Real Life: A Mini Chateau Renovation in Grand Est


Real life stories

Real Life: A Mini Chateau Renovation in Grand Est

Donna and John Newby fell in love with a mini château in need of TLC in a Grand Est village, and made it their own…

We are Australians in our 70s and have been living in the Vosges department in Grand Est, which is in north-eastern France, for seven years.

We’ve renovated two houses here in that time. The first was a small semi-detached two- storey home in the village of Fresse-sur-Moselle, which we bought in 2016 and completed in 2018. Not long after finishing our renovation, we decided to visit some Christmas markets and came across Plombières- les-Bains about 40km from home. It’s a Roman spa town known as ‘the town of a thousand balconies. We fell in love with this beautiful place and decided to sell our lovely bome in Fresse-sur-Moselle and buy a place here. And so the search began…

We took a walk around the village in case we could see anything for sale, but soon realised there were no for sale’ signs on any of the houses we later found out this was because the mairie didn’t approve of signs on the buildings. Strolling around the back streets towards the beautiful Parc Impérial, we stopped to admire a three-storey grand old lady surrounded by beautiful trees.

©Donna and John Newby

We weren’t sure if anyone was living there as the grass was long and there wasn’t a soul in sight. We continued walking through the park and found we loved the area more and more. This was definitely where we wanted to live and so our search continued.

When we arrived home, I went straight on the computer to see what was available for sale in the area and couldn’t believe my eyes when the first house that popped up on the screen was the grand property that had impressed us on our way to the park. We were so excited to see it was for sale, we contacted the owner straight away to organise a viewing.


©Donna and John Newby

Looking around this beautiful house, we could see it needed a complete renovation. The inside had been converted into separate apartments and the owner was turning it back into a home, so everything had been ripped out including radiators, bathrooms, kitchens and so on.

It was a huge undertaking. There were 17 rooms and three huge cellar spaces with a beautiful original wooden staircase winding its way to the floors above, but we were hooked. It was love at first sight and we could imagine bringing this beautiful home back to life.

And so we made an offer, which was accepted, sold our Fresse home and, after a number of months, became the owners of a mini château in need of a lot of work.

©Donna and John Newby

As there was no heating or even a toilet, we rented an apartment two doors up from our new home. The first task was to organise the heating installation as it was now winter. We found a specialist but it was their busy season so we decided to do what we could to the property while we waited. At the time it was very snowy, so we went to the house bundled up in coats, gloves and hats to start work but couldn’t stay too long as it was minus 10 inside sometimes and difficult to get anything done.

©Donna and John Newby


©Donna and John Newby

There was a lot of rubbish to get rid of and mould on the walls of the hall, the stairs were covered in dust and rubbish; the top floor had no ceiling and you could see daylight through the roof tiles; and the walls and ceilings on the top floor were bare stone so had to be lined with dry wall sheets. Before we did that though, we had to decide what each room was going to be.

All of them were huge and on the first floor there were lovely French windows opening out onto a small balcony. All the windows were large, giving lovely views of the surrounding trees or the hills opposite us.

©Donna and John Newby

Once the heating was eventually installed, we started on our bedroom and ensuite so we would have somewhere to sleep and shower. We created a makeshift kitchen in the dining room downstairs so we were all set for our major renovation. We decided the ground floor would have a laundry with toilet and across from that would be our lounge, a library and a dining room, and finally the kitchen. All these rooms have fireplaces and Interconnecting doors and they all lead out to the large hallway.

©Donna and John Newby


©Donna and John Newby

On the first floor, we built an ensuite alongside a large dressing room adjacent to our bedroom to form our private suite. We decided to make the middle room, which has French windows and a balcony, into a sitting room and had a small office between our bedroom and the guest bedroom for privacy, Across from the guest room is a large bathroom complete with a claw foot bath from which I can look out of the huge window and watch the squirrels playing in the trees.

We chose to turn the top floor into a self-contained suite with two bedrooms, bathroom, kitchenette and entertainment mom, where visiting family and friends would have total privacy and everything they needed on one floor. The entertainment room, which everyone calls the “fun room, has an indoor BBQ, fridge, bar, television, DVD player, bar stools and tables and couches.

©Donna and John Newby

It has been a huge three-year project with many ups and downs, but we are proud of what we have achieved and don’t regret it at all. It has turned out to be a beautiful home and we are so glad we could bring the ‘grand old lady” back to life. We’re not young far from it, and have previously renovated eight homes, but this last one is easily the biggest house and the biggest project we’ve ever taken on.

If we can do it, anyone can. Follow your dreams, nothing is impossible.

The unique mix of legal, financial and tax advice along with in-depth location guides, inspiring real life stories, the best properties on the market, entertaining regular pages and the latest property news and market reports makes French Property News magazine a must-buy publication for anyone serious about buying and owning a property in France.

Lead photo credit : ©Donna and John Newby

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  •  Sue
    2023-08-24 01:58:00
    HI Donna and John So pleased that your shared your story. in French Entree,,. you've done an amazing job ! We're looking at the pros and cons of doing the same thing and would appreciate the chance to talk to you about how it all worked for you. We live in Brisbane and have also renovated a few properties here but doing that in another country is a new level of challenges. Would love to hear from you if you have time. cheers Sue & Myles


  •  Lorraine Walker
    2023-08-23 10:15:18
    Lorraine Walker
    Wow, looks great! We are in our 70´ too and renovating our 5th house in France on a much smaller scale than yours so hats off to you both.


  • John McLean
    2023-08-22 08:40:58
    John McLean
    Inspirational story . Congratulations to you both Donna & John . If we are driving past we will definitely bring you a bottle of champagne and a jar of Vegemite.