Couple who bought crumbling French Château share the major lessons they have learned renovating


When Karina and Craig Waters first purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun, in the south of France, little did they know the full extent to which their work was cut out for them.

But now, nearly five years later, the couple from Perth in Western Australia, find themselves in the midst of a ‘lifelong commitment’ to restoring and renovating the level one historical monument – which dates from the reign of King Louis XV and sits in Ariège, in the Occitanie region.

After sharing the story of the Château, which the couple originally purchased for an estimated $500,000 (£280,000), with FEMAIL last year, Mrs Waters now explains the myriad lessons she and her partner have learned throughout the process of turning their pipe dream into a reality.

The couple recently released a book, sharing the story and photographs of Château de Gudanes – from when foundations were first laid in the 13th century right up to the present day. They also discussed hosting their very first wedding at the Château – and opening their restoration as a working hotel for visitors.

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Karina and Craig Waters first purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun, in the south of France (pictured), back in 2013, knowing they had a major restoration job on their hands

Karina and Craig Waters first purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun, in the south of France (pictured), back in 2013, knowing they had a major restoration job on their hands

Karina and Craig Waters first purchased the sprawling Château de Gudanes in Verdun, in the south of France (pictured), back in 2013, knowing they had a major restoration job on their hands

With no heat or electricity, the couple were only able to view four of the Château's impressive 94 rooms. They have spent the past five years restoring it bit by bit - including rooms that had trees growing on the inside

With no heat or electricity, the couple were only able to view four of the Château's impressive 94 rooms. They have spent the past five years restoring it bit by bit - including rooms that had trees growing on the inside

With no heat or electricity, the couple were only able to view four of the Château’s impressive 94 rooms. They have spent the past five years restoring it bit by bit – including rooms that had trees growing on the inside

Mrs Waters (pictured) explained the myriad lessons she and her partner have learned throughout the process of turning their pipe dream into a reality

Mrs Waters (pictured) explained the myriad lessons she and her partner have learned throughout the process of turning their pipe dream into a reality

They are in the midst of a 'lifelong commitment' to restoring and renovating the level one historical monument

They are in the midst of a 'lifelong commitment' to restoring and renovating the level one historical monument

Mrs Waters (left) now explains the myriad lessons she and her partner Craig (right) have learned throughout the process of turning their pipe dream into a reality

The couple recently released a book, sharing the story and photographs of Château de Gudanes (pictured) - from when foundations were first laid in the 13th century right the way up to the present day

The couple recently released a book, sharing the story and photographs of Château de Gudanes (pictured) - from when foundations were first laid in the 13th century right the way up to the present day

The couple recently released a book, sharing the story and photographs of Château de Gudanes (pictured) – from when foundations were first laid in the 13th century right the way up to the present day

In hindsight, Mrs Waters said she was happy that she and her partner were only able to see four of the 94 rooms - otherwise, she explained, they might not have purchased it for $500,000 and might not have set to work

In hindsight, Mrs Waters said she was happy that she and her partner were only able to see four of the 94 rooms - otherwise, she explained, they might not have purchased it for $500,000 and might not have set to work

In hindsight, Mrs Waters said she was happy that she and her partner were only able to see four of the 94 rooms – otherwise, she explained, they might not have purchased it for $500,000 and might not have set to work

'For our family personally, one of the biggest lessons we've had to learn is that we need to learn to slowly adapt ourselves to the Château, rather than forcibly demand her to adapt to us,' Mrs Waters explained

'For our family personally, one of the biggest lessons we've had to learn is that we need to learn to slowly adapt ourselves to the Château, rather than forcibly demand her to adapt to us,' Mrs Waters explained

They have spent their time renovating bedrooms, bathrooms, staircases and more

They have spent their time renovating bedrooms, bathrooms, staircases and more

‘For our family personally, one of the biggest lessons we’ve had to learn is that we need to learn to slowly adapt ourselves to the Château, rather than forcibly demand her to adapt to us,’ Mrs Waters explained

THE BEGINNING 

Speaking to Daily Mail Australia, Mrs Waters explained that work has been ongoing since they first purchased the Château five years ago. 

‘I remember when we first saw it, we only saw four of the 94 rooms. This was because the floors and ceilings in all of the other rooms had fallen over five levels. There were trees growing inside and on the roof,’ she explained.

In hindsight, Mrs Waters added, ‘this was probably a good thing because had we seen all of it, we potentially wouldn’t have bought it’.

However, she said she and her husband, Craig Waters, felt ready to take on the challenge – snapping up the property that had been on the market for four years for $500,000. 

Since then, they have renovated bedrooms, bathrooms, staircases and the exterior, pouring their hearts and souls into a project that will no doubt take a lifetime.

‘For our family personally, one of the biggest lessons we’ve had to learn is that we need to learn to slowly adapt ourselves to the Château, rather than forcibly demand her to adapt to us,’ Mrs Waters explained.

‘It’s been difficult, but we’ve learned you can’t rush a restoration along. We’ve had to take the time to really understand the Château’s past, and devise the best ideas so that the restoration retains her historical significance.’ 

'We've had to take the time to really understand the Château's past, and devise the best ideas so that the restoration retains her historical significance,' Mrs Waters said of learning the history of the building (pictured)

'We've had to take the time to really understand the Château's past, and devise the best ideas so that the restoration retains her historical significance,' Mrs Waters said of learning the history of the building (pictured)

‘We’ve had to take the time to really understand the Château’s past, and devise the best ideas so that the restoration retains her historical significance,’ Mrs Waters said of learning the history of the building (pictured)

The restoration has not been easy work

The restoration has not been easy work

The couple said you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and get involved with the handiwork if you want to take on a project such as this

The couple said you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and get involved with the handiwork if you want to take on a project such as this

The restoration has not been easy work – the couple said you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and get involved with the handiwork if you want to take on a project such as this (pictured: the interior)

'We've had to learn to be respectful of the culture in France and to embrace the simplicity and peace of living here,' Mrs Waters said - she added that life does not move fast in rural France (pictured: the Château from afar)

'We've had to learn to be respectful of the culture in France and to embrace the simplicity and peace of living here,' Mrs Waters said - she added that life does not move fast in rural France (pictured: the Château from afar)

‘We’ve had to learn to be respectful of the culture in France and to embrace the simplicity and peace of living here,’ Mrs Waters said – she added that life does not move fast in rural France (pictured: the Château from afar)

LESSONS LEARNED 

In the same vein, the couple have also had to adapt themselves to the culture in France.

‘We’ve had to learn to be respectful of the culture in France and to embrace the simplicity and peace of living here,’ Mrs Waters said. ‘Life does not move fast in rural France, and there is a definite serenity in being disconnected from the rush of the rest of the world.’

She said that ‘rather than completing the restoration within a specific timeline, it is important to understand that it is the process which matters, not simply finishing within an allocated amount of time’.

‘The Château is never going to be put back together to resemble exactly how she once was. Instead, the importance in her restoration lies in keeping things as authentic as possible and in retaining her integrity.’

'The Château is never going to be put back together to resemble exactly how she once was. Instead, the importance in her restoration lies in keeping things as authentic as possible and in retaining her integrity' (pictured: one of the rooms)

'The Château is never going to be put back together to resemble exactly how she once was. Instead, the importance in her restoration lies in keeping things as authentic as possible and in retaining her integrity' (pictured: one of the rooms)

‘The Château is never going to be put back together to resemble exactly how she once was. Instead, the importance in her restoration lies in keeping things as authentic as possible and in retaining her integrity’ (pictured: one of the rooms)

What lessons have the Waters family learned while renovating the Château?

1. It’s all about embracing the old, rather than trying to make everything new. The more that you emphasise the old, the more beautiful it will look.

2. When taking on any renovation project, it’s important to take into account how much time you can logistically put into a project. 

3. You need to consider seriously your experience and how willingly and able you are to learn about restoration and general handiwork. You will end up having to do some of this yourself.

4. Take into account the cost and be realistic about the amount of money you are able to invest. These can be enormous, and unless you have rigorous training and qualifications, you will not be able to make all changes yourself and will need to factor in the cost.

MAKING PROGRESS 

When it comes to progress in recent times, Mrs Waters said that this year the couple have been predominantly dealing with the Monuments Historic (MH) of France, a government-led organisation which has to approve all work carried out in historical buildings.

‘We’ve been gathering historical documentation, architectural reports and recording to apply for our next permissions,’ Mrs Waters said.

‘At present, we are looking for permission to re-install an 18th century building at the back of the Château which was torn down in the 1960s. The building would be three storeys and inside we would want to install bathrooms and some smaller single occupancy bedrooms for any staff we might need in the future if it were to open as a hotel.

‘At the moment the Château only has temporary bathrooms, but we are now at the stage where we require long-term ones. Installing bathrooms in a new building would remove the need for altering any of the rooms inside the Château, and for removing anything historically significant from the interior. 

‘It also removes all the difficulties of installing pipes in Renaissance and Medieval stone walls. The building would match the same style and original finish of the Château, in a way that respects its patina and age.’

The couple also recently hosted their first wedding at the Château – the first ‘in over a century’.

‘It was such a special occasion, and while we can’t offer weddings full time right now, we plan to put together a wedding package,’ Mrs Waters said.

When it comes to progress in recent times, Mrs Waters (pictured) said that this year the couple have been predominantly dealing with the Monuments Historic (MH) of France

When it comes to progress in recent times, Mrs Waters (pictured) said that this year the couple have been predominantly dealing with the Monuments Historic (MH) of France

This is a government-led organisation who have to approve all work carried out in historical buildings

This is a government-led organisation who have to approve all work carried out in historical buildings

When it comes to progress in recent times, Mrs Waters (left) said that this year the couple have been predominantly dealing with the Monuments Historic (MH) of France – this is a government-led organisation who have to approve all work carried out in historical buildings

Speaking about their advice for others who take on a restoration project - whether great or small - Mrs Waters said it's all about embracing the old, rather than trying to make it new - the old is what makes it beautiful (pictured: one interior)

Speaking about their advice for others who take on a restoration project - whether great or small - Mrs Waters said it's all about embracing the old, rather than trying to make it new - the old is what makes it beautiful (pictured: one interior)

Speaking about their advice for others who take on a restoration project – whether great or small – Mrs Waters said it’s all about embracing the old, rather than trying to make it new – the old is what makes it beautiful (pictured: one interior)

The spiral staircase (pictured before) was one of the major areas which needed work

The spiral staircase (pictured before) was one of the major areas which needed work

The spiral staircase (pictured after) was one of the major areas which needed work

The spiral staircase (pictured after) was one of the major areas which needed work

The spiral staircase (pictured before and after) was one of the major areas which needed work

She also said that you need to take into account how much time you can logistically put into a project, as well as how much money you are willing to spend

She also said that you need to take into account how much time you can logistically put into a project, as well as how much money you are willing to spend

Costs will often tip over into the pricey side of things

Costs will often tip over into the pricey side of things

She also said that you need to take into account how much time you can logistically put into a project, as well as how much money you are willing to spend – because costs will often tip over into the pricey side of things

RENOVATION ADVICE 

Speaking about their advice for others who take on a restoration project – whether great or small – Mrs Waters said it’s all about embracing the old, rather than trying to make it new.

‘To me, the beauty of many old things lies in their story, patina and age,’ she explained. ‘And the more that you emphasise these things, the more beautiful that something old appears to be. It is important to appreciate what something is not, after many years, not just what it used to be. 

 What is old is beautiful – just in a different way to what we are used to seeing

‘Things don’t need to be new to be beautiful. What is old is beautiful – just in a different way to what we are used to seeing. When you trace your hand along a piece of wall in the Château, you can feel the history within it.’

She also said that you need to take into account how much time you can logistically put into a project.

‘Depending on your situation, whether that be familial, work, financial or otherwise, you may be more or less able to dedicate the amount of time needed,’ she said.

‘You need to consider seriously your experience and how willingly and able you are to learn about restoration and general handiwork. No doubt you be will be doing at least some of the work yourself, even if you don’t think so at the beginning.  

‘And so, you will need to learn new things as you go and will probably need to be able to do physical work and be dedicated in regards to your time.’

Lastly, of course, the cost is a huge factor to consider when taking on any renovations:

‘If you are embarking on a project which requires specialist artisans, consider the costings and be realistic about the amount of money you are able to invest,’ Mrs Waters said.

‘These can be enormous costs, though rightly so. And if your property does require this sort of restoration work then this is something that, unless you have rigorous training and qualifications, you will not be able to do yourself and will need to factor in.’

'You need to consider seriously your experience and how willingly and able you are to learn about restoration and general handiwork,' Mrs Waters said (pictured: the Château exterior)

'You need to consider seriously your experience and how willingly and able you are to learn about restoration and general handiwork,' Mrs Waters said (pictured: the Château exterior)

‘You need to consider seriously your experience and how willingly and able you are to learn about restoration and general handiwork,’ Mrs Waters said (pictured: the Château exterior)

The family say that restoring the Château to its former glory will likely be a 'lifelong commitment'

The family say that restoring the Château to its former glory will likely be a 'lifelong commitment'

But it is one that they are fully wedded to

But it is one that they are fully wedded to

The family say that restoring the Château to its former glory will likely be a ‘lifelong commitment’, but it is one that they are fully wedded to

When it comes to the future, just this week, the Château (picture before) - which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées and was designed by renowned architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the brains behind the Petit Trianon in Versailles - has opened as a working hotel for visitors throughout the summer months

When it comes to the future, just this week, the Château (picture before) - which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées and was designed by renowned architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the brains behind the Petit Trianon in Versailles - has opened as a working hotel for visitors throughout the summer months

The couple also hosted their very first wedding for centuries at the venue (pictured)

The couple also hosted their very first wedding for centuries at the venue (pictured)

When it comes to the future, just this week, the Château (picture before and after) – which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées and was designed by renowned architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the brains behind the Petit Trianon in Versailles – has opened as a working hotel for visitors throughout the summer months

The Waters have also just released the book - which shows 'the love story of Château de Gudanes', which tells the story of the building - which was built between 1741 and 1750 - up until today (pictured)

The Waters have also just released the book - which shows 'the love story of Château de Gudanes', which tells the story of the building - which was built between 1741 and 1750 - up until today (pictured)

The Waters have also just released the book – which shows ‘the love story of Château de Gudanes’, which tells the story of the building – which was built between 1741 and 1750 – up until today (pictured)

'Buying an almost ruined Château which was classified as a level one historical monument in a country where we didn't even speak the language was always going to be challenging,' Mrs Waters concluded of the experience (pictured: the interior)

'Buying an almost ruined Château which was classified as a level one historical monument in a country where we didn't even speak the language was always going to be challenging,' Mrs Waters concluded of the experience (pictured: the interior)

‘Buying an almost ruined Château which was classified as a level one historical monument in a country where we didn’t even speak the language was always going to be challenging,’ Mrs Waters concluded of the experience (pictured: the interior)

FUTURE PLANS

When it comes to the future, just this week, the Château – which overlooks the Midi-Pyrénées  and was designed by renowned architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the brains behind the Petit Trianon in Versailles – has opened as a working hotel for visitors throughout the summer months:

‘During the experience, guests stay at the Château for three, five, seven or 10 nights and enjoy all the wonderful things that France has to offer. The experiences are loosely centred around different things – either restoration, cooking or antiquing,’ Mrs Waters said.

‘In the future, we’d love to open as a fully-working hotel, however at present we don’t have the facilities for this.’

The Waters have also just released the book – which shows ‘the love story of Château de Gudanes’.

It tells the tale of the building which was built between 1741 and 1750, and how it progressed throughout the centuries until the Waters family took control and installed heating and electricity for the first time.

‘Buying an almost ruined Château which was classified as a level one historical monument in a country where we didn’t even speak the language was always going to be challenging,’ Mrs Waters concluded of the experience.

‘But every day counts towards building a dream, and a sustainable future for the Château.’

To find out more about Château de Gudanes, you can visit the website here. You can also join the 287,000 Instagram followers here.



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