The French House: An American Family, a Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All

The French House: An American Family, a Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All

by Don Wallace
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The French House: An American Family, a Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All by Don Wallace

"On a tiny French island, a couple of American dreamers redefine their lives by restoring a ruin...The French House moves to a soulful, very funny rhythm all its own."-Meryl Streep

Don and Mindy Wallace have always been Francophiles, so when they had the opportunity to buy a home on a small French island off the coast of Brittany, they jumped-sight unseen-into a crumbling mess that challenged their finances and their family.

But when the Wallaces arrived on the island they found a building in ruin, and it wasn't long before their lives resembled it. Plagued by emergency repairs, a stock market crash, and very exasperated French neighbors, Don and Mindy could have accepted their fate. Instead, they embraced it.

Redolent with the beauty and flavors of French country life, The French House is a lively, inspiring, and irresistibly charming memoir. Fans of Under the Tuscan Sun (Frances Mayes), Paris in Love (Eloisa James), and A Year in Provence (Peter Mayle) will be enchanted by this account of a family that rises from the rubble, wins the hearts of a historic village, and finally finds the home they've been seeking off the wild coast of France.

What readers are saying about The French House

"The French House is engaging and well-written and will make even non-Francophiles yearn for a trip to France."

"With hauntingly beautiful descriptions of a tiny French island and its inhabitants, this book will take you to a different place, and might even inspire you to reconsider your life and finally follow your dreams where you and your family can become whole."

"...charming and witty — full of hope and despair about this crumbling structure they chose to inhabit and make a home."

"I was captivated from the outset and felt like I was on their island living it all with them. A great read!"

What reviewers are saying about The French House

"Don Wallace has crafted a delicious French bonbon of a book...full of humor, hope, and lessons on how to live a life full of meaning."-Dani Shapiro, bestselling author of Devotion and Still Writing

"Village life vignettes, the sensual celebration of island pleasures, eccentric neighbors, cuisine, beach life, natural history-readers will find a smattering of all that in these pages, but it's the story below, like the unshakeable foundations of the house itself, that makes this such a satisfying read."-Rain Taxi Review

"The French House is a darling book that mixes local history, memoir, quirky characters, architectural challenges (what will the village elders do if they add windows to the second floor?) and humor...It was a lovely adventure and perfect for a summer read."-Under a Gray Sky

"The French House is a detailed, delightful memoir of their journey to restore a dilapidated abode into a beckoning sanctuary in an idyllic coast French countryside.. I have thoroughly been devouring it, and I think you will too."-The Simply Luxurious Life

"Author Don Wallace shares the heartwarming story about his family's 30-year journey to restore a ruined cottage on the tiny French island of Belle Ile off the coast of Brittany... readers are privy to the charming true story of a family's journey to create the perfect home away from home."—E! News

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781402293313
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 06/03/2014
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 420,377
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Don Wallace was born in Long Beach, California and has spent most of his life as a journalist and editor in New York City and Honolulu-that is, when not in France. He is the author of four books including the novel Hot Water and One Great Game: Two Teams, Two Dreams, in the First-Ever High School Football National Championship Game. His essays, articles and fiction have appeared in such various publications as Harper's, The New York Times, SELF, Fast Company, Wine Spectator and Naval History. You can visit for updates on Belle Ile-en-Mer.

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The French House: An American Family, a Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is a really good summer book to read. It takes you away to another life style and a look into the life of the author and wife. I enjoyed every word and the pictures. I even went to the Blog
MariaD1 More than 1 year ago
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher as a part of a book tour in exchange for a fair and honest review and rated the book 4 out of 5 stars. Want to visit France? If like me you want to visit, but it’s not in your budget, picking up a copy of Don Wallace’s The French House will temporarily scratch your itch. Filled with memories, anecdotes and his love for the villagers he has come to know, Mr. Wallace’s book gives us insight into the Gallic approach to life. An approach I find very appealing. While most people wouldn’t purchase a home in a foreign country sight unseen, Don and Mindy Wallace, two free-spirited New Yorkers did just that. Moving their family to France, the Wallace’s find themselves neck deep with necessary repairs and renovations on a “ruin”, cash flow problems and interesting neighbors. Falling in love with a different way of life, and staying strong despite the challenges, they slowly transform their “ruin” into a home over several decades. While Mr. Wallace provides plenty of amusing home repair situations, it’s the relationship his family forges with the local villagers on the island of Belle Ile that really make his story standout. Filled with descriptions of the French countryside, comparisons between life in America, mainland France and Belle Ile, along with discussions about the French food, made me long to become a guest in their home. Especially when told in Mr. Wallace’s easy to follow style.  Reminding us that not everything in life has to be done in a “rush”, the Wallace’s worked tirelessly to change their lives. And embraced what life brought them. While there were some sections that moved a little bit slowly, overall this is an enjoyable book and one I’m very happy I had the opportunity to read. While I may never get to visit France, I do feel as if I’ve gotten to know the French philosophy towards life a little bit better just by reading The French House.
wordsandpeace More than 1 year ago
Follow your dreams! One of the characteristics of our modern world is that one no longer remains in one’s job for life. To survive, one often needs to reinvent oneself, and often in lands quite far away from where one was born. Don Wallace and his wife Mindy are thus typical people of their time. Struggling as a young couple with their jobs and their own identity, they decided to travel in Europe and see if life would be better out there. Things did not seem to be much brighter than in New York for these two aspiring authors, but at least in Greece they had tasted a bit of island life and they had liked it. So when a friend invited them to spend some time to recuperate on a tiny island off the Brittany French coast, they went. From now on, forget about your typical modern couple! When they discovered a house was for sale on this island of Belle Ile, they decided to buy it. The problem was, it looked more like a ruin than a house. Any typical people would probably have chosen security. But the Wallaces decided to follow their dream, their memory of their time there, and they risked everything to achieve their dream. It actually took years for them to be able to finance enough restoration to be able to spend at least one night in their dream house! I was really amazed by their courage and their tenacity, further more challenged by the notorious slowness of French repair men and workers. Besides, at first they were not even supported by friends and family who thought they were really nuts and totally irresponsible. So the book is about their adventure, and how they coped all along, with a new born on top and family hardships. But it is also so much more. First, the book opens in a great way with top 10 facts and Instructions giving some basic information on the house and that famous island. With Don, you little by little discover the beauty of the island and its inhabitants, with their unique mentality and culture. There are amazing descriptions, so hauntingly beautiful that they really make you feel the place and you simply want to be there NOW. Chapter 8 has fascinating pages on the history of Belle Ile, and how it managed to preserve its beauty and style, unmarred by what usually comes with tourism business. The book can be hilarious at time, but at the same time always imbued with great love for the place and the local people. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the author made reference on p. 322 to Pierre-Jakez Hélias (1914-1995) and his famous Le cheval d’orgueil (1975), a memoir of Breton country life that we enjoyed a lot at home, even though we had no Breton roots at all. VERDICT: With hauntingly beautiful descriptions of a tiny French island and its inhabitants, this book will take you to a different place, and might even inspire you to reconsider your life and finally follow your dreams where you and your family can become whole.
smg5775 9 months ago
Mindy and Don buy a house on Belle Ile, off the coast of Brittany, that needs to be repaired. Their families are not happy about it but they persevere. Life happens but the thought of the house and their chance to be there helps get them through the downs of life in America. I enjoyed this book. I liked how we get a glimpse of life in the US for them (sometimes you have to read between the lines to know what has happened.) The thought of the house and the repair work being done gives them the strength to move past the disappointments of familial disapproval, job loss, and economic downturns. I love how they bring surfing to Belle Ile. I also like how they fit in as well as the thoughts they have when they think more like Americans than Bellilois while on the island. I loved the letter to the people who stay in their home when they are back in the US. It is great. I would love to have a dream like they did and to execute it. Loved this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Brutally honest, clear eyed look at not only how they ended up with a house, hovel, well, really, stone walls and a marginal roof, on an island in northern France. This is nothing like A Year in all. This it more the story of what happens when you cannot, will not let go even when what you want makes no sense, and makes you suffer for years. I really enjoyed it. The story line bounces about a bit, but it is told well, it is told in such a way that you can see and feel the dream, you see why they camped out as they did, scrimped and saved, tried so hard and are pleased when they get a floor, yes, victory in this book is a floor and safe stairs. I am so happy they have their French home. And I am glad Don shared how they came about having it, the people and loves and losses they endured to get to that great place they are now. I hope all continues to go well for them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reviewingismyforte More than 1 year ago
Don Wallace and his wife, Mindy, are both fluent and flexible writers, with their son, Rory, (who appears on the scene slightly later) having clearly inherited their linguistic skills. When they decide to purchase a dilapidated old house in the village of Kerbordardoué, on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer (haunt, in the past, of such celebrities as Sarah Bernhardt, and of her lover, the Prince of Wales, as well as of the writer Marcel Proust) just off the Breton coast, they little realize what they have let themselves in for. With the entire expanse of the Atlantic Ocean separating them from their home in a tiny apartment in New York, their family (and sometimes even they themselves) doubt their motives, and, at times, even their sanity, as they set about restoring the maison that, ultimately, comes to take over their entire lives, it seems.  The challenges that they encounter emanate not only from their generally straitened financial resources, but also from a certain amount of antagonism that they experience in the village itself. There is a great deal of underlying antagonism to foreigners on the island, which emerges in sundry unsavory incidents, such as the deliberate running over of a rosebush that they plant to mark off a small space outside their house, as they have no garden as such. This is despite Mindy’s mentor and long-time professor of French, a long-standing inhabitant of Belle-Île-en-Mer, having originally enticed them to take up residence there, after a disappointing sojourn on the mainland. However, they grow to be adept masters at weathering such storms, which is just as well, seeing that the island is located in the, at times, tempest-beset Bay of Biscay.  Apart from the appeal of the rather exotic location, a key draw card of the text is the strong family bonding that is evident throughout the book—one that is so strong that it even influences the Wallace’s house guests, resulting in sundry marriages post-Kerbordardoué.   The warmth of the relationship between Don and Mindy proves itself in their strong survival skills, which might, in the case of other, more shaky, unions have foundered on their numerous trials and tribulations. Even though Don does, with what seems like unshakable good humor, refer to the difficulties that they encounter in having a second home abroad, and one that, what’s more, requires almost total rebuilding from the foundations up, the spirit of striving together against the odds, which permeates The French House, is totally heart-warming.  For anyone who has hankered after living abroad, The French House is an absolute must-read. There is a great deal of wisdom in these pages, and much sound advice implicitly given. Prescribed summer reading for anyone with an interest in American–French relations, the book makes for both worthwhile and pleasurable reading—don’t miss it!  
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