DIY in France: ladders and scaffolding

Mistakes and ladders... building a new life as a budding artisan. Some buyers fear renovation but others welcome it... our writer Nick Inman has a foot in both camps, as he tells in this first of a series of articles

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There is a vast difference between repairing a two-and-a-half-bed inter-war terrace house in north London and renovating a farm in Gascony. But while it may be obvious to many, I only realised what I had let myself in for when I arrived 16 years ago, bridges burned and with grand visions of what I was going to do to the new place.

Everything was unfamiliar – not least the language and the DIY shops – but there were two other major differences.

One was the architecture: the materials of which the house was built and the traditional construction methods. The walls made of round river stones and the oak roof timbers held together with wooden pegs were exotic and alien.

But the really big difference was the space I had acquired. I found myself with a lot more building to be maintained or transformed.

The estate agent who sold us the house – now a friend – saw the daunted look on my face as we stood discussing what to do to realise the property’s potential and gave me a piece of good advice: “The first thing you need to do is get yourself to the Big Ladder Shop.” (He really did say it with capital letters.)

My first DIY purchase therefore was an extending aluminium ladder long enough to reach the barn gutters but light enough to manhandle without aid.

The ladder shop also made and sold something much more interesting: scaffolding. I was not at that moment the sort of person who owned scaffolding. It would be an expensive item and I wasn’t sure I would ever use it. But there was a lot to do to the house and much of it was a long way above ground level.

Besides, I had plenty of storage space for such a bulky item... I had to fill the cowshed with something.

I ummed and ahhed over buying the scaffolding but it was being sold at a discount during the local agricultural fair and I bought it on a whim, expecting it to be little more than an adult climbing frame. Looking back, it is the best purchase I ever made. It’s constantly being assembled or disassembled and moved around the property.

I use it inside sometimes – putting up plasterboard ceilings – but mainly outside where an elevated platform is a better place to stand while doing extended heavy duty jobs than a ladder.

It has also proved useful for barter: I lend it to friends when asked and they give me help and advice when needed.

I did not shop around and do not know how it compares with other models but I know my rig suits me.

Extremely light and easy to put together in various combinations, it stores flat and fits piece by piece in a hatchback with the seats down. The design has been improved since I bought it but the company still makes extra components for the old model on demand.

Working at height requires care but I have had only one nasty scare, caused by my own overconfidence. That was enough. For security, I wear a climbing harness bought in Decathlon and clip myself on to the building wherever I can, using climbing rope and carabiners.

Back in London, only real workmen clamber around on scaffolding. Looks like now that I have moved to France, I have become one of their number.

The Big Ladder Shop [Neressy] can be found at