When James and Lauren Crease decided to leave their corporate jobs and absent themselves from the rat-race, France was their destination.
The country held a special significance for them as they had spent their first holiday together there and both had happy childhood memories of family holidays.
So in 2018, they packed up their 18-month-old son Oscar and headed off for a week to find their dream home-cum-business. They saw 40 houses and it wasn’t until the last day that they were shown a country house which was just out of their budget.
“We knew as we were coming up the drive that this was the one,” says Lauren. “It was just stunning. It’s an 18th-century property with a pool, orchard, outbuildings in 1.5 hectares of beautiful landscape. We fell in love with it. But it needed a lot of work. It was pretty grim.”
By Oscar’s second birthday, Manoir Beaulieu, which means beautiful place, had been purchased. The Creases were officially living the French dream in the Salles-Lavalette village nestled peacefully in the Charente/Dordogne border, in the South West of France.
A popular UK daytime renovation TV programme has charted the family’s progress from the beginning and the show will air in January.
But much has happened since – Lauren fell pregnant with their second child, Eli, and the Covid pandemic wiped out summer bookings from the UK.
At seven months pregnant, I was sanding ceilings
“We couldn’t believe it,” says Lauren. “Our families came over to help us gut the place and landscape the outside and we were ready for a great summer. At seven months pregnant, I was sanding ceilings, making bed headboards and James was working all the hours and, of course, we had a two-year-old to look after too. It was stressful to say the least.”
But all was not lost, baby Eli was born bouncy and healthy in a local hospital and the French decided that staycations were the way forward. Suddenly the French dream was rescued from becoming a potential nightmare and Manoir Beaulieu was filled with locals instead of English guests. The Creases heaved a sigh of relief.
Adversity often leads to creativity and the couple have been putting their minds to ventures to aid the future success of the five-bedroom house rental.
“We found hundreds of French comics in the attic from the 60s, 70s and 80s. We’re going to frame and sell them as pictures,” says James.
“And I’m going to be making more upholstered headboards to sell,” says Lauren.
The manor has a contemporary feel with funky furnishings, but special attention has been focused on classic French style, like the 15th century floorboards taken from the bow of an old ship. Much of the furniture has been bought from local antique shops.
The family lives on the estate in one of the outbuildings away from the main house, which sleeps up to 14. It makes for the perfect wedding venue and accommodation with the barn and courtyard available for dining and a games room and cinema screen for entertainment.
James, who comes from a family of delicatessen owners, is an accomplished cook and has ideas for “Dough, Smoke and Fire” three-night weekend retreats for food lovers involving pizza-making, meat smoking and high-end barbecues.
The nearby village of Salles-Lavalette has everything one would expect from a quaint French village – a bistro, bar, boulangerie, produce market and annual village fetes a-plenty.
Lauren and James have one British wedding booked for next year and hope lockdown restrictions will have been lifted to help them achieve all that they’ve tried so hard to achieve.
Meanwhile, little Oscar has started school – they start at three in France – and is learning the lingo faster than mum and dad.
“We think it’s wonderful that our children will be brought up bilingual,” says Lauren. “James and I are getting better all the time. We’re picking it up as we go along. I can talk to Oscar’s teacher and James can now find his way around the hardware store and ask for nails,” she laughs.
The Best Life Project sends ‘bon chance!’ wishes to the Crease family.
For more info visit the Manoir Beaulieu website