Chapter 22 – Renting

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Let me first say, renting your home is not for the faint of heart.  You have spent countless hours renovating, restoring, and refining a house to make it your own.  This is your retirement, your dream, and it’s filled with blood, sweat, tears – and probably more money than you ever thought you’d spend on something like this.  Now, you’re handing it over to strangers with the hope they will see the beauty in what you’ve accomplished as you hope and pray they will also respect it.  Some will, for certain, but then there are those who will use it like they stole it.  This was never far from my mind as I selected finishes and materials  that were most likely to withstand the rigors of abuse.

At this point, I have had one partial summer of rental and finding myself feeling a bit jaded.  Perhaps renting is not for me – but right now, it’s necessary.  We found this home much sooner than we anticipated, so until we are ‘retired’ and can spend more months out of the year here than we do, renting will help cover the monthly costs of owning this property.

Renting is a carefully choreographed process – especially when you live over 3600 miles away.  You will need a caretaker to greet guests, be a concierge of sorts and who will ensure the house is ready, be the person to contact with questions or issues and check the house after the guests have departed for any issues  and lock it up.  You will need a reliable housekeeper and you will need a list of reliable contractors who can intervene if necessary such as electricians, plumbers, carpenters, etc.  If you have a courtyard and gardens, you will need a gardener on a regular schedule and if a pool, there will be someone to maintain the pool.  Basically, you need an A-Team.

Depending on where this house is will determine the difficulty with locating these people.  I happen to have a house near a tourist destination, Saint Emilion, and have been incredibly fortunate to have friends and allies surrounding me who will keep an eye on things.  Between friends, local contractors, neighbors, and a security system, I have the ability to monitor much but ultimately am at the mercy of the renter in the hopes they will be respectful.  Mostly they are…but occasionally they leave me wondering how they conduct themselves in their own homes.   There’s the renter who will open every door and window fully – 24/7 during 90-100 degree temperatures, then manually override my climatization unit on the second floor in a sure to fail effort to cool most of the house.  Anyone with common sense would know – if it’s that hot outside, you do not open the entire house up to the outside – especially in a stone house.  Once you’ve done that, you will not be able to cool it down until hours after the outside temperature cools.  That climatization unit was running all day and night and caused much stress for me because I needed to monitor it constantly, but with a 6 hour time difference between the US and France, I could re-set it to a reasonable temperature only to wake in the morning to see it had been manually re-set to its minimum (which is roughly 58-60 degrees Fahrenheit – yet the room and outside temperature was still very high.  Why?  Well because every window and door remained open!

When preparing to leave the house, I will remove any personal or valuable items I want to preserve and locate them in a locked storage room or cabinet.  I then live with only the items left for use to ensure there are adequate accommodations.  In our house, we have a ground floor (rez de chausse), a first floor (premiere Etage), and a second floor (deuxieme Etage).  The ground floor has a very large kitchen, dining room, entry, toilet room, and a living room.  The  first floor has three bedrooms, a large bathroom, one additional toilet room, and a central entry.   Then, there’s a second floor – which is the owners suite.  The stairs deliver you to a large salon/office area with a locked door to the left which contains the owners private master bedroom, bath and toilet.  Because the concierge I hired felt this second salon was essential to the rental, I conceded and allowed its use.  partly because it’s not separated by a wall, door or any defining barrier to make it simple to close off.

If you are renting a property that is also your home, it is vitally important you have a place that remains private – where you can really feel it is yours.  For me, having strangers in my private space is a challenge.  During the construction, we had the foresight to reclaim a whole room that was wasted behind a wall allowing us to have a wonderful storage room complete with a small refrigerator to store a few items to have on hand when we return so we don’t feel the immediate need to get to a grocery.  We also have a very large locked buffet cabinet in the dining room where I can store all sorts of kitchen items I want to keep separate.  Let’s just say, the last time I left it also contained every remaining good wine glass I had!  With only seven rentals I lost a total of twelve wine goblets to people using them outside on the terrace instead of the plastic goblets and glasses I had provided for outdoor use.

Never underestimate the callousness of a renter.  Most are highly respectful – but it only takes one or two who will shift your perspective.  Although I may have eyes and ears in the neighborhood who will keep me posted –  you’ll probably only find out after the fact when something is amiss – 

Case in point: During the course of construction we added a door where a window once existed in order to give us more direct access to the planned terraces, but due to the mason’s schedule, our budget, and just getting the property ready for our first rental, the stairs were not able to be built in time.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a perfectly good door and stairs exiting the kitchen – we were simply opting to add one.  My mistake was leaving the key available to this door when I left in the spring.  In hindsight, I should have locked the door, given the key to the concierge to allow her to open the shutters, thus allowing more natural light into the space, with the caveat to keep the door locked.  Guests took advantage of this door by opening it all the way, leaving it as such, and moving terrace furniture in front of it so they could bounce down and out of the house directly to the terrace.  No joke.  I returned to broken furniture that had been suffering the constant impact of human weight having been used as a launching pad to the terrace.

YOUR WELCOME… 

My husband and myself have rented many times in several places so marshaled that experience into what we found helpful as we prepared the house for rental.  The first thing is the “Welcome to our Home” notebook.  It should share a brief welcome, something about the house, the wifi password and anything in particular about the house such as the best settings for the kitchen appliances (should I have included ‘how not to burn my kitchen down?’)  In this notebook you should also list where the nearest markets are located, wineries, restaurants, shopping, places of interest, and emergency contact numbers.  Keep it simple, concise and well-organized – otherwise, it will not be useful.  Because this house is in France, we duplicated this in both English and French.  I made sure to include websites, hours of operation, phone numbers and each year I will update it as needed.  There is also a guestbook to give guests an opportunity to weigh in on what they liked and didn’t like.  We received very positive feedback and a few very nice suggestions we will keep in mind as we continue to add to the house.

We have left dozens of dvd’s and several games from backgammon and simple cards to murder mystery sets and wine tasting challenges.  There are maps and tourist guides – you will want to keep these current.  If you leave games – it is not likely you will find them intact when you return.  I spent the better part of a week re-assigning game pieces to their proper boxes!

You will also need to provide: toilet paper in all bathrooms, a roll of paper towels in the kitchen, garbage bags, and a few coffee pods as the bare minimum.  I have also left miscellaneous boxes of tea, basic spices and dried herbs, dish liquid and a small amount of dishwasher soap.  I no longer leave laundry soap and excess provisions.  All good wine goblets have now been stored away when we leave as well as our best cooking implements, good silverware, and knives.  (The set of knives we provided had clearly been used for more than cutting, so cross that off the list of nice things to leave…and this was just seven rentals.)  We only recommed dollar store glasses now after having multiple expensive goblets broken.  What was I thinking, right?  Here we are in wine country so I had wanted to provide a beautiful glass to drink wine – well, it was a thought.

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Having a linen and towel service is a good idea – while it is an expense, it allows you to keep your own sheets for you and your private guests and assures your rental guests will have beautifully clean and fresh linens that are taken offsite for cleaning.  This is not a ‘wear and tear’ you want on your small stacking washer and dryer.

Now, without being able to prove miscreants such as this beyond the evidence of damaged furniture (yes, this behavior was witnessed by a neighbor) – I was forced to replace these items.  Mind you, this had been new furniture used for only weeks, now damaged beyond repair.

KITCHEN PROVISIONS

It was advised I leave several provisions in the kitchen with the thought things were generally replaced to some extent by guests.  Well, it was a thought.  I had left the kitchen quite well stocked: paper products, plastic wrap, foil, storage bags, laundry, dish, hand, and dishwasher soaps, trash bags for all compartments, etc. When I returned four months later, after seven rentals the only remaining item was ahalf a roll of plastic wrap without the box – so no way to tear a piece without getting out the scissors.  This time, when I left, there was adequate dish soap, the same roll of plastic wrap, and garbage bags.  No longer shall I leave the kitchen fully or overly stocked.  Trust me – despite what my concierge suggested, they will use every last item and will not replace it.

If you have a washing machine – it may or may not be used…or it may be overused.  During the very first month of rental, I needed to contact the plumber because the washing machine had leaked all over my kitchen.  While I may never have the full story, I can say I lived there for six months with no issue, yet renter number one or two seemed to be doing an inordinate amount of laundry (possibly overfilled the small machine?) and the force caused a connection to rupture.  Again – you will not be there, so cannot determine whether misuse is responsible for failures.  Unless gross negligence is evident, you will be forced to pay for such repairs.  I do find it hard to understand how seven renters can make their way through two liters of concentrated laundry detergent.  Again – many will use it like there’s no tomorrow and unfortunately will color your view of renters as a whole because you will not know until they’ve been there if they’re prone to being abusive.  I’ve rented several homes myself and in most cases been a bit disappointed with the provisions available to me upon arrival, finding myself spending precious vacation time in a grocery store purchasing cleaning products, plastic or paper products or basic provisions such as salt and pepper.  With this understanding, I tried to be the consummate host and ensure all of these basics were stocked, and then some.  Funny how experience realigns your perspective.

It is also highly recommended you provide both mattress and pillowcase covers and have those stripped and cleaned periodically since they will greatly extend the life of your bedding!

DAMAGE WILL HAPPEN…

Keep a list.  If you have a renter who leaves the place very soiled or is abusive – do not let them re-book.  Of the seven, I have two.  I think that’s a fairly high percentage, but I have pictures to prove the damage if questioned.  One guest literally pulled my drapery hardware off the wall; when all was said and done, I needed a contractor to repair the broken hardware and my drapery contractor to repair three sets of curtains.

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Then there’s the broken terrace furniture, the washing machine repair, and the last one – my brand new stainless steel, gas range.  Yeah – the pictures taken by my cleaning person would lead one to believe someone had set fire on top of the range because every component was blackened.

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Was it cleanable?  For the most part.  Is there permanent damage?  Yes, some that will always be a reminder of someones harsh use and surface scratches from the need to clean aggressively.  Will this person be invited back?  Not a chance!

 

LEARNING CURVES…

After the first season of rentals, we made the decision to close the owners suite completely.  We only rent to a maximum of 6 people, so if a huge kitchen, formal dining room, living room, three bedrooms, one full bathroom + 2 toilet rooms, entry’s and a very large courtyard with terraces and swimming pool isn’t enough, then maybe a different house is for you. On the now closed floor is the master en suite that is locked, and a second salon and office area.  This is also the floor with the climatisation units.  Because the stairwell deposits people directly into this space, we’ve given instructions to the concierge, placed a sign on the stairwell indicating the floor is closed to guests, and have installed a very thick drapery at the entrance to the space.  The hope is with the verbal instruction and the visual of the drapery guests will respect this space is off limits.

Problems on this floor with renters ranged from mis-use of the climatisation and permanent carvings etched in the new desk top where I work when at the house.  As I indicated before, we have climatisation on this floor because it is a very tall stone house and this top floor – that is technically in the roof lines gets inhabitably hot in the summer.  As air circulates, the stairwell provides a chimney of sorts and deposits additional heat into this space.  As you can imagine, keeping the temperature relatively cool in this space has proven to be a big challenge.  I have remote access to these climatisation units, so I can monitor the spaces on this floor and keep the temperatures reasonable, but found I had guests removing the cover and manually overriding my settings on a daily basis.  The second climatisation unit is locked in the master en suite – these two units need to be controlled carefully as they are on the same system.

Our hope is in addition to being a physical visual barrier, the heavy curtain will stop the flow of excess heat into this space and make it a bit easier to manage.

I’ll let you know if it worked…

 

Chapter 20 – All I wanted was a plunge pool…

LA ROSERAIE-Site 1.15.18 with furnitur

La Piscine may well be the death of me.  As the title says, all I really wanted was a plunge pool.  I am not a swimmer and have never really been comfortable in the water – my husband, on the other hand is a fish.  I can’t even go into the shower without a cloth to keep my face dry, so you see my dilemma.

Construction on the house began in January of 2017 and the pool was scheduled for the late spring…then the summer…then October we were first on the schedule.  October came and went so I just threw up my hands and said, well, as long as it’s in for the summer of 2018, what does it matter?  Problems stemmed from the inability to locate a mason with room in his schedule to getting permit approvals from the maire.  In the meanwhile, all landscaping around this side of the property has come to a screeching halt.  Had I my choice, I would have waited, but if you want to rent a house in the south of France in the summer, you need a pool.

So on April 13th, 2018, the mason finally showed up to mark out the pool location and where he’d be digging.  We discussed some heights and landscaping particulars and the reality of the size and scope of this pool has hit.  Looking at the orange lines sprayed on my lawn, I am struck with the fact this pool does not seem to be politely nestling into the landscape, but is dominating it in a big way.  Hedges that have been in place almost as long as this house has been here are needing to be decimated and a brand new hedge of bay laurel we had planted last spring for visual privacy that still hasn’t quite fully recovered needs to be removed to allow the back-filling after the excavation of one side of the pool.  I was NOT expecting that.  The pool contractor has now contacted the landscape contractor – but not only is the entire length of hedge in jeopardy, and we’re talking 12 meters of hedge, but it will also be sitting about 40 centimeters below the pool terrace.  For you Americans, that’s roughly 16 inches.  Also not ideal.  We may be faced with removing our bay laurel hedge we had planted at considerable expense removed and may lose it in the process.  Fortunately, I have the weekend to think it over and discuss it with my husband, who is in the United States.  On Monday, myself, the pool contractor and the mason will have a meeting to decide what can be done, but I know one thing for certain – the pool we planned is just too big.

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April 16th – the long awaited digging begins!  The size was adjusted and we altered the design to only have terrace on three sides of the pool to allow our beloved Bay Laurel to remain untouched.  I was so excited I phoned my husband in the United States via video chat to share in the moment.  With the foundation excavation just over half done, so was the workday with the promise of returning at 8 AM to resume.

April 17th – It is now just past 10 and no mason….the sounds I’ve been hearing all morning are the neighbors rototilling for their spring garden.  Finally, he returns a little after 2 PM and all digging resumes!  I realize I will need to get used to these late arrivals – when they arrive since I am clearly not their only job.  I will say that once the digging has commenced, the pool roars ahead at full speed –

 

The basic design is this –

The original plan was for a 5×11 meter pool with a 2.5 meter terrace on the long side and 1.5 meter terraces on the other three sides.  The pool will have a 1.5 meter section at 45 cm deep, known as a ‘beach’ with the remainder of the pool at just under 2 meters.  This allows people to swim laps as well as stand upright and play games.  The final size ended up being slightly smaller with the width dropping to 4.5 meters and the length dropping to 10.  The beach reduced to 1 meter and the terrace on the left was eliminated with the terrace on the right expanding to 3 meters. As you can see, the size and scale are still quite large!

And for my part – I made certain the afternoon snack known as ‘gouter’ was provided at 4 every day the crew was here.  It probably didn’t get the pool done any sooner, but hopefully it made the experience a tiny bit more pleasurable for the workers!

Below shows the foundation going in –

 

Blocks are delivered and waiting to begin construction of the walls and beach –

 

Below are some details of the steps and engineering of the rebar – If I haven’t said this enough, the level of craftsmanship here is to be admired.

 

As the walls near their height completion, the filtration system is installed and the interior faces are parged and readied for liners.  There will be a layer of padding, then the vinyl liner over that.

 

The terraces could now begin.  Because of the particular method this mason uses with continuous metal rebar, they were able to prepare and pour the terraces immediately.  The ground is leveled and compacted, then a layer of sandy material is laid.  Holes are bored and filled with concrete pilings – over that is a fabric membrane, then metal grid, edging, and the concrete is finally poured.  I have fabulous video of this process, but they do not seem to want to load on this site.

 

Alas, by mid-May it was time for my departure for the United States.  I would not see the completion – in fact, the house was scheduled for our first renter July 4th and they would be the very first to enjoy the fruit of our labors.  If you’ve not been in this area in May, it is bursting with life, grape clusters are setting, the hillsides are rich with the tapestry of the wines of the region, my roses were in full bloom – as were many other species, and even my few little grape vines, although no longer fruit bearing, looked full of possibility.  I was disappointed to not see the pool completed much less have the opportunity to dip into it, but I was full with anticipation of my return and ready to head back to the States.

 

I returned mid-September to finally get to see the finished pool and begin accessorizing a bit with planters, cushions and additional landscaping.  It was also discovered there were three missing roof tiles, so the timing couldn’t have been better to get that resolved before winter and its eventual rainy season.  Fortunately, the summer had been somewhat dry – bad for the grass and plantings, but very good for someone with a hole in their roof!  It was also an opportunity to harvest my first little crop of lavender which I did with relish.

 

The final product was more than I could have hoped for – I spent nearly every afternoon soaking up the afternoon sun, swimming in the pool, marveling at the delicate spicy scent of the bay laurel along the length of the pool, and simply bathing in the tranquil and restorative setting we had created – whether reading a book or sipping a glass of wine, it became my treasured time of each day.

And remember that padding I mentioned?  The bottom of the pool is soft to the foot – really lovely.

 

 

While the development of the landscaping will be ongoing for some time, one of the things I wanted were three cypress type plantings along this wall to help frame the focal seating area at the end of the pool.  The roses along this wall are very, very old and many doing poorly, so the best solution will be to remove the ailing and replant.  The large blue jardinières will hold palms when spring breaks this year and they become available.  Right now we’re trying to find those that will weather well in a container.

 

And, of course, given this is LaRoseraie, we will continue to replant roses wherever we can!

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Chapter 19 – La Cuisine

I’m not sure if the main entrée or the cuisine were bigger projects, but they definitely needed the most significant work.  And while this may have horrified some of you, when I walked into the kitchen of this house and found there was, well…no kitchen at all – I was relieved.  I love to cook, and I’m also pretty particular about what I need.  Oh sure, I can get by with a counter and a handful of kitchen utensils, but to have a real ‘cooks’ kitchen is a dream.  If there had been so much as a passable kitchen, I knew I’d need to either live with it for a few years or modify someone else’s kitchen as best I could to get by.  I’m not really a ‘get by’ sort of person, so as I stated, it was a relief because I knew I could design the kitchen I wanted, and even do it in phases if need be – but it would be mine!  The original kitchen was typical size for a European kitchen – roughly 9′ x 15′-6″ long, with a butlers pantry situated between the kitchen and dining room.

What you see here is a sink cabinet and a large exhaust hood over where a range would have been.  Under the window is an old ice box and to the left is a bare wall with exception of an electric radiator.  The door to the right exits toward the salon via the butlers pantry.  The floor and wall tile are very old and there really is no kitchen to speak of.

The first order of business will be to remove the ice box and replace it with a door that will exit to a future terrace at the side of the house and to remove the partition between the cuisine and butlers pantry, allowing a more spacious workspace.  This increased our footprint from 9’x15′-6″ to just over 14’x15′-6″.  This entire wall was constructed of limestone block, which we had selvedged and stored for future use.  Some of these blocks have already been used to construct a wall in one of the garages for the pool utility room and I anticipate we will use the remainder when we have the steps to the terrace built.

New tile and cabinetry is selected as I begin the extensive process of designing my new kitchen.

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New cement tiles and kitchen tiles

Then, after removal of the ice box, a new door was framed into the space in a style matching the existing door. There’s still much to do since you can see the walls will require much plaster work from both the tile and window removal.

Old limestone, new door, walls to be restored.

In the kitchen, a new door was placed in the opening where a window and old ice box previously occupied. You can see the surround and adjacent walls are still awaiting refinishing.

When we removed the block wall separating the kitchen from the butlers pantry, we fully expected to need a steel beam and possibly a couple support columns, but to our surprise, the block wall was not bearing – it did not even make contact with the ceiling structure, so no additional structural support was required.

Originally, I had designed the kitchen to have the sink, dishwasher and washer/dryer along the exterior wall where the original sink had been; a range, hood and refrigerator on the wall along the salon side of the kitchen where the butlers pantry had been, and a small coffee station with coffee maker, tea kettle, etc. on the small wall just to the left as you enter the room.  In the center, I had planned to place a farm style work table to double as a work surface and a place to eat.  This would be my ‘phasing’ strategy.  Later I could design a work island where I could include more storage and practical items.  Ultimately, I went forward with the work island because it gave me the opportunity to add numerous items to complete the kitchen.  In the island I have a wine refrigerator, a pull-out trash bin with three receptacles, a prep sink, a microwave, an additional refrigerator, and seating for four.  It is one jam-packed work center and once we made the decision, we never looked back.  A good work table with seating would have cost 3-4 thousand euros and this island cost almost twice that but I figure we’re not spending money on a work table and chairs we’ll have no use for if we eventually installed the island, so it really made more sense to do it now.

An interesting thing to note with new construction in France, and likely most of Europe is the mindset they have toward their work.  Most of the tradesmen and women have experienced everything old and ancient, so when they have a eye toward renovation or new construction, most will lean heavily toward contemporary design.  With the kitchen, I ran into challenges  when the kitchen contractor questioned nearly every choice I made when I sought to utilize more traditional colors and finishes – and tried to create a real ‘cooks’ kitchen.  It was contemporary, for certain, but I wanted it to have more traditional looking materials such as white marble, dark wood, traditional hardware on the wall cabinets, traditional patterns on the floor and back splash wall tile, and  a retro look to the appliances.  Initially, I sent him my blueprints and elevations of exactly what I wanted, and again and again I would receive his ‘version’ of what he thought the kitchen should be.  Each time, I would mark up his drawings to re-align with my design and I’d get it back yet again with something other than what I was asking for.  After the third attempt, my tone needed to become very firm as I was not accustomed to being challenged on my designs.  I’ve designed many kitchens, so was highly confused as to why he seemed unable to simply give me what I was asking for.  Even as the cabinets were being installed, I needed to have a cabinet modified in the field and to have one appliance replaced because it was not as requested.  Ultimately, I got what I wanted, but not without undue angst and effort.

This first Before and After picture is taken from the stair –

Once inside this kitchen, you can see it is completely transformed –

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You can see the new door where the window and ice box used to be on the opposite side of the room.

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To the right

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sink, dishwasher, washer/dryer

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A highly functional work island.

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Details…details…details…There are the two clocks representing the time zones of the Boston area and local French time above the coffee/tea station – and below, the longitude and latitude of our home in the U. S. above the weather station.

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Coffee and Tea station

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Weather Station

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A gift from a dear friend…

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The little details contribute to the overall look –

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This little treasure was found at a local Brocante –

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My Doves!

And the doves on the wall cabinets?  Those are there because they made me smile, donc pourquoi pas?

 

 

Chapter 18 – Ikea

IKEA – you either love them or hate them or perhaps a bit of both.  We love their ingenuity fused with affordable solutions but hate the fact we’re surely confronting a 600 – piece puzzle that would confound even a rocket scientist…or architect.  And for the most part, when we order one or more items, whether in-store or online, it’s generally in the country we are most familiar.  This is where living in a country where the language is not your primary one – nor are the customs and policies can change the course of events.

In the United States, we are accustomed to placing an order, being given a delivery date – and then if something goes wrong, you will call, fully understand the voice mail options, eventually reaching a helpful and somewhat reticent customer service agent who will do their best to resolve any issues to the customers satisfaction.  Picking up the phone to make the call to customer service is where the similarity stops.

Needing a desk and organizers to be able to work efficiently, in Mid-December I placed an order with IKEA, having found the perfect combination of items at a most affordable price.  Given my rental vehicle was not guaranteed to be large enough, and not wanting to drive 35 kilometers into Bordeaux simply for a desk, chair and file boxes, I opted for delivery, which was scheduled for December 27th – just over 10 days later.  Good enough.  Roughly every 3 days I received a reminder email with a phone number to call if the date was not convenient.  On the morning of Dec. 27th, my phone received a call at 8:37 AM that I did not hear because of a ‘Do not disturb’ setting – so was missed.  As I noted before – this is where the similarities between IKEA USA and IKEA France differ.  I try to return the call, but it is such a labyrinth of voice mail options that might as well be Greek that I have no idea which option to select.  There is no direct line to customer service.  Assuming the delivery will come as scheduled, I wait….and wait….and wait – you get the picture.  Later I was informed, because I did not answer that call, my delivery had been cancelled.

Now at this point, you’re thinking, well, someone will call or email and give me a new delivery time – so I wait…..no call, no email.  Nothing to acknowledge the delivery.  At this point, I have tried to contact IKEA via email, online chat (where twice they told me my delivery was on schedule) and then call – lord help me.  Every time I send an email to customer service with my question, I am replied to on an email that cannot be delivered – no direct line.  Generally, once we’ve initiated an email with customer service, once you’ve opened that line of communication, there is the ability to respond back and forth until some resolutions is understood and agreed upon.  Nope – not in France.  Every time, I needed to initiate the process of finding the link on the website, entering all my information, then sending my message – which is replied to within several hours with an autoreply message.  Then – it might be a day, or it might be a few before you receive an email with their answer – which also cannot be replied to and will not be complete.  So, you’re left with the option of starting over, copying parts and pieces from the various emails so this person has an idea of what has been happening – and you hope this will be the last one.  Yes, there is an order number, but the litany of this process is so convoluted, the details bear repeating.

Realizing this is futile, and now armed with a French phone number, I try to call one more time.  At this point I’ve wasted hours on calls and emails but I know if I don’t call, nothing will happen.  So, I call and muddle my way through the voicemail options – to eventually reach a person who is either of the wrong department for my question or cannot understand a single word of English.  While I am trying my best to communicate with French – it is much more effective over the phone if the person has knowledge of a little bit of English.  Eventually I am connected to a person with a pretty good grasp of the English language and understand why they cannot simply schedule a new date for the delivery – and while it still does not make sense, at least I have an answer.  While I have this person on the phone, I ask if I can give him the details, order number, etc. in French so he can let me know if I am speaking it correctly in the event I’m not and I end up with an only French agent the next time I call.  For the record, I was speaking correctly, although he did correct my 1 from ‘on’ to ‘aan’.  Regardless, there is no other number that sounds like that, so I wasn’t too far off.

Ok – so this is what happens. Regardless of how many reminders for delivery you receive, you will also receive a call the morning or the delivery.  DO NOT MISS THAT CALL.  If you miss that call – even for a moment, your delivery will be cancelled.  At this point, the driver is to submit paperwork stating the order was not deliverable.  Why didn’t that happen?  No idea.  But the new delivery date cannot be put into the system until that occurs.  And it wasn’t until the call I made on January 5th (nine days after the original delivery date) did that process begin. Kinda makes you wonder how long my order would have sat in purgatory if I hadn’t called.  Customer service acknowledged the failed delivery and put that into the system – but that also meant I needed to phone no sooner than 24 hours later to reschedule my delivery.  (Yes, you read that right – on this date 9 days after my planned delivery it was finally being placed into the system as the failed attempt it was.) I don’t know if this was a fluke or if typically, the customer needs to call to get this process rolling, but it seemed to me that as soon as the delivery was aborted, I should have received another call or at least an email I could respond to with instructions to reschedule my delivery.

I am happy to report my furniture was successfully delivered on January 10th where I spent the day unboxing, portaging the parts and pieces to the second floor (third floor American) where it would reside, then assembling…piece…by…piece.  Two hundred and ninety pieces later, I had a beautiful desk, chair and individual organizers that would please the most obsessive, compulsive organizer on the planet, and I am no longer relegated to working on either the kitchen counter or dining room table!

Chapter 17 – Entrée

For me, the entrée wasn’t simply the first room we entered, it was the first room we fell in love with.  In hindsight, I saw right through the tired finishes as the house spoke to me in the special way they do when someone who sees and hears what is unseen or spoken enters its sanctum.  I immediately ‘saw’ what this room wanted to be the first time I walked through the front doors – and I can happily say, the resulting space is exactly that.

From the impressive entry doors and awning, to the elegant wood staircase and striking architectural features, it’s easy to see how this entrée stole our hearts!

The entry doors and canopy were weathered and the glass covering the canopy was old, not to code and was broken, so would need to be replaced for safety as well as aesthetics.  As you can see in these pictures, the house is beautiful, but in great need of attention that would include repairs, stripping of old finishes, replacement of glass to the awning, and attention to the existing landscaping.  The metalwork was strong, but again, needed old finishes cleaned away to allow new paint.

The first order of business would be to completely remove all existing electrical since it was deemed unsafe – so all new systems were designed and installed to bring this beauty of a house into the 21st century.  Note the sizable electrical panels on the left and the new plumbing chase on the right.  The house now boasts over 50 recessed LED lights, 7 new wall sconces, and 9 chandeliers – two of which are vintage French – a security system, video intercom on all three floors, and excellent Wi-Fi throughout.  Definitely now in the 21st century!

The walls were also in need of serious intervention.  When we originally visited the house, we thought the wallpaper could be painted over, as is typically done, but after suffering yet another winter season, the damp and cold had taken its toll.  The wallpaper was now separating from the limestone block walls and needed to be completely removed.  This picture shows what this looked like before removal –

The next order of business would be to address the floors.  Since the wood floors were in very poor condition, and we felt from the moment we saw the house the floors needed to be tile, we removed the wood planks and prepared the floor to receive cement tiles, which are precisely the type of material that would have been installed originally if wood had not been used.  The problem we would encounter here was relative to floor heights, tile thickness and adjacent tile floor heights.  Cement tiles are very thick, so in order to align floor heights, after removing the wood planks, we would need to cut down the supporting beams a few centimeters to accommodate the new subfloor and concrete slab required for all tile installation.  Not a small task, but not a terribly complicated one either – just more money!

Once these beams had been cut down, subfloor, then a concrete slab was poured and cement tiles were laid.

The doors were stunning and would only become more beautiful through their restoration – and this truly is the moment I fully realized we were ‘restoring’ this house, not simply renovating.  In addition to stripping of old finish and repairing damage, we discovered most of the door panels had split from years of use, dryness, etc., so the solution was to add a thin layer of MDF board at each panel on both sides of the center panets to permanently repair them from further splitting and damage.  We had this done to all doors on the ground floor but opted not to on the first floor – where many small cracks have opened back up.  Penny wise, pound foolish, because eventually we’ll need to mitigate all the doors on the first floor as well.  Here is the before and after of the doors:

There really wasn’t a surface that did not need to be touched.  The ceilings needed significant restoration – after minor initial repairs, we were disheartened when a week before painting was to commence, we received a call the plaster had begun crumbling and falling off the lathe.  These pictures were sent to us by the contractor after his pre-painting visit:

These are but a few of the pictures outlining this last minute issue.  The plaster man was immediately dispatched and the ceilings were restored with the original mouldings remaining intact.

One of the issues many renovating or restoring homes of this age is the lack of storage and auxiliary space, so when new plumbing and electrical systems are added, there is often a need to find a location where plumbing chases and electrical closets can be accommodated.  In this house, these systems were added at the front of the entry, just to the left and right of the entry doors.  You will notice in the above photo’s the electrical closet is now to the left of the door as you exit the house and on the right is a plumbing chase, which allowed us to have a toilet added to Salle de Bain 1, which is directly above the salon on the ground floor.  This is also a very convenient and central location for the electrical access, as well as the Wi-Fi connections.

One of the finishing details would be to add a set of crown moulding to conceal the extensive wire bundle from all this new electrical work that was now running the perimeter of the entry on its way to the new electrical panel.  With houses of this age constructed of limestone block, the interior walls are often, thick limestone block, so burying wires inside the walls and ceiling plenums is not usually an option.  With the assistance of the painter, we selected a crown moulding that not only fit the proportion of the existing mouldings, but had a large enough space behind it to conceal this wire bundle.  The resulting look is very complete and if I didn’t point it out to you, it would not occur to you it hadn’t been there all along.  And really, that was our goal.

The beauty of this house, the age of this house, demanded respect.  I am greatly bothered and disheartened when I see architecture broken down either in an effort to modernize, or because there is lack of respect for what it represents.  It was our intention to maintain everything possible – especially with the entry, stairs and first floor entry, so when we researched new finishes, the impetus was to find materials that would make the finished space appear as though everything was original to the house – right down to the chandeliers.  In reality, the finishes would have more likely included wallpaper, and there would have been no recessed light fixtures, but the overall sense of the space is fresh and elegant – and definitely French, late 1800’s.  So, without further adieu – here are the after photo’s –

Entry doors, front gates and awning:

New Entrée:

In the end, we are very pleased we took the time and  effort needed to do proper service to the entrée – after all, you only get one first impression, so it ought to be grand!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 16 – Toilettes

We don’t like to talk about them, but we all need them.  That’s right, the toilet.  When this house was built in the late 1800’s, it did not have a single toilet, but sometime we expect, in the mid-1900’s, two toilets and one bidet were added to the house.  This required changing one bedroom into a bathroom with a tub, wall-mounted sink and a bidet.  The plumbing had all been run up the side of the exterior of the house – which we have now rectified, and at the back of the house, a square addition was added that gave access to one toilet room on the ground floor, another on the stair at the mid-point, and atop that structure was a water collector – presumably to assist the flushing mechanism.  These rooms were small, but served their intended purpose.

These are some of the before pictures – as you will see, the electrical panels were also in the ground floor toilet room.

Now, I’m sure I don’t need to go into details of what was needed here.  Suffice it to say pretty much everything needed to go – and go it did!  No surprise was there had been some rotting of floor boards and beams, as well as a good deal of plaster work, new ceilings, floors, all fixtures, and new heaters.

As you can see, there was more than simply removing tile.  Since this tile was adhered to limestone, there was no way to remove it without also damaging the stone.  Toilette room two, the one on the stair landing, was fully tiled, so it then needed to be honed and then have plaster board attached to cover the entire space.

Once all finishes were removed and a plan was in place, we could begin the task of new wiring, electrical and carpentry.

Finishes were selected, and while I wanted the fixtures to be modern and practical, my goal was for the finishes to the walls and floor to be in style with the period of the house, as well as durable.  We selected a small scale marble mosaic for the floors and a large format white marble for the walls.

We then added a bit of sparkle with a row of accent tile, and for the finishing touch, found two antique mirrors.  The toilet rooms were one of the few places we decided to utilize color on the painted portion of the walls to bring a sense of warmth into these small spaces.

The resulting spaces may be small, but by using small scale hand washing sink cabinets and efficient, wall mounted toilets and compact radiators, we’ve achieved big impact in a small footprint.

 

The house now has two full bathrooms with four toilets – plenty to accommodate a house full of guests!

 

 

Chapter 15 – The Salon

Upon first entering the salon of the house we were met with a small yet mighty space – original parquet, elegant mouldings, ceiling medallion, fireplace, and a beautiful window.  The space was tired and old, rich with potential, and small – barely ten feet wide!  The proportions were odd – not wide enough to seat around the fireplace, yet we knew it would be the perfect room for a couple of small seating areas for watching television or quietly reading a book or having a coffee near the window.

Below you see the room before renovation, starting with the wall to the right of the fireplace,  the next picture shows the end wall before the door was added to reclaim every possible inch of storage, and the last two frames show the remainder of the room and the double doors into the entrée.  The last frame shows the floor board added when the two rooms were made into one.  We needed to remove this floor board and replace it with one that would fit more cleanly.

As we were accessing the width, or lack thereof, we quickly noticed something did not add up – the length of the room seemed oddly short in contrast to the front to back dimensions of the house.  A bit of investigating revealed a wall that had been erected, presumably when the heating system was added.  Instead of working the ventilation of the cave for the furnace so that it would remain in the cave – a significant part of the room was removed, so in the place of what had been two rooms off of the entrée, the wall between the two rooms was removed and the remainder of the room at the rear side of the house was added to the room at the front.  Given the fact houses of this era were short on storage, we determined the cave could be contained in a smaller space and a door could be added to allow a good sized auxiliary storage room.

The photo on the left shows a view inside this space after the door opening was cut into the wall.  You can see the new floor beams added and the vent pipe that we had relocated.  Sadly, I had better photo’s of this process and they have been lost in the shuffle. The view on the right shows the finished wall with the elevated door.  It’s a step up, but still maintains an eight foot ceiling – plenty of room for storage shelves, wine storage, linens, and a additional refrigerator.  It is our intention to add a wall curtain to completely conceal the door so when we are away and the house is rented, no one will be the wiser there is another room.  (Unless they read this blog, I suppose!)

As you see here, there is a lovely ceiling medallion that is barely noticed – on the right, after restoration of the ceiling and a new chandelier, it now gets all the attention it deserves.  The chandelier selected is somewhat contemporary and ‘lighter’ scale so as not to overwhelm the space.  Additional recessed lighting was added near the walls to illuminate them, further enhancing the lighter feel of the room.

The after photo’s below show two seating areas – one for a cozy area to watch some television and the other at the beautiful window to either read or enjoy a glass of wine or cup of coffee.  We selected a rich grey tone for the walls in this room to render a cozy, quiet feel despite it’s already intimate scale.  Because the room is narrow, we opted for a couple of ottoman cushions in lieu of a sofa table that would have crowded the space between the sofa and television stand.

Salon 2Salon 1Salon 3