5 Questions: The Brubackers. A renovation project in the Dordogne.


Perched on the cliffside village of Beynac-et-Cazenac, Aquitaine, “La Maisonnette” sits quietly elbow to elbow with the chateau commanding a view of the Dordogne river and the surrounding countryside. Ben and Stephanie Brubaker tells us about the road that took them from America to their holiday home in France.

Meet the Brubakers

Brubaker family - USA to the DordogneWe’ve always felt drawn to France. It is the perfect meld of good food, art, architecture, culture, beauty, style and history. France is a country that doesn’t appear to be lacking in anything, (okay, maybe a little in efficiency) and we always enjoy our time there immensely. In fact, it’s hard for us to get excited about travelling anywhere else. Ever since volunteering in France for a couple of years when I was 19 I’ve had a love for France and the French culture. When our first daughter Emma was about 18 months old I felt like my French was disappearing, to keep it up I started speaking to her in French. We bought books and I read with her every night. After a couple of months Emma was speaking as much baby French as baby English. Emma is now 10 and now we have Luke (8), Sophie (5) and Gray (2) who all speak fluent French although Gray is somewhat limited and sticks primarily with bateau, avion and plus!

1. Tell us about your property search.

cottage renovation DordogneWe had no intention of buying a home in France. By pure chance we rented a home for a week holiday in Beynac from an American couple who lived near us in Utah. I have a background in commercial real estate and was curious about how this couple had bought the property and the cost. Without even informing Stephanie, I contacted a few real estate agents in the area out of pure curiosity a few months before our vacation. While we were in the village I set an appointment simply thinking it would be fun to peek inside the beautiful medieval cottages. When we came to this cottage the price was much lower than the others, but the property needed some ‘love’. The opportunity was too much to pass up. Oddly enough, it felt so right to be there and this little house called our name. We had been saving up for an investment property in the States but had never discussed trying to obtain a property in France, let alone a fixer-upper. That is, until we vacationed in Beynac and fell in love with it instantly! We submitted an offer and figured out the rest one step at a time.

2. Do you know anything about the history of the property?

We recently found out that our house was the four banal meaning something like “lord’s oven” the place where everyone baked their bread and were required to pay the lord of the castle for the service. Records show this service existed back in 1343 but a more probable scenario places this property in the 1500’s. Since the house is within the outer ramparts of the castle, we know it is at least four or five hundred years old. In a previous renovation they found remnants of the oven in our backyard and the older townsfolk still refer to our home as the “four banal”, which is kind of a cool way of describing one’s home.

Cottage renovation Dordogne

3. Now that you’re done, is there anything you would have done differently?

Not that I can think of! It was all very impulsive and adventurous, but so much fun. Perhaps it would have been a good idea to measure the doorway before buying an antique armoire two inches too wide to fit through the front door. That left the second storey balcony as the only other possible entrance. So one afternoon we hired every available French worker and their buddies to hoist the armoire up and through the door of the second storey balcony. I suspect that particular item, as well as many others like it, will never leave the cottage.

4. What’s your favorite room in the cottage?
The area that underwent the biggest transformation is the upstairs master suite. It was just a storage attic with a 4-foot clearing. We like to relax there in the evenings, crack open the window and listen to the trees whispering in the breeze. It’s incredibly tranquil and quiet. Living in a city here in the States makes us appreciate the absolute privacy we have there.

renovation in the Dordogne

5. What’s your favorite thing to do in the area?

We absolutely love everything, but the local markets are fantastic. Other favorites include visiting the Font de Gaume caves and taking the children to Le Bournat. Stephanie’s favorites pastimes are picnicking, cooking and exploring new towns. Beynac is listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France. Other small, picturesque outings in the area are Marqueyssac Gardens, the Lascaux Caves and the outdoor market in nearby Sarlat, or taking a canoe down the river.cottage renovation in the dordogne

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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  • agence immo montrouge
    2013-07-03 15:48:47
    agence immo montrouge
    My wife and I are both real estate agents in a fairly average and ordinary neighborhood. If you want to be near family and friends, then find a place closer or more accessible to them. Their next step is to spruce up the property, make minor repairs and put the home back on the market for an immediate profit.