(CNN) – After spending several years renovating a near-completion California home with his wife, the last thing graphic designer Mark Joffe could think of was embarking on another major project.
But curiosity gripped him when a blog about the renovation of a ruined castle in France appeared on his computer screen, and he began reading it with interest.
Before he knew it, he was researching the cost of the mansion and determining how quickly they could sell it and move to Europe.
While some may need some time to consider the prospect of buying a large neglected property and migrating to a foreign country, Goff’s husband, computer engineer Philip Engel, did not take much to convince.
“He was on a phone call,” Goff told CNN Travel. “I turned my screen and uttered the words: Do you want to buy a castle in the south of France, restore it and make it a small hotel or place of recreation?”
A few seconds after clicking on the images on Goff’s screen, Engel gave him a thumbs up.
The date of purchase
Marc Joffe and Philip Engel are proud owners of Château Avensac, located in the French village of Avensac.
“He’s back on his conference call, and I started looking at plane tickets,” Goff adds.
Once the decision was made, it was a small task to complete the business on their home in California, put it on the market, sell it, find a suitable mansion, and begin the process of moving to a foreign one. to relocate.
Before embarking on the adventure, the couple undertook two “discovery” trips to France and visited French mansions on the market to see what was available to them.
However, it will take a few years to get their affairs in order, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further delayed their action.
Goff and Engel obtained a visa at the end of 2020, just four years after the “life-changing movie” and they moved to southern France in December while the country was under barrage.
When things reopened, they were able to view and concentrate the estates in their search around Gires, a rural area in the southwest of France.
Unfortunately, their original choice failed, but they soon found a listed historic mansion in the small town of Avensak, with a population of less than 50, ticking off all the correct blocks.
“We fell in love with it,” says Goff. “The palace itself is incredible. The position he is in is incredible. “
“Masters of the Palace”
The mansion has about 48 bedrooms, as well as a billiard room, library and wine tea.
After making a show in March, they became “Masters of the Palace” in September 2021.
Chateau Avinsac, which has an area of about 1,200 square meters, with just under 3 acres of land, returned nearly $ 1.2 million, including taxes. The bond they signed dates back about 700 years.
According to Goff, the previous owners were three brothers who inherited the property from their father, a French count.
“They grew up in that house, so letting it go was very difficult,” he explains.
Although the palace was apparently built in the early 19th century, it was actually built on the site of an older palace dating from the 14th century. It has about 48 bedrooms, as well as a billiards room and library.
“It’s a manageable volume,” says Goff. “I mean, it’s big. But it’s a manageable size. I saw castles with 90 to 120 rooms. ”
While considering themselves “ground zero”, Goff and Engel have big plans for the property, which require a lot of work.
None of them have a wonderful hospitality experience, but they certainly do not lack ideas.
“We do not just want a small hotel where people come to spend the night,” says Goff. “Our goal is to create opportunities where you come to the palace, you stay for a week, and you do things.
Goff and Engel plan to convert the property into a boutique hotel and entertainment space.
“Such things as cooking, drawing knitting, cycling, canal sailing, even creative writing,” he adds.
“Every week it will be centered around some focus. It’s all about creating that imagination and experience. Imagination is the most important part. ”
They believe that the property will be an ideal wedding venue, and they are eager to host weddings in the future.
“Our target, of course, will be the Americans, because that’s what we know,” Goff added, adding that they were eager to get out of their comfort zone in time.
Although it will take a lot of hard work to change the mansion, the couple says they are committed to preserving the essence of the place.
“We are professionals in restoration, not renovation,” Goff explains. “So we keep all the details out there.
“This is part of what attracted us to the property. There was no tampering with it. The environment is very cool. We do not need to add anything. We are just recreating what was already there. ”
Although the castle is “definitely located in the countryside”, it is relatively easy to reach, with Toulouse-Blagnac International Airport being about a 45 minute drive away.
When they arrived during the epidemic and rented a house outside the town during the purchase, Goff and Engel did not get a long chance to meet the locals.
The couple say they plan to do most of the “core work” themselves.
“At one point, I suspected there was a message coming out that the mansion had been sold, and those Americans had come in,” Engel says.
Eager to make a good impression, they invited their new neighbors to celebrate the day they signed the contracts.
We opened the doors and said, ‘Come in.’ People were like “Really?” We told them to walk around and have fun, ”says Goff.
They were delighted when several locals showed up and started exploring the site.
“The previous owners were very private,” Engel explains. “So some of them [the villagers] They have lived in the town all their lives and have never entered it. ”
Goff and Engel have since hosted a Halloween party for the whole town, and they say they want the locals to feel included in the mansion experience.
“This is, of course, our home,” says Engel. “But it somehow also belongs in the community.”
But not all parties and holidays were for the couple, there was plenty to enjoy.
While planning to do most of the “basic work” on the mansion itself, Goff and Engel bring in artisans to handle the infrastructure aspect of things.
“We’re trying to find a way to present ourselves a little bit differently on YouTube, and to entertain people more,” Goff explains. “We do not want to talk to the chiefs.”
One of the tasks they focused on was adding en-suite bathrooms to the bedrooms.
They are currently working through their plans with an interior designer, describing their style as “traditional with a bit of a surprise.”
Mark and Philip make the most of life in the countryside of France and say they are welcomed by the locals.
“All the bathrooms are designed to be very classic, because there was no bath (when the palace was built),” says Goff.
Some of the accessories they were looking at were modeled after the first photos of the Waldorf Astoria New York.
Goff and Engel finally plan to install air conditioners in the bedrooms. Its proposal, however, raised eyebrows in their village.
“Here’s a feeling that you do not need air conditioning,” says Engel. “I mentioned it to the previous owner and she just looked at me strangely. But we expect a lot from Americans, and they expect certain things. “
Currently, they are opened by holding the shutters open just a few inches during the day in the summer and opening in the evening, which is apparently a typical approach to the palaeontological life in France.
Although they have a very specific design vision, Goff and Engel acknowledge that their budget may not stretch as much as they expected.
“The business was much more expensive than we thought it would be,” Goff says, explaining that he and Engel use the money left over from selling their California home to pay for renovations.
“If we were sensitive, we might have bought a palace a little cheaper,” Engel adds.
“And then we had enough money to really do the proper renovation. But we are not sensitive, so we had to go the other way. “
This ‘other path’ involved stopping many projects until funds were available to complete them.
Goff and Engel hope they can open some rooms in the mansion next year.
Some of the plans they had to postpone were to transform their wine tea and outdoor wine storage area into a “large dining-entertainment space with stage and stage lighting.”
“It will be a wonderful addition. Because then we can get big things indoors and late at night without disturbing anyone, ”Goffs remarks.
They found it difficult to book at a construction site as contractors in the area have been thinned out since the pandemic and are simply too busy to join.
“It’s a big project,” says Engel. “Some electric cars date from the 1930s”.
It is understandable that the language barrier was also challenging. While they both speak a little French, it was somewhat difficult to have full conversations with the French contractors, which slowed things down a bit.
But while the renovation was not as easy as they would have liked, the couple are confident that by next year they will be in a position to open a few rooms.
“Hopefully we will have something going on for 2023 to start generating a meager income to continue the support going forward,” Goff explains. “We want to do some trial opportunities to get our feet on the ground.”
For now, Geoff and Engel make the most of life in the mansion and say every day is an adventure for them.
“This is the part we like,” says Engel. “He she [the chateau] It’s a bit glued but livable, and we made it through the winter with limited heating. “
While looking forward to finally welcoming guests to Chateau Avensac, they enjoy having a place to themselves as well as slowly but surely seeing the fruits of their labor.
“It’s exciting and fun,” says Goff. “We are definitely in the honeymoon phase.”