Couple Buy 300-Year-Old Battered House in South of France for $15,000 for Reno—See How It Looks Now

Couple Buy 300-Year-Old Battered House in South of France for $15,000 for Reno—See How It Looks Now
(Courtesy of Diego León)
Michael Wing
12/7/2023
Updated:
12/7/2023
0:00

There’s a certain charm in the 300-year-old mud walls of Diego León’s half-dilapidated house in the south of France. The charm is, of course, in how someone probably built them with their own two hands to survive, according to Mr. León, who continues his home renovation today. The simple human husbandry has a primal beauty that’s humbling.

For his family, the work on the house has been something of a spiritual journey.

Mr. León, 26, and his wife, Joana, 24, are set on breathing new life into the walls of what was a hair salon a hundred years ago, in the center of a tiny village of 200 inhabitants. It later became a place for cows, pigs, and a vineyard where its former owners were dedicated wine producers. Then for the past 50 or 60 years until now, it was left to the mercy of Mother Nature after being abandoned.

It almost became one with nature, falling into heavy neglect, rotting inside and out, by the time Mr. and Mrs. León took possession in 2022.
The Leóns' home in the south of France before renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The Leóns' home in the south of France before renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)
The roof before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The roof before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)
The Leóns renovate the second floor. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The Leóns renovate the second floor. (Courtesy of Diego León)

Today, though, they have designs for a laundry room and two bathrooms. The master bedroom, guests’ lodgings, toilet, and shower are newly finished, equipped with all-new plumbing and modern amenities. There will be a comfy kitchen for chilling out and a modern workshop outside.

But they’re not out of the renovation woods quite yet.

The couple’s journey to living in their 3-centuries-old home began after setting out from their birth city of Barcelona, Spain, traveling to 50 different countries on adventures, now finally deciding to settle. Along the way, they revamped an ancient Spanish stone cabin, documenting it on YouTube, garnering an online following. It’s telling that they chose this quaint, quiet, and sublimely beautiful rural town as their final stop.

Then again, an offer like this one was hard to pass up.

“We didn’t have any time to think,” Mr. León told The Epoch Times, adding that they had to “say yes or no the same day.”

“If we don’t say anything, others are going to buy.”

All they knew was they wanted a cottage with a garden in France; the rest would take care of itself—as long as they worked hard and sweated with enough passion.

For 14,000 euros ($15,000) it was a steal. They snapped it up, and in July 2022, the house fell into the Leóns’ hands. For better or for worse.

The second floor ceiling during and after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The second floor ceiling during and after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)
Clearing out the house. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
Clearing out the house. (Courtesy of Diego León)
Demolition. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
Demolition. (Courtesy of Diego León)

It fully looked the part of a timeless country cottage—it’s among the oldest in town. The most pressing task was replacing the caved-in tile roof—a job made more difficult since the solid wood beams were completely rotted. It was hard to find any part that wasn’t rotten. All the furniture showed signs of rodent infestation; little seemed salvageable. The last family who inherited it from their elderly parents had been intent on demolition. What had the Leóns gotten themselves into?

In fact, they were stalwart about moving in. First, they secured a base renting a house nearby, making daily forays into their warzone of a property. It was more like a demolition. They spent three months tearing up the old roof and replacing it with a new tile one—most roofs in southern France are a charming ochre-red clay. They removed heaps of debris and busted furniture, using their small car (that’s all they had) to haul it out. And all the old walls came down. Well, almost all.

“I have still preserved some of the old mud walls,” Mr. León said, noting that they could be 300 years old. They will also preserve the deluxe-sized antique fireplace and mantle.

The master bedroom before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The master bedroom before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)
The bathroom before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The bathroom before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)

It took a further three months of battling back the ancient mess to secure a bedroom—establishing their new base—and modern bathroom.

“We want to live in the house so we can stop paying rent,” he said. “On Dec. 31—that’s the last day of the year—we moved into the house.”

And moving in made all the difference, as now they could wake, have breakfast, and tackle the renovation right from dawn.

“It was hard, we work 14 hours every day,” the Spaniard said. “It has been hard but we love to say that we did this ourselves.”

Sometimes it all seems daunting, though.

“Every morning I wake up; for the moment I still see everything I need to do,” he said. “I don’t really see what I did, but I know I did a lot.”

The couple get reinvigorated by their jubilating followers on YouTube.

The façade of the Leóns' home as it nears completion. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The façade of the Leóns' home as it nears completion. (Courtesy of Diego León)
The living room before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The living room before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)
Mr. León harvesting tomatoes in his garden. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
Mr. León harvesting tomatoes in his garden. (Courtesy of Diego León)

The toughest obstacles were those requiring professional trade skills that they lacked. YouTube tutorials gave access to professional advice and helped a lot, Mr. León said. Jobs like installing electrical were inherently risky.

“You can really easily go to hospital or die if you don’t do it right,” he said, adding that doing was instrumental in learning. “I learned the electrics, I learned the plumbing, and she learned the planning; she learned all the modern architecture.”

Most difficult of all was pouring concrete for the floors, foundations, and beams.

All told, the house cost them 40,000 euros ($43,200)—so far, that is. Mr. León suspects the project will take another two years.

The Leóns outside their home before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The Leóns outside their home before and after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)
The Leóns' home after the renovation. (Courtesy of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/@Diego_Leon">Diego León</a>)
The Leóns' home after the renovation. (Courtesy of Diego León)

As for the rewards, the couple’s garden, for one, has yielded tangible and tasty benefits this year—including tomatoes, potatoes, jalapenos, and habanero peppers. Their idyllic pastoral setting is perfect for their five chickens, which supply fresh eggs. And, of course, there are more perks to living in the south of France.

But beyond healthy sustenance, the traditional, friendly people, the gorgeous weather, the scenery, and quiet lifestyle, their home renovation venture has also furnished insight into human existence—a primordial, spiritual discovery for Mr. León.

Since time immemorial, humans have, without any professional skills, built their own homes with their own God-given hands.

“It’s something that we did for many years,” he said, adding that he laments how “we don’t do it anymore.”

“Now we can pay for someone to do it. So personally, I love to do it.”

Their handiwork, he admits, is homely and imperfect, as they learned along the way. But judging by perfection misses the point. He explains: “I feel it’s kind of something spiritual—a connection with yourself, with your roots, because you need to fix the problem.”
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Michael Wing is a writer and editor based in Calgary, Canada, where he was born and educated in the arts. He writes mainly on culture, human interest, and trending news.