Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN
Finding himself at a loose end on a rainy day in France, triathlete Jeremy arranged to view some properties in the quaint neighborhood he’d been staying in.
Originally from Wales, the father-of-two had been living in Paris for several years, but after going through a separation, he became set on the idea of moving to the French countryside.
He realized he’d struck gold when he was given a tour of a home in Courgent, a town located in the Île-de-France region, about a 45-minute drive from the French capital.
However, it wasn’t just the house that had him brimming with excitement. It was the stunning, but heavily neglected swimming pool that came with it.
Pool of potential
While the pool had fallen into disrepair, it was clear that it had once been an impressive structure and could be again — with a lot of work.
“I was absolutely amazed,” Jeremy, who has asked for his full name not to be used, tells CNN Travel. “Because the potential to redo the swimming pool and create an exceptional project was everything I could imagine. I just thought ‘this is the place.'”
Jeremy, who has worked in real estate for many years, soon discovered that the home had once belonged to French actress Danielle Darrieux, who appeared in over 100 films throughout her eight-decade career, during the 1950s.
After speaking to locals, he learned that the swimming pool, thought to have been built in 1938, had once been a popular hangout spot, and many recalled being taught to swim there.
Some even sent him photos of Darrieux, who died in 2017 at the age of 100, swimming in the pool during her time in the house.
Darrieux, who appeared alongside Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in the 1938 Hollywood movie “The Rage of Paris,” is believed to have lived there for well over a decade.
“That made me even more motivated to do the project,” he admits. “This place has got a history. It’s got a story.”
Famous former owner
Once he’d weighed everything up, Jeremy says he cautiously put in an offer that was “about 30 or 40% less than the asking price,” and waited for what he believed would be an inevitable rejection.
“I didn’t think he [the owner] was going to accept,” he admits. “But to my surprise he did.”
While Jeremy has worked on several hotel renovations, this would be his first swimming pool. The project also happened to cost around five times his original budget.
“It hadn’t been used for over 35 years, so it was a wreck,” he explains. “We had to start everything from scratch.”
When it became clear that the cost of restoring the pool wouldn’t necessarily be economically viable in terms of adding substantial value to the home, Jeremy began to look into other ways of recouping some of the renovation costs.
Noting that there was no pool of this kind in the area, he decided that he would hire it out for a few days a week, while keeping it for his own personal use the rest of the time.
Determined to set the wheels in motion as quickly as possible, Jeremy did his best to convince the owner to allow him to begin work on the pool before the sale had gone through.
He then started negotiating deals with different companies to begin the restructuring work, including a specialist swimming pool company, in order to transform it into “the most beautiful heated lagoon in France.”
Jeremy signed the contracts in September 2020, during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. He says by the time he officially became the owner in February 2021, almost four months of work on the pool was already complete.
When it came to the design, Jeremy opted to go as “over the top ” as he possibly could.
“I wanted high rocks, LED lights, the full works,” he says.
The project involved setting up new infrastructures to accommodate electricity, gas and water — the water had come directly from a nearby river before — as well as installing new electrics, creating stone rock, and installing pipes, evacuations and feeders underneath the pool.
Jeremy says the entire renovation process took around 12 months and cost 500,000 euros (about $500,000), with around 330,000 euros spent on the pool, and the rest on exterior work, including the infrastructure, plants and terracing. He says he’s thrilled with the final result.
“It really feels like you’re in a natural lagoon, except you’re within one hour from the largest city in France,” he adds. “There are waterfalls and you can jump off the rocks from two meters high. You don’t get the impression that you’re in a swimming pool.”
Jeremy was stunned to unearth an old stone tiled path leading from the lagoon to the nearby river, with a fountain near its center, during the renovation process.
“That was a complete discovery. I suppose I can say I’m the only person in Paris that owns a private island,” he jokes, adding that he plans to renovate the path within the next year.
While the pool, which is 24 meters long and nine meters wide, with a depth of over two meters, is undoubtedly the main attraction, Jeremy is thrilled with his new home, which thankfully needed very little work before he moved in.
Since relocating to Courgent, which has a population of around 400, Jeremy says he’s settled in relatively easily and has been receiving great feedback from locals about the pool.
In fact, some of the villagers who first swam there when it belonged to Darrieux have popped in to ask if they can take a look at its transformation.
Darrieux had a long association with the town and apparently returned to the area later in life, living just a few kilometers away from her former home.
While Jeremy says he’s gotten a lot of support from the town hall since moving to Courgent, he’s been trying hard not to “step on anyone’s toes.”
“You have to be careful,” he explains. “You don’t want to make too much noise, or have too much building work [going on]. But it’s worked out pretty well.
“One of the neighbors came to me a bit worried because she heard I was planning to have parties and somebody had said we were going to put a DJ in the trees.
“I told her, ‘not this week, but ask me next week.'”
Keen to maximize his 1.5 hectares of land as much as possible, Jeremy decided to import and renovate a 1974 American Airstream caravan, which overlooks the lagoon, and is also available for hire.
When he’s not enjoying the pool himself, hosting his daughters’ friends, or having the local school around for a visit, he rents it out for about 250 euros for two hours, or up to 3,000 euros per day.
Although it’s been getting rave reviews from customers, as well as onlookers, who sometimes pop in to ask if they can have a closer look, Jeremy is keen to add in some more special touches.
He plans to put in an electricity line so that he can light up some of the trees, and add a rose tunnel over the bridge and an outside kitchen.
“I’ll only be satisfied when all the details are finished,” Jeremy admits, explaining that it will likely be another year or two before the pool is fully complete.
In the meantime, he’s making the most of having a beautiful pool, or lagoon, with so much history at his disposal.
“Even now, I’m still overwhelmed while swimming at night,” he says. “When it’s completely dark, you can see the moon and the stars, and it’s just you, nature and the water.
“I always say it’s the equivalent to being in Costa Rica without the airfare.”
Follow @lesbainsroches for updates on the swimming pool
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