house renovation French country life
Spot the difference

Friday, 27 August

In my many blog posts over the last year about the renovation of our property in the Perche, there is one element of the project that I have studiously avoided, both textually and visually. Rather like tiptoeing around the elephant in the room. And it is large, what I have been sidestepping.

As remodelling plans began to take shape, a question kept cropping up: What about a swimming pool? We certainly have the space. And there isn’t a lot to do down here at the end of the lane. A body of water big enough accommodate humans would expand the possibilities considerably.

Shin deep and mucky

In the endless hours I spent poring over the Le Figaro property website while house hunting, I generally dismissed houses with pools, and certainly indoor ones. Partly because most of them were exceedingly ugly, but there was also a part of me that spurned the very concept. Am I, are we, swimming pool people? Neither of us has ever had one. Isn't it a little late to start now? Isn't it an extravagance we can live without?

Good place to store some quince

Especially if you consider the poor planet. Building a large concrete basin for the amusement of a few lucky people and filling it with precious water that relies on chemicals for its equilibrium, is not ecological, however you slice it.

Then again, we said, swimming is really good for you. In fact, Google will tell you it cures just about every ill in the book:

• keeps your heart rate up but takes some of the impact stress off your body

• builds endurance, muscle strength and cardiovascular fitness

• helps you maintain a healthy weight, healthy heart and lungs

• tones muscles and builds strength

• provides an all-over body workout, as nearly all of your muscles are used during swimming.

Swimming has many other benefits including:

• being a relaxing and peaceful form of exercise

• alleviating stress

• improving coordination, balance and posture

• improving flexibility

• providing good low-impact therapy for some injuries and conditions

• providing a pleasant way to cool down on a hot day

There was a practical question too: If we were to indulge ourselves and build a pool, where would we put it? The many friends and family who visited that first prelapsarian (pre-Covid) summer of 2019 were full of ideas. In the field behind the two big Cyprus trees, with views on the rising and setting sun, said some. No, behind the boulangerie, which you can turn into a pool house, said others.

Too far from the house, said the architects. No one will use it. In any case, not one suggestion sat right with me aesthetically; each location seemed awkward, a blight on the beauty of Deux Champs.

For a long time, we'd finish the ongoing debate with: We don't have to decide right now. But during a réunion de chantier, with work on the barn well under way, Monsieur et Madame J, the architects, said  indecision time was just about up.

We were standing behind the house, between the end of the wall and the tree you see in the above photo, discussing that corner of the garden as a possible site. Closer to the house - but maybe too close - it still didn’t seem the right spot. You also have to consider, they said, that pools in the Perche are only in use three to four months a year.

Okay, forget the pool, we started to say, when Monsieur pointed to the wooden farm structure you see from inside and out in the above photos: “Of course you could build a covered pool right here:”

He was certainly correct that, tucked in at the crook of the L formed by the out buildings and the barn/house, it would be a perfect fit. The idea of being able get exercise all year round was also appealing.

So in a matter of minutes, we’d gone from ‘no pool’ to let's build an indoor one (at considerably greater expense), with accordion windows around the sides that can be opened in summer.

Muddy start

Work began in February when we were in London. The frame was conserved and extended; the roof completely redone.

I watched from a distance...

Drones-eye view conscience still troubled by this mega frill, but obviously not that troubled because on went the work.





A week ago, the water went in and so did I (with the temperature a bracing 18-19°C /65F, David's waiting for the heat to be hooked up).

Cathédrale à la natation

Even without the heat and the stone floor that has yet to be laid, the results are, to my eye, spectacular, including from afar, where the roof peeks out at the back and mirrors the projection at the front (see top photo). In fact, all that’s really missing are the other hotel guests lounging around on deck chairs in thick white robes and bathing slippers.  

And my conscience? Like with the ousting of the swallows, it gets more accommodating with each swim. The personal health benefits are, as advertised, overwhelming.

The new aesthetic