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.
Another couple from Berlin turned a school bus into their dream home and went on an adventure of a lifetime they called Expedition: Happiness.
This Couple Turned a School Bus Into Their Dream Home on a Budget
Hailing from Berlin, Germany, Felix Starck and Selima Taibi wanted to leave their ordinary lives behind and do something extraordinary. Felix is a filmmaker and Selima is a musician who creates music under the name Mogli. The young couple was vying to see the world and live life on the road. Together, they imagined a journey through North and South America, living life on the road with the great outdoors all around them.
While some might have viewed them as daydreamers, the couple is anything but. They put their plans into action. Follow their incredible journey that they named Expedition: Happiness.
Ready For The Adventure Of A Lifetime
In order to set out on their journey properly, Felix and Selima decided that a school bus converted into a home would be the best option. That way they would have a means of transportation along with a place to call home while on the road.
While other people might see this type of lifestyle choice as too alternative, the adventurous couple was inspired by the idea. While they were still in Berlin, the search for a school bus in America began.
The Bus Needed A Lot Of Work
Lucky for them, they found a bus that would suit their needs. However, they still had a lot of work ahead of them. The bus wasn’t in the best shape and needed a lot of repairs before they even got started on converting it into something that would be livable.
The couple posted to their shared social media account for the journey: “We got all of the flooring out yesterday, but we found one huge hole in the floor. The bus has a lot of rust, but that’s the problem or the risk when you buy a bus located in Florida while in Germany.”
But they weren’t deterred, and instead got to work.
They Wanted To DIY
Yep, Felix and Selima were planning on doing the repairs and the conversion themselves! Once they arrived in America, getting the bus ready for the journey was their main focus. Selima got to work getting the stickers off the bus while Felix organized reworking the flooring.
Since the school bus wasn’t designed for someone to live in, there were quite a few adjustments that they needed to make, including adding insulation, as the couple planned on traveling to the snow. “Pumped to get some sub-flooring and insulation in today!” they posted.
Getting Rid Of The Rust Was Their First Priority
The couple purchased the school bus (by itself) for $9,500 USD. They had found it online and bought it before booking their flights to America. Although they were disappointed in the amount of rust and holes that they found throughout, they knew they had to keep a positive mindset and tackle the project head-on.
Felix posted, “We found more rust yesterday. We’re gonna fix the holes by screwing in some metal sheets but before we have to get rid of the rust.”
So which one of them knew how to do that?
They Found A Mentor
As it turns out, the couple was wildly optimistic but neither had the carpentry background or skills necessary to tackle something like getting rid of rust and repairing flooring. Luckily they connected with a nearby couple in North Carolina, who offered their advice.
The couple had converted a school bus themselves and were able to pass down their knowledge to Felix and Selima as they tackled the build. Once they got the tools in their hands, however, it seemed that they were naturals! Felix humbly bragged, “Mogli just built us a bed… no big deal I guess!’
The couple wasn’t going on their adventure alone…
Rudi Makes Three
He may not have helped with the school bus build, but Rudi the Bernese Mountain Dog was ready to join the couple on their epic journey. Good thing they bought a school bus instead of a tiny home, because this pup takes up some space!
Felix and Selima were excited to take Rudi along for the ride, and show him what snow is all about! They also told their followers that Rudi was a source of inspiration for them and added to the excitement of their upcoming trip.
They Started With The Kitchen
Once the frame of the bed was built, they began to build out the kitchen. The school bus offered a unique floor plan; long and narrow, and they needed to carefully plan out every inch to be utilized in a meaningful way.
In tiny spaces like their bus, it’s of utmost importance that everything is designed for functionality and to make the best use of the space. Once the cabinets were installed, they felt pretty good about the pace of their build.
They Made The Bathroom Feel Bigger
As the kitchen came along, so did the bathroom. Felix posted photos of Selima crouched down in the tiny designated space with the caption, “painting our teensy tiny toilet.” They realized that the bathroom is much tighter than one you would find in the average home, so they improvised.
Selima painted the space white, to make it appear bigger and set handmade tiles to make it feel like more like home. Throughout the process, the couple remained optimistic and cheered each other on, keeping spirits high.
A Fresh Coat Of Paint
Once the interior of the bus started coming along, it was time for the exterior to get a face lift. Although the adventurous couple believed a school bus would make the best home for them, they didn’t want it to be mistaken for a bus that takes kids to school.
Felix and Selima decided to paint the exterior white. But… “Gray! It turned out gray!” Felix shared with their followers. They weren’t too worried about it though, and kept painting anyway. “Black parts will be cream,” Felix decided.
Soon, the interior was complete!
The Office-Kitchen Galley
Things were taking shape and the bus was no longer recognizable as the bright yellow school bus it once was. Now, it was a home. When designing the floorplan for their bus, Felix and Selima chose to stretch a counter along each wall.
On one side would be the kitchen, with plenty of counter for food prep. On the other side would be enough space for each of them to have a desk. This was important not only for Felix to edit film and Selima to work on her music, but to update their social media with content from their journey.
The Bedroom Is In The Back
Another area that was important when designing the floor plan was of course, the bedroom. The couple wisely decided to stick this room in the back of the bus, where it could be quiet, private, and removed from the rest.
And take a look at the bed Selima built! You wouldn’t even believe that the couple had no previous experience building furniture, as the entire space has clean lines and beautiful design.
You may be wondering how they power this thing!
Storage And Power
With so many lights and appliances on board, you might be wondering how the couple powers their home on wheels. Felix gave their followers a peek at the back of the bus, where they have their powering station. From here, they have the option of plugging the bus into the grid to get energy.
Whenever they can though, they pull electricity from the solar panels installed on the roof of the bus. This helps keep their costs down while traveling since that bus has got to be a gas guzzler!
Rudi Has His Space, Too
Felix and Selima have their bed comfortably set up in the back of the bus, but what about Rudi the Bernese dog? Of course, he got his own space, too. In fact, the bus allowed enough room for a big doggie bed up in the front of the bus.
This way he can be right where the action is as they hit the road. He also has a custom elevated table for his doggie bowls. Living the doggie dream.
When converting the school bus into a livable space, the couple paid close attention to detail in how they would store all of their belongings. It was important that they had enough space for their clothing, as well as all of their gear.
They designed the couches deep enough to afford a good amount of storage space underneath and stashed their equipment in the rear of the bus, like Selima’s music equipment. This also helped keep the bus clutter-free.
Time For Interior Design
Once the bus was built out with everything they needed (can you believe how nice it looks?!) they were able to outfit it with more elements that would make it feel like home. With both halves of the couple being artistic, they let their creativity flow.
They decided to hang a graphic on the wall stating, “live simply.” However, it’s hard to agree that anything about this couple’s journey is simple. They put a lot of hard work into creating the lifestyle they wanted.
There’s only one thing left to do…
Ready To Hit The Road
After they accomplished the huge feat of purchasing and converting a school bus into a home on wheels, the young couple was ready to hit the road and see the Americas!
They shared, “After 12 weeks of daily failure we are quite done with the conversion and now we are ready to take our beauty all the way down to South America.” While they were inspired to see everything on their checklist, from Alaska to Argentina, they also kept things in check. They continued, “If we make it that far- I have no idea, probably not! Are we going to have a great time? For sure!”
Expedition: Happiness Is A Go
Elated to finally hit the road, they named their journey “Expedition Happiness.” They had already amassed a following on social media during their school bus build, and would garner even more followers while they set-out on a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
They decided that their maiden voyage would be to Canada. Felix and Selima had their sights set on seeing some big mountains. Little did their dog Rudi know what was in store when they reached their destination!
Would they make it?
First Stop: Banff National Park, Canada
The couple and their beloved dog hit the road and safely made it to their first destination: Banff National Park. The park is known as one of the greatest monuments of nature in North America, and they knew they absolutely had to experience it firsthand.
Once they arrived, Felix posted, “Banff National Park we love you!!! Mowgli is enjoying the sun and me and Rudi go for a hike.” The couple was settling into their life on the road just fine.
Rudi Is Living A Dog’s Dream
Just look at that face! Upon arriving, Rudi saw snow for the first time and his reaction is priceless. Without any development in sight, in the thick of nature, Rudi was able to run free and live a dog’s dream life.
How lucky is he to have his favorite humans by his side as they travel to the greatest destinations in North America? The Bernese mountain dog was truly in his element in Canada.
Next stop: Alaska!
Death Valley, California
These young explorers weren’t set out just for the snow. After Alaska they journeyed south, through the forests of the pacific north west and along the beaches of California. Then, they cut inland, to Death Valley. While the couple was amazed with the drastic difference from snowy peaks, their pup wasn’t acclimating well to the heat.
Luckily, it sounds like his condition began to improve over time. They described their experience: “Death Valley was one of the most impressive places on this trip (so far.) Rudi feels way better by now and kinda gets used to the heat.”