Happy Wednesday! Today I wanted to feature @curiousprovence, a beautiful account where the talented Ashley documents her dreamy surroundings and house renovation proceedings with a skilled eye. Ashley is a freelance artist and photographer who is making her life in Provence and I’m delighted to be able to feature an interview with her! You may have seen her and her husband’s first property search on House Hunters International, where they began with a $100,000 budget – and transformed the fixer-upper they purchased into a gorgeous home.
You can follow Curious Provence at @curiousprovence on Instagram, or on her blog and photography websites below:
Hi Ashley, can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?
My name is Ashley Tinker. I was raised in Montréal, Canada by British-Canadian parents. At the age of 18, after attending a demanding high school where most of the students would go on to become business executives, lawyers and doctors, I decided to embrace the creative part of myself. I enrolled in a tiny art studio in Florence, Italy. It was there that I really fell in love with Europe. During a month-long wine course in southern France, I met my British partner Robin. He followed me back to Florence, and then back to Montréal where I studied Fine art photography. Here in Provence, I work as a photographer, artist, tour guide and more!
What made you want to move to Provence?
After five years of long-distance dating, one of us made to move across the ocean. Robin tried to live in Canada but it was tricky. Because I already had a British passport it was much easier for me to move to Europe. Robin is an absolute Francophile. I was in love with Italy. We settled on Southern France for its sunshine, proximity to Italy and lifestyle. Though honestly, it was sheer luck. We put an ad online looking for work in France. Someone happened to see it in Lambesc, close to Aix en Provence. We packed our bags, took the ferry across the channel, waved goodbye to the cliffs of Dover, and drove to our new home with little knowledge of the area and little French!
Above: Their first property before renovations
Can you describe the move and property search process?
For the first two years in Provence, we worked as guardians on other properties. We learned quickly the meaning behind the French proverb “Un petit chez vous vaut mieux qu’un grand chez les autres” (It’s better to have a small space of your own than a large one that belongs to someone else).
We searched for a year for our first house. We had a tight budget, wanted to be in the Alpilles area and needed a fixer-upper to utilise Robin’s renovation skills. It wasn’t easy. For small budgets, French real estate agents weren’t really interested in helping us. They told us to just look online. So we did. Hours on various property sites and Le Bon Coin. It’s tricky because there are so many small real estate offices here rather than a few large ones that have all the properties. Also, many houses online have just a couple dark photos to advertise themselves. There was a lot of guessing! Some of that process was documented on the House-hunters International episode that we were on. It was called, Pricey in Provence! Ha!
Above: Their first property after the renovations
What attracted you to the property you bought?
The first house we bought was a 38 square metre end of a long Mas (farmhouse) in Maussane-les-Alpilles. Despite the absolute 60’s-decorated horror that it was, we knew as soon as we stepped inside that we could do something with it. There was gorgeous stone behind that orange wood-panelling. The real estate agent also told us to offer half the asking price!
The home that we bought two years ago will be our second and hopefully last fixer-upper here in Provence. We were attracted to it for many reasons. It has a barn that we’re currently converting into a 2-bedroom rental. There is a large garden with mature trees (including a must-have in Provence courtyard Plane tree) as well as the fact that it’s in the centre of a village. A 60-second walk to fresh croissants and still-hot-from-the-oven bread, a butcher, a couple restaurants, wine cave and veg shop. Our village is small but has all the essentials.
What are the best and worst parts of buying a fixer-upper?
Both the properties that we bought were complete fixer-uppers. Absolutely everything had to be redone. This is actually a good thing because you know from the start what you’re in for. Real estate agents often estimate the cost of renovation then deduct that from what the home could eventually be sold for. This can be deceiving as the renovation cost varies enormously depending on what you’d like to do. We’re using reclaimed materials, installing top-quality electrics and plumbing. We certainly won’t be installing an Ikea kitchen! All that needs to be taken into account.
The worst part of a renovation is the need for patience. Things often don’t go to plan. There’s a lot of mess to live with. And in our case, a lack of heating/cooling in all but one room! Getting out of the shower in winter is NOT FUN.
The best part is that you can build your home to fit your needs. We have two barns on our property. One will be a rental, and the one attached to the house will one day be a massive kitchen. Other people may have turned it into more bedrooms or even another rental. But we’re excited about our dream provençal kitchen…
Above: Their new house!
How is life living and working in Provence?
Life in Provence takes some getting used to. You really notice the seasons here. The produce for one. You’re also outside a lot. Most work is seasonal. This is something that I found difficult to adjust to in the beginning but I now love it. After a busy hot summer, you need a quiet winter.
I couldn’t imagine ever moving to another place. The beauty of Provence is something that you never get used to; even the locals that have lived here their entire lives appreciate it enormously. We’ve made friends, built up our businesses, and in some ways have become French ourselves. Though always the outsider. It can honestly be the best of both worlds.
Do you have any advice for those looking to follow in your footsteps?
In terms of moving to Provence from abroad, I would suggest moving here with a French job contract. It’ll make your life incredibly easier compared to our own experience. Also, we were stubborn and didn’t reach out much to expats when we first arrived. We wanted to make French friends. That’s silly. Reach out to everyone and anyone. Go to Meet-ups. You’re essentially starting your network from scratch. The French friends will come.
For buying a house, have patience. Also, do your research. There is a lot for sale on the market right now though it’s much harder to find a smaller home. Every village in Provence has very different prices according to its desirability. Spend time in the local area to really understand each place and what makes sense for you.