When Tim and Krys Birch moved to an elegant but run-down chateau, it was with thoughts of creating the perfect ‘forever home’.
“We moved out with extended family,” said Tim, a former chef. His parents Robert and Sue, 68, came with them, as well as his brother Mike, 41, who has autism. “We wanted somewhere we could run a business and live together as a family.”
Château Monteil in Calviac-en-Périgord, near Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne, was in disrepair and needed significant work. The family employed plumbers and electricians for specialist jobs, and took on the cosmetic tasks themselves to open it as a chambres d’hôtes.
“We had to strip walls bare and start again, using plasterboard, and replacing rotten beams,” said Krys, 32.
While the work took place, the family lived together in a small house on the grounds. Only in 2015, once work was complete, could Tim and Krys move into the chateau, while his parents remained in the house, which by then afforded ample accommodation for two. Everything changed,
however, when Tim and Krys’s son Owen was born in March 2017.
“We realised that we could not maintain the level of work required to keep running a chambres d’hôtes,” said Tim. “The gruelling 6:30 starts for breakfast through to clearing the last dinner table at midnight was too much for a 20-week season.”
Instead, the resourceful family moved back in with Tim’s parents, renting the chateau out as a whole. “This worked well from a business sense,” said Tim, 39. “But it was not sustainable long-term – there was not enough space.”
In addition, Tim and Krys struggled to fit in with the local, older demographic. “There was not much of a young community, and the school closed down, to boot.” As a result, in 2018 the family put the chateau on the market and began looking for somewhere new.
“We needed somewhere bigger and in a better location for family life,” said Tim. The agent eventually found a buyer in 2019, with the sale completing in August 2020.
Le Bugue – Domaine de la Barde
After lots of deliberation, the family finally found what they were looking for just 20
minutes up the road in Le Bugue – Domaine de la Barde.
“The chateau had gone into liquidation in 2008, when the owner – who had planned a huge hotel complex on the site – lost investors due to the financial crisis,” says Tim. Since then, the once-beautiful chateau had been left empty, squatters had moved in, and there was a lot of damage.
“Everything was filthy and there was graffiti everywhere,” he said. Undeterred, the family put in an offer around €100,000 less than they had paid for Château Monteil, which was accepted.
They moved into local rented accommodation while initial works were carried out – windows were replaced and a building on the site was renovated for Tim’s parents. “We moved in August 2021 after renting for a year,” says Tim. “For now, we are all living with my parents as we work on the chateau.”
The new property has twice the footprint of the last. “It is a 14th century chateau on a plot of around 11 acres. “It also has several converted buildings – a forge and a converted walnut mill housing eight en-suite rooms. “A previous owner had a showroom for his classic car collection, and
that is now converted into a modern, draught-free space for mum and dad.” The enormous site also comprises an orangery, tennis court and swimming pool. Crucially, it is on the outskirts of a small town.
“Although it is a town, it only has 2,500 inhabitants,” says Tim, “so it has a village feel.”
It also has a younger demographic, and both a primary school and collège, meaning Owen can walk to school until the age of 15.
So has the family learned a lot about chateau renovation over the years?
“I think we have learned more about ourselves,” says Tim. “What suits our lifestyle, our strengths and weaknesses.”
They hope to double the value of the chateau and, in the meantime, create holiday apartments in the walnut mill, plus 10 B&B rooms in the chateau, which will only be available for a short season to fit around family life and Owen’s school.
For anyone else looking to make the leap into chateau ownership, Tim advises looking into the costs carefully. Work is far more expensive in France than the UK.
Has the family finally found its ‘forever home’? “We are confident it meets our needs right now,” says Tim, “but who knows? Although we would hope to get the kids through school before doing it again!”