Erin Choa and Jean-Baptiste Gois began their engagement as a doctor and engineer in Edinburgh, Scotland. They could have remained in that city with their stable jobs, but instead, they poured their entire future into a 600-year-old French chateau.
Their decision would sacrifice both of their savings and devote all seven days a week to restoring an ancient building. They explored clogged drains and Renaissance artifacts, with work and rewards they never anticipated. Do you find this leap of faith senseless, or adventurous? Explore the couple’s journey into a risky endeavor that most people aren’t brave enough to make.
Why would they leave their current life? Learn how the couple ended up repainting ancient doors.
Welcome To JB And Erin’s Fairytale
In 2010, London native Erin Choa studied abroad in Edinburgh, Scotland. There, she met mechanical engineer Jean-Baptiste Gois, nicknamed JB. He had left his home country of France to study in Edinburgh and remained there for nine years.
This chance meeting resulting in both of them falling in love and getting engaged. Once Erin finished schooling, the two searched for their new home together. The couple decided to move to JB’s home country, although this would create a struggle for Erin.
Grappling With Language And Employment
Before they moved to France, Erin worked as a doctor in Edinburgh. Although she wanted to cross the border with JB, she worried that her French hadn’t advanced enough to practice medicine in the country. The couple put their heads together and brainstormed a different career path for Erin.
Both Erin and JB loved history and historical buildings. They concluded that Erin’s native English could come in handy in informing tourists, and then the light bulb flicked on. They could rent out historical buildings to vacationing tourists!
Their Riskiest Idea Ever
Although the couple adored the idea of running a historical site, neither had the degree or experience to do so. To buy a property that big, they would have to drain their entire savings, and likely take out loans. They would also have to renovate the entire building by hand.
This idea was a far cry from their scientific careers, which cost thousands of Euro to gain a degree for. So was it worth it for the couple to confidently switch gears and tackle a new lifestyle?
…Or Was It?
Erin and JB didn’t consider moving to France blindly. They compared the price of renovating a French building to remaining in their Edinburgh chateau. As it turns out, their current home ended up costing more long-term.
Even a one-bedroom apartment in Edinburgh, or Erin’s hometown of London, was notoriously expensive. The cost of their current apartment was only a little cheaper than purchasing a historic building in France. They wanted to move anyway, so why not take the leap?
Their move would turn out harder–and more expensive–than the couple expected.
How On Earth Can They Get A Historical Building?
As the couple packed up their home, they began hunting for the historical building of their dreams. They researched French real estate properties with a determination to land a historical property. These buildings go on sale more often than most people realize.
Erin and JB traveled to France to tour over 10 ancient mansions and chateaus. Many of them had unsafe structures, or simply cost too much. Fortunately, their persistence would pay off when they found the perfect match.
The Chateau De Bourneau
Tucked away in a forest near Venée sits the elegant Chateau de Bourneau. This exquisite mansion came with classic stone walls, turreted pillars, and even a medieval moat. Although it appeared much older, it had been reconstructed in 1863, making it much more manageable with the less structurally sound options.
Despite its more recent renovations, the chateau dates back over five centuries. The entire property spanned 16 hectares, or 40 acres. Erin and JB called the property “a complete coup de foudre,” or “love at first sight.”
No Turning Back Now
Erin and JB paid 680,000 Euro for the Chateau, or about $765,000. They drained all their savings and took out a bank loan to cover the costs. Although the property had functioning heating, plumbing, and water, its refrigerators still didn’t work, and the moat was leaking.
The couple had years of work and finances ahead of them to repair the historic building. But renovating the property on a limited budget put them in great risk. Could they pull it off?
The amount of repairs required in the chateau may surprise you.
Revamping The Crumbling Mansion
The inside of the chateau appeared much more decrepit than the outside. Both Erin and JB worked 14-hour days to restore the Chateau de Bourneau. They sweated and huffed over every inch of the building’s 10,000 square feet, which hadn’t been glossed over since 1971.
As Erin explored the market for historical homes, she said that she wanted “a property capable of supporting the two of us full-time.” They now owned one, but it took a lot more work than either of them expected.
Even The Smallest Details Required Repairs
The stairs and doors peeled, the paint crumbled, and window frames rotted. On top of that, the previous owners made modern changes which the couple wished to revert. In the south corridor, brown ’70s-style wallpaper covered the original stone walls, which the couple tore down.
In the back rooms of the kitchen, the couple uncovered several metal fittings that fell off the Chateau over the years. They reinstalled them into the doors and windows they dropped from, but not before chipping them and sanding them off. This is just one example of the numerous projects the couple had to take on.
Uh-Oh. The Moat’s Still Leaking
The moat’s waters caused damage by leaking into the cellars. According to Erin, drains clogged up, and cracks in the building caused water damage and garden damage from the leaking. The couple had to row through the moat to correct the damage.
Erin and JB tackled the moat early, to prevent future damage to the interior and gardens. In their research, they uncovered rumors that secret tunnels exist beneath the moat, although Erin admits that they haven’t found any yet.
And yet, beyond all this, the Chateau was still their home.
How Do They Live There?
“We are lucky that when we arrived, there was already basic but functional living conditions and running water, bathroom facilities, and heating,” Erin said. The couple lived in a small apartment within the castle and planned to rent out the rest.
Although they lived in France’s sunniest region, they still needed heat. Warming a 1,000-square-foot property with 13 ft ceilings sucked up money that the couple didn’t have. As a result, Erin and JB only heat the chateau to minimum temperature and often cut firewood to heat rooms.
The Castle Sheltered People For Six Hundred Years
In 1464, Dame de Bourneau Jacquette de la Ramée received permission from King Louis XI to build a chateau. During the French Revolution, the family fled the building, and it fell into ruin. The only remnants from that era include the four turrets and ancient moat.
Edmond Möller renovated the chateau in 1863 to mirror the French Première Renaissance we see today. In the 1960s, it was bought by the Foundation Maechel de Lattre to house 528 Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laos refugees. The organization erected stables and granges which still stand today.
JB and Erin didn’t just refurnish the home; they had to peer back in history…
Restoring Its Historic Architecture
Owners throughout the twentieth century added their own decorative touch to the chateau, including smurf-blue doors and modern furniture. But this wasn’t the look that Erin and JB wanted. They sanded and repainted all the doors and walls to highlight the building’s history.
The two also discovered paint damage on the bridge. Before renovating it, they looked up photographs of the property from 1908, before the previous owners decorated it. They then repainted the bridge from green to white, to maintain its historical design.
A More Calculated Method Of Buying Furniture
While JB and Erin searched for more furniture, they aimed for timely pieces that would compliment the rest of the castle’s Renaissance look. This process proved to be a lot of fun for the couple.
They ordered nineteenth-century antique chairs, made in the same era as the chateau. They also discovered giant matching urns at a home garden store for just $80. Although the antique value lowered the cost, the couple soon saw their remaining funds depleting.
Things became a lot more complicated once guests began staying there.
They’re Low On Funds. Now What?
As Erin and JB moved their new furniture into cleaned-up rooms, their dream home began to take shape. They hadn’t finished renovations yet, but they needed more funds to do so. Excitedly, the couple opened their doors to guests who enter the castle grounds for events, weddings, and vacations.
Gradually, guests flooded into the breathtaking chateau. The tourists enjoyed themselves as thoroughly as they could, often staying in the outside cottages, each with their own pool. Meanwhile, the couple used their newly gained funds to renovate the building further.
Caring For Their Guests
Since JB didn’t look like a typical chateau owner, he would often joke that guests would ask him where the owner was. Regardless, the couple took good care of their guests. The tourists burned firewood that Erin chopped.
Although the kitchen was still in disarray, with a non-functioning fridge, the two got creative in offering breakfasts for their guests. They set tables outside for romantic sunset dinners. The cottages housed a max of 42 people, giving Erin and JB more money to improve guests’ experience.
Discovering The Biggest Surprises Of All
As the couple continued digging through the castle, they unearthed historic artifacts that brightened their journey. Erin calls these trinkets a “time capsule” that makes their rehab all the more brilliant.
They dug up old books, and a rusty set of keys to the castle’s original library. Deep inside the attic, a dressing table sat untouched until the couple brought it downstairs into the light of day. Vintage French doors with keys still inside them also lined the attic.
How They Maintained Their Lifelong Project
Six months in, the couple still worked seven days a week to repair the historic building. By this time, they had finished the honeymoon suite and adjoining solarium to rent out to guests. “So far, we have concentrated on catching up with maintenance that has not been done here for the last 30 years, Erin told MailOnline.
The two constantly juggle tending to guests with restoring the Chateau de Bourneau. “It’s a lifetime project for us, so there is no final figure,” Erin added. “But we renovate little by little, as funds enable.”
Fortunately for the couple, they’re not alone in their journey.
News Spread Faster Than Expected
The United Kingdom’s Channel 4 series Escape to the Chateau caught wind of Erin and JB’s project. The show’s hosts, Dick Strawbridge and Angel Adoree are a married couple who renovate a French chateau of their own.
The two couples met at the Strawbridge chateau, where Erin received solid advice and stories of similar experiences. The show appearance brought Erin and JB a new influx of customers, and several other news articles would follow.
The Chateau Today
Today, the Chateau de Bourneau is open for business. Erin and JB split the funds from guests for both themselves and reconstructing the historical site. The building has its own website and Instagram, the latter of which has garnered thousands of followers. You can follow Erin and JB’s story on the show Escape to the Chateau.
“Initially, we did not consider buying a castle at all,” JB revealed in an interview. “The idea came to us as we went along.” It was an idea that outlined the rest of their lives and future happiness.