Real life stories
Former snowboarding champion Chris Moran has turned an old barn in the Bozel valley into the cosy, modern chalet of his dreams, says Nicola Venning…
When former British snowboarding champion Chris Moran stumbled upon a tired old barn for sale in the hamlet of Villemartin in the Bozel valley, near Courchevel, he couldn’t resist it. Although he skis as much as he snowboards these days, he was happy to put down roots in one of his old haunts. Chris spends half his time in Brighton in the UK and half in the French Alps, and the old building is now the Alpine home he has always longed for in a location that’s hard to beat, which is one of the reasons he decided to buy the barn.
The Bozel valley has links to The Three Valleys and Le Paradiski area, as well as being the gateway to the Vanoise National Park, which is home to some of the best ski touring in France. “It’s enormous and it was one of the key reasons for buying there because I knew that as I got older, I would be more interested in going split boarding and ski touring.” says Chris, who now works in marketing for the winter sports sector including the Intersport store chain.
The building, which is three properties knocked into one, has high ceilings, wooden beams and large airy rooms. Given its central location in the village, next to the old church, and the age of the beams, it is thought to date from the 1600s.
I wanted to do something nice with this building and hopefully it will look after me in return. Churchill said: “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us. I definitely have a similar belief,” says Chris.
One of the biggest hurdles Chris faced was obtaining planning permission for ‘change of use to convert the old barn into a home. So when he put in an offer for the property, he added the proviso that the sale would only go through if planning permission was provided. “The French system is good and I was able to add that caveat,” he says.
However, his worries were unfounded. As the building had a fireplace, it meant that at some point it had been habitable and possibly lived in, and therefore permission for change of use, was granted.
“The Bozel commune is one of the best you could move to. The marie (town hall knows that if they want the schools to be full, the bars used and the restaurant to be busy, they have to help with the planning,” says Chris.
He paid £100,000 for the rambling old barn, including taxes and agents’ fees. The restoration took more than four years, as it could only be done during the summer months when it was warm enough to do the exterior work. He estimates that creating the large open- plan chalet with separate ground-floor apartment and workroom has cost a bargain price of just €240,000.
Having refurbished flats and offices in Britain, Chris has had some experience in building redevelopment. The Alpine chalet is his fifth renovation, although his other projects weren’t as large as this. He also collaborated with local people working in the property market -including a builder colleague- and was able to save a great deal of money, as well as pick up useful tips along the way.
He joined Facebook groups for the Tarentaise valley, (of which Bozel is a part) and Les Trois Vallées, where older high- end chalets are often knocked down and rebuilt on the same footprint, creating a lot of recyclable materials.
“One lady had received a quote of €50,000 to have her chalet demolished. She asked if anyone would like to do it for her, in exchange for keeping the materials. So I went there with a group of lads, knocked down the chalet for her and recycled as much as I could. Her roof and windows ended up being my roof and windows!”
Chris, who has lived and worked in The Three Valleys for decades, kept his ear to the ground for other recycling opportunities. A local estate agent told him of any house and probate clearances, as he was keen to find local wood cladding or bardage en bois. “I did three house clearances with this agent. One chalet was full of incredible wood that was going to be taken to the dechetterie (tip).” Chris was able to recycle the wood and use it in the refurbishment of his own chalet.
Rebuilding projects were also a good source of materials. Many of his skiing friends worked as part of the construction crews during the summer and could source materials for him. When he heard of a kitchen being taken out of one luxury chalet and thrown away, he claimed it. “The old kitchen included an unwanted £10,000 fridge. So for the price of a few nights out for the building crew working on the project, I was able to have it – eventually. It took five people to get it into my chalet!”
Chris isn’t sure precisely how much recycling local materials has saved him, but estimates it’s been “hundreds of thousands of euros. If I’d had to buy it all, it would have cost a huge amount”.
GETTING STUCK IN
The renovation work itself was mainly a question of hard graft and lots of YouTube videos. Chris and his friends watched building shows for know-how and did most of the basic work themselves. Where they didn’t have sufficient knowledge, Chris brought in specialists, such as for gas and electricity installation and to meet building regulations.
Sometimes the expertise needed was unexpected, such as for the 100-year-old vaulted celling in the workshop.
Realising that it was crucial to check the structure was sound, Chris had all the ceilings and floors examined by an expert. It turned out that the metal rods that held the ceiling together, had rusted and would likely fail in coming years. “It had been there over 100 years and we had to make it stronger.”
This meant that the ceiling of the workshop, which was also the floor of several bedrooms, had to be reinforced with almost 15 tons of concrete. “It was our first concrete pour and a bit scary. We just knew we had to get it right.” Fortunately, it worked perfectly and the ceiling is now stronger than ever.
Chris also used concrete to reinforce the floors and replaced the old wooden ones with new epoxy resin flooring “Concrete floors make the house solid, as well as quiet. Fifteen people in a building with wooden floors would send you mad.”
The building’s idiosyncratic character has been retained where possible and Chris has endeavoured to recycle a lot of the original materials- especially the beams, stone walls and original Tarentaise wooden doors.
“I stuck to a small palette of materials, so every room is part of the same aesthetic. This has had the benefit of saving me a huge amount of money, but it is also the look that I was after. I knew I wanted to make wood the star of the building. There are beautiful old beams.”
Being able to speak French was also a huge advantage. For two years, before moving cut to France for half of cach year, he attended French classes and also had a French tutor. His young son, who lives with his ex-partner in Brighton but visits regularly, also helped.
“I bought the Harry Potter series and read it in French to him,” he says. “So although my French vocabulary for building materials is limited, I am very good at talking about magic spells!”
Chris will keep the ground- floor apartment for his own personal use and just have family and friends use the chalet in the winter season. During the summer months, he plans to let it out to cycling enthusiasts. “The area is often part of the Tour de France, which attracts a lot of visitors,” be explains. “There are also loads of empty small roads, which is perfect for cyclists.”
The old barn is now a modern chalet with a contemporary kitchen, five bedrooms, five bathrooms, high ceilings, balconies and great views, as well as a sauna, ground-floor apartment and workshop. “with planning permission attached to it, so I can change it later if I wish,” says Chris.
Similar sized Alpine homes in the Bozel valley cost between €500,000 and €700,000, while in the neighbouring luxury resort of Courchevel, they command several million euros.
Follow Chris’s adventures on Instagram.
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Lead photo credit : Chris Moran
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