,” Goff says. “I mean, it’s huge. But it’s a manageable size. I’ve seen chatos with 90 to 120 rooms.”
While they consider themselves “ground zero”, Goff and Angel have big plans for the property, which require significant amounts of work.
They have no great experience of hospitality, but they certainly have no shortage of ideas.
“We don’t just want a boutique hotel where people come and spend the night,” says Goff. “Our goal is to create events where you come to the chat, stay for a week and do stuff.
An imaginary creation
Goff and Angel plan to turn the property into a boutique hotel and entertainment space.
“So things like cooking, painting weaving, cycling, canal cruising, creative writing,” he adds.
“Each week will be centered around some kind of focus. It’s all about creating that fantasy and experience. Fantasy is the most important part.”
They believe that the property will be an ideal place for a wedding, and they are looking forward to planning the wedding.
“Our target, of course, will be the Americans, because that’s what we know,” Goff added, adding that they are eager to get out of their comfort zone at the right time.
While Chatto will have to work very hard to make a makeover, the pair say they are committed to maintaining the essence of the place.
“We’re pro-restoration, not renovation,” Goff explains. “So every detail that is there, we keep.
“It’s part of what draws us to the property. It’s not messed up. The setup is great. We don’t need to add anything. We’re just rebuilding what was already there.”
Although Chatto is “definitely in a rural area”, it is relatively easy to reach, with the International Toulouse-Blagnac Airport about a 45-minute drive away.
Because they arrived during the epidemic and rented a house outside the village during the purchase process, Goff and Angel did not get a chance to meet the locals for a while.
Long recovery function
The couple says they plan to do most of the “main work” themselves.
“At one point, I think the chateau was sold, and these Americans were coming,” says Engel.
Eager to make a good impression, they invited their new neighbors around to celebrate the day they signed the contract.
“We opened the door and said ‘go inside.’ And people ‘really?’ We told them to walk around and have fun, “says Goff.
They were thrilled when various locals came and started exploring the grounds.
“The previous owners were very private,” Angle explains. “So some of them [the villagers] He lived in the village all his life and never went inside. ”
Goff and Angel have since organized a Halloween party for the entire village, and they say they want the locals to get involved in their chato experiment.
“Of course, it’s our home,” says Angel. “But in a way it’s community too.”
But it’s not all parties and festivals for the couple, there’s plenty to move on with.
While they plan to do most of the “main work” themselves on the chatto, Goff and Angel are bringing in craftsmen to work with the structural side of things.
“We’re trying to find a way to present ourselves a little differently on YouTube and entertain people more,” Goff explains. “We don’t want to talk.”
One of the tasks they are focusing on is to add a suite bathroom to the bedroom.
He is currently working on his plans with an interior designer, describing his style as “traditional with little surprise”.
Mark and Philippe are making the most of life in rural France and say they have been embraced by locals.
“The bathrooms are all designed to be very classic, because the bathroom never existed (when the chateau was built),” says Goff.
Some of the fixtures they are looking at are based on the first pictures of Waldorf Astoria New York.
Goff and Angel eventually plan to install air conditioning in the bedroom. However, this suggestion has raised eyebrows in his village.
“There’s a feeling here that you don’t need air conditioning,” says Angel. “I mentioned it to the previous owner and she looked weird in front of me. But we expect a lot of Americans, and they expect certain things.”
For the time being, they are getting it by keeping the shutter only a few inches open during the summer days and opening it in the evening, which is obviously a more typical approach to chat life in France.
Although they have a very specific design vision, Goff and Angel agree that their budget will not expand as much as they would have expected.
“The work has become more expensive than we thought,” Goff says, explaining that he and Angel are using the money left over from the sale of their California home to pay for the renovation.
“If we had been prudent, we would probably have been able to buy Chatto at a slightly cheaper price,” adds Angel.
“And then we really had enough funds to do the right thing. We weren’t smart enough, so we had to go the other way.”
It involves pushing back the “other way” until it gets funding to complete various projects.
Goff and Angel hope to be able to open some rooms at Chatto next year.
One of the plans they had to stop was to transform their wine chi, outdoor wine storage area into a “huge entertainment dining space with stage and stage lighting”.
“It would be a wonderful addition. Because then we can get big indoor items late at night, without disturbing anyone,” Goffs notes.
They find it difficult to book some building work, as contractors in the area are plagued by epidemics and are too busy to get on board.
“It’s a big project,” says Angle. “Some electrics are from the 1930s.”
Understandably, language barriers have also proved challenging. While both speak some French, it has proved difficult to have full communication with the French contractors, which has slowed things down a bit.
But while the renovation process has not been as smooth as they would like, the couple is confident they will be in a position to open a few rooms by next year.
“We hope to start bringing in some revenue to support moving forward to 2023,” Goff explains. “We want to do some trial events to get our feet on the ground.”
Currently, Goff and Angel are making the most of life in Chatto and say that every day is an adventure for them.
“This is the part we love,” says Angle. “She is OK [the chateau] There’s been a bit of pasting, but it’s worth living and we’ve been through the winter with our limited heating system. “
While they are finally waiting to be able to welcome guests into Chateau Avensac, they are enjoying a place of their own, as well as slowly but surely seeing the fruits of their labor.
“It’s exciting and fun,” Goff says. “We’re definitely in the honeymoon phase.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story was misrepresented in the story and was headlined by the number of Chatto’s bedrooms.