Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

img_0369

 

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!

img_0660

 

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.

IMG_7998

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 –

IMG_0342

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

IMG_0339

To the right

IMG_0341

sink, dishwasher, washer/dryer

IMG_0352IMG_0348

IMG_0349

A highly functional work island.

IMG_0345IMG_0340IMG_0347

 

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.

IMG_0355

Coffee and Tea station

IMG_0354

Weather Station

IMG_0364

A gift from a dear friend…

IMG_0366

The little details contribute to the overall look –

IMG_0365

This little treasure was found at a local Brocante –

IMG_0356

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 14 – Paris

En Paris…while I have had the luxury of visiting Paris on several occasions between that first trip in October of 2013 and present day, I’d like to muse a bit about a few moments in particular where time seemed to stand a bit more still for me – DSCN1017

April 7, 2016

Today, I did the most uncharacteristic thing.  I let myself get totally and utterly lost in the city of Paris.  I had no agenda, I had no fear.  I looked at the buildings, landmarks, parks, monuments.  I observed the people.  Do you know how to tell a truly Parisian woman from a non-Parisian woman?  It’s subtle, but clear – she doesn’t make eye contact, she doesn’t move aside for you, one or both eyebrows may be slightly raised, her look is flawless and at the same time careless; as though she cannot be bothered with fussing.  She walks with a cadence that tells you she’s in charge – there is no hesitation and you have no question she knows exactly where she’s going (whether she really does or not.) I also don’t believe you need to be born here to be Parisian – and while some may argue this one to the death, I think to be truly Parisian has more to do with the soul that resides in her DNA than her birthright in the here and now.  Her clothing and accessories such as the scarf – which will be tied in a casual yet perfect manner represents her understanding she is living in a city where one thing is certain – the weather is not and she must be prepared with this essential layer.  Her shoes – whether boots or shoes are not practical.  They will have heels – an important part of the music she makes as she hurries along.  And she’s probably not smiling because that would give away too much about her.

We’ve all heard the stories about the French – that they’re rude, they hate Americans, and so on, but I have yet to meet a French man or woman who did not go out of their way to make my stay pleasant or who was not more than willing to help me.  That said, here’s a tip – when you come here, please speak French.  I’m not talking about becoming fluent if you are not able, but there is a level of respect implied when you address someone, ‘monsieur’, ‘madam’, ‘mademoiselle’, when you greet them, with ‘bonjour’ and not ‘hi’, ‘au revoir’, ‘bon soir’, ‘sil vous plait’ – simple pleasantries.  Trust me, they will figure out you’re from away quickly enough, but at least respect the culture enough to acknowledge you are in their country and not expect them to accommodate you.  They will, but one shouldn’t expect it.  It takes very little effort to learn a few basic things and the respect you are met with in turn will be your reward .

Walking in Paris.  Number one, use the crosswalks and wait for the walk light.  Do not try to cross between the designated areas unless you are on a very small one-way street.  The Gendarmes are very particular and are dispersed throughout the city intersections.  The bike paths are for bikes.  The pedestrian way is for pedestrians (ok, sometimes a tiny French car will also use the pedestrian way).  If you’re driving, do NOT stop on top of a crosswalk or bike crossing unless you want to get yelled at in French!  Do not start across a crosswalk and change your mind in the middle; do not disrupt the pedestrian flow.  I should repeat number one here because it’s important.  Do NOT stop in the middle of the intersection to take a picture – ever.  Basically, look and act as little like a tourist as possible.

April 8, 2016

I sit sipping a café noisette at the Shakespeare and Company, listening to the bells of Notre Dame toll.  I was startled when I first approached the space – actually got chills, as though the presence of the great writers who crossed this path were somehow still here.  I’m not sure this is a bookstore you go to purchase anything because for me, it was more about the space, it’s a museum, a temple to greatness – unspoiled by someone trying to improve it.  Inside, you will find a humbling pedigree of works that could be considered the ‘whose who’ of literature  – past and present, including but not limited to Jane Austin, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Earnest Hemingway, Jane Bowles, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Alastair Horne, John Steinbeck, Emily Bronte, Steven Galloway, Jonathan Branzen, Mary Shelley, George Orwell, J. D. Salinger, Gore Vidal, Oscar Wilde, and one of my personal favorites, contemporary author John Baxter, whose works only fueled my passion for this place.  Yes, despite my belief this is a space to be experienced rather than ‘shopped in’, I bought two books I had no right to because my suitcase can hold no more.  Another John Baxter work to add to my collection, “Five Nights in Paris” and a book called, “The French Cat”, by Rachael Hale McKenna.  Sorry, how can one possibly resist anything to do with le chat?

What do you do when you’re visiting the city of lights and the clock is ticking on your last few hours in Paris?  Do you give it your all and try to see everything possible at breakneck speed?  Do you enjoy one last leisurely dejeuner or marche?  Or do you simply ‘still’ yourself and let the final vibrations of the city resonate within your being?  I am one of the people in the latter category – I have a leisurely petite dejeuner, take a stroll to breathe the air and feast my eyes one final time before making my way to the train station, off to my next adventure.  I like to sit with the vibration, the pulse of the city of lights – today I walked to the Louvre and once again, marveled at the striking contrasts between the old, ancient, breathtaking architecture juxtaposed against the modern pyramids that people young and old are drawn to.  It’s like any great marvel of form and space – it will change you, hopefully for the better.  This was not my first visit to the city, and it will not be my last.

On my last visit, March of 2018, I was able to introduce the city of lights to two more family members who were discovering it for the first time.  The surprise to me was the joy and wonder it rekindles within when you have that opportunity to ‘see’ it again through another persons eyes.  I’m not sure it ever gets old.

And to those of you who would love to experience the city either vicariously or in person, I have met the most amazing tour guide named Corey Frye who has a virtual walking tour of a different little corner every Saturday – check out his facebook page and website: A French Frye in Paris.  He is a personal tour guide, but his weekly online tours are free and incredibly rich!

 

Chapter 11: Premiere Etage

The premiere Etage in a French home is the second floor in an American home, and generally speaking is where the bedrooms and bathroom will be located – or in France, the chambres and salle de bain.  LaRoseraie had three bedrooms on this floor and one bathroom – well, sort of…

Chambre One was a jewel from the start.  The walls were ensconced with beautiful mouldings and was a big part of stealing our hearts from the first day.  It was a large room with a big, beautiful window and a fireplace, but had a few issues.  The first was the two venetian glass doors that flanked the bed wall – one went to a passageway into chambre two and the other was a false door, which we assume was there to create symmetry with the other door.  There was also a third redundant door to the left of the entrance door that had presumably been a former means of exiting the room via a partition in the entrée to allow a former madam to make a quick exit to the bathroom across the entrée hall while still in bedclothes.  We opted to leave the latter in place, but affix it permanently shut and to remove the two venetian glass doors, along with the passageway, then refinished that wall – adding mouldings to match the existing.

Fear not! The two Venetian glass doors would not go to waste, as I had committed to saving every possible detail of this house.  They were repurposed as new doors to the two toilette rooms and have added a special charm in both locations.

What you will not notice is the extent of restoration needed to the wall mouldings – the original ones were in worse condition than we initially realized and then additional, extensive damage was caused when the ceilings were replaced, so roughly half of the wall mouldings are actually new – and once the painters were done with them they looked better than they likely looked even when they were new.  As I stated before – if you find a really good painter, they will be worth their weight in gold! After completion, chambre one is the most sought after room to stay –

The other major work needed on the premiere etage were the damaged ceilings from a roof leak that had been resolved when the roof was replaced 10-15 years ago.  What had not been resolved were the damaged ceilings.  The best solution here was to add a layer of steel framing studs, then attach a layer of plasterboard.  This would both support the structure and fully repair the ceilings’ integrity.  All carpets were removed, all wallpaper was removed, walls were repaired, then covered in a layer of textured fiberglass and painted.  The floors were repaired, sanded, stained, and then varnished.  New base trim was added throughout to add a touch of elegance and better proportion, and all electrical was replaced with the addition of recessed lighting and chandeliers in each chambre.  Though each chambre has a fireplace – only the ones in chambre 1 & 3 are potentially useful.  We intend to have each fireplace inspected and will consider gas inserts at a future time if possible.

Chambre Two was equal in size to chambre one but with no ornate wall details.  Instead, our obstacle in this room was concerning the passageway that had been used to traverse between chambers’ one and two and the fact the bulk of the water damage had been focused in this room.  Add to that, at some point in time this was the one section of the house that had settled a bit, so the fireplace had been cemented closed, presumably because it was rendered unsafe.  Since we do not plan to use the fireplaces with possible exception to one day retrofitting a few with gas inserts for ambiance and some supplemental heat, this was not a problem for us.  The first order of business, however, would be to remove the passageway and relocate the radiator, then repair the ceiling, walls, floor, windows, etc., add the base trim and ready it for final finishes.

IMG_8285

Chambre 2 had the greatest challenges with its ceiling and the fact it had an unnecessary passageway to chambre 1 – the first order of business was to restore the ceiling, then remove this passageway.  The floor was also in terrible condition from both water and insect damage.  Intent to maintain as much original material as possible, we needed to have several boards replaced.  Once all was sanded, stained and varnished, it looked just fine!

Chambre 2 has the flexibility to have either two single or one king sized bed.

Chambre Three had few obstacles – it was a simple means of  a new ceiling, fiberglass and paint on the walls, new electrical, new floor finish, and base trim.

 

Once completed, despite being the smallest of the three chambres on this floor, it carries a charm that is uniquely Parisian –

chambre 3.1chambre 3.2Chambre 3chambre 3.3

The Premiere Entrée before:

250

As you can see – from the crumbling ceiling down to the worn floors, this once beautiful space had lost its luster – so it received the star treatment of new ceilings all the way down to refinished floors.

The Premiere Entrée After:

IMG_0103

It was our intent to not only retain as much original detail as possible, but to ensure the finishes and material in the entrees and stair were maintained in the style characteristic of its period.  I found the restored French vintage chandeliers online, the vintage mirror was sourced from Maison du Monde and the draperies were custom made with a vintage Berger fabric by a local artisan.

The final room on this floor would be the salle de bain.  Originally, it housed a bathtub with hand shower, a wall-mounted sink and a bidet.  All of the plumbing had been attached to the exterior wall of the house since the bathroom had been added a number of years after the house was built, so one of the tasks would be to bring this inside for future protection from the cold and potential freezing temperatures.

Salle de Bain Before:

Salle de Bain During:

Once the tile, fixtures and old plumbing and electrical were removed, the task could begin to repair and prepare the surfaces for new finishes.  One thing to note with a house of this construction – not only are all exterior walls stone block, but the primary interior walls will also be stone.  Any walls that were constructed thereafter would most likely be clay tile covered with plaster.  The difficulty occurs when blocking is required for fixtures, radiators, etc. since these substrates provide poor strength for anchoring weighty hardware.  We had one such case in this bathroom.  The electric radiator had been attached to the clay tile wall and after a few months, dislodged and fell off the wall.  The remedy was to add to the porcelain marble-look tile to cover the area behind where the radiator would attach to provide a stronger surface for the wall anchors.  In hindsight, we should have opened the wall, added blocking, then plastered over.

Salle de Bain After:

As you can see, our objective was to give this bathroom/SDB a more vintage feel than we designed for the second floor bathroom/SDB.  The primary components were the utilization of natural materials such as the white marble and charcoal slate floors, and vintage styling through the fixtures where we utilized porcelain and chrome.  The light fixtures also lend a vintage feel, although you’ll notice the ceiling fixture is, in fact, original to the house – it is the ceiling fixture that was in the ground floor entry, re-purposed to add the perfect finishing touch.

 

Now complete – this bathroom has a large walk-in shower, an oversized sink vanity and a toilette.