This is what I started with. Dirty beams, full of happy insects. No insulation. Water damage. Ugly partitions that made no sense. Flat walls with arbitrarily placed doors, which visually are just the pits. Floors that look more or less okay, until you try to do anything with them. No plumbing and minimal electricity. It was dark up there.

This is what we did. We made the place watertight. We used ultrathin insulation so we could still see the beams. We killed the bugs and treated and cleaned the beams. We replaced the leaky skylights with new ones that are approved for use in historic houses, plus we added a few. We added a bathroom, a bedroom and a kitchenette, which means plumbing and a whole lot of electricity. We broke up the utter flatness of that wall by putting in a closet. So we have one less door and a somewhat separate area for the kitchenette. Oh, and the floor? They — not me, my knees would never forgive me — screwed down every plank at about three inches on center. They removed the planks that were still too far out of whack, replacing them with other boards. They poured a self-leveling compound over that, put a foam cushion over that and oak flooring over that. I guess it’s good that you can’t tell that it was in such bad shape. Since the photo below was taken I have added a floor lamp in the corner. The light is too bright to photograph well but that corner is now a great place to settle in with a book.

22 thoughts on “Attic

    1. He does. When he was a little guy he would have to be put in place and coaxed to hold still and look at me. Now when he is in the shot anyway, likely as not I’ll say something to get his attention. After the shot, if it turns out well, I’ll praise him. It has gotten to the point that picking up an ipad or a camera in itself cues him to pay attention. He is a great little collaborator.

  1. As the great collaborator sang…’Ah yes, I remember it well…’

    There was an attic like this in one of the earlier houses – but at that point the thin insulation was unknown…not so in the last house where the old attic on one side had been turned into bedrooms- so out with the ceilings and in with the insulation to preserve the view of the beams…

    Did you apply for permission for the extra windows…or just go ahead?

    1. We just put them in. I live in a conservation area but they are not at all strict about it. I do have a permit but the application was given only a cursory review.

      I have done my best to act responsibly anyway. Those skylights are on the back of the house; the ones in the front were simply replaced with new ones of the same size. They were designed to conform to English standards. Velux doesn’t even sell them in France. I had my old leaky wood windows replaced with new wooden windows with weather seals and thermopane glass, just on my own. I can’t imagine the locals demanding that I live with the original windows, as I understand is sometimes done in England. In several instances I have replaced newer materials with ones that would have been used when the house was built.

      I would like to think that if the original architect were to visit the house, preferably at a party given in his honor with him wearing his Legion of Honor medal, he’d be pleased. In a couple of months we will have a little — and growing, so we shall see — apero for the previous owner, the one who inherited the house when her aunt died. I don’t know what she will think. People get pretty attached to what they remember from when they were kids. While I respected the house I did not keep things just because they had always been there. So we shall see.

      1. I wondered as we always had problems with windows in our area…
        And that’s something else – the lack of availability of suitable fittings for old houses in France. We had to import stuff from England too.
        When we had finished the last house the lady who had been the cook there passed by…she went into what had been her kitchen and her eyes opened wide.
        You have windows in here! It used to be like a cave!

    1. You too, I imagine. Like a lot of the people who follow my blog, I follow several blogs kept by women who bought and renovated old houses in France. It’s a labor of love, no question. If we had good sense, we’d buy a new build, like the ones that ring this place. It’s emotionally, if not financially, rewarding though, isn’t it, to bring a neglected space back to life.

      This is not a culture that values continuity but some of us do anyway. So we live in Luddite-looking houses that just happen to have cable TV and wifi. Something to be said for that.

      1. In our area, sadly it’s a matter of finance … Most young locals go the lotissement route because it’s cheaper to live that way. I say thank the stars that there are nutters like you and I out there to cherish and restore and breathe life back into a lovely building. If we achieve a fraction of what you have in our little monument historique I’ll be content. Your house just oozes delight where once it was a tawdry decaying cast-off x

        1. Thank you. Yes, I am delighted by this house. I’m glad it shows.

          To be fair, I didn’t buy a cast-off. The house was much loved by the people who lived in it for decades after they could no longer afford even the maintenance. Add to that the natural tendency to not see changes that happen incrementally, the inevitable deterioration of vision that comes with age, the just plain fear of change — if you were becoming feeble wouldn’t you want to forestall your fear of death by pottering around your familiar house and garden, no matter the shape it was in? Add to that the whole idea of what constitutes an appropriate standard of living; the lady who died here may well have grown up using the outhouse, so I wouldn’t be surprised if she was okay with a bathroom situation that I use among my horrible “before” images. Plus the house sat empty for two or three years before I bought it. That never helps. It wasn’t cast off, just owned by heirs who realized that needed upgrades were beyond their means.

          I am grateful that I found the house in the state it was in. It was well built and structurally sound. Apart from that it needed so much that I never had to wade through layers of denial about its need to have everything done. I didn’t have to pay for “upgrades” that I planned to immediately rip out. Everyone agreed that it needed everything and it was priced accordingly. Then I paid and paid and am still paying but at the time I didn’t expect that.

          The funny thing is, despite the absolute depredation of my retirement savings, I am still grateful. I hope to end my life as did the previous old lady, pruning the roses right to the last day.

          1. And the old lady smiles … Yours is exactly the attitude that rings my bell. I do hope we shall meet some day not too distant from now and I will bring a gift for you, for your house and for the old lady whose spirit permeates kindly

  2. Very nice!
    We had issues with installing a Velux in our home, which is postwar, not historic, and which has no vis-a-vis to anybody…..because there MIGHT be vis-a-vis. Someday. Eventually we got the permit, but that it was even an issue was ridiculous.

    1. That’s crazy and in any case they would be looking at you, right? So you finesse the potential creepy neighbor issue by adding a light screen. Obviously every jurisdiction is different. Here the bureaucrats are pretty laid back. I hear horror stories about residents permits but I renew mine every year with no hassle at all. Good to hear you finally did get the permit.

      1. But a resident’s permit isn’t the same as a building permit. We have a neighbor with a roof a tad higher than ours. Thus no vis-a-vis. On the other side, it was the football field, with, obviously, no houses. We don’t have any screens, though I wouldn’t mind a mosquito screen. Not for mosquitos but for bats! At the apartments in town, which are very “classés” we had to do everything by the letter, down to the color of the walls inside because you can see them from the street. You really must come and visit!

        1. Thank you. I’d love to. If you can PM me, please do so. If I can figure out how to do it, I’ll PM you. Among other things, I bet you’re a great cook!

        2. My husband made us a few window screens as soon as we moved to both for insects and bats. They are great as we leave the windows open night and day in summer.

          1. Yes, window screens! I am glad to see they are finally coming to France, not as DIY but as an actual purchasable item. I’m holding out for the retractable variety. I had those in California and could leave doors open all summer long. I have found them in England but not yet here. I do think that for the skylights I’ll give in and get the Velux screens, just for the smaller skylights.

          2. I am surprised that screens are so rare in France. We don’t get mosquitos, but there are flies, wasps and bats. We have very cool roll-down screens. We leave them down in summer and roll them up like shades in winter. It’s the best of both worlds.

          3. Exactly. I have tried to explain this and just get blank stares. I’m on a bit of a mission to habituate my French visitors to window screens and garbage disposers. They think I’m crazy, or maybe that this just confirms what they have thought all along. Just wait, though. The first time I see a window screen or hear the whir of a garbage disposer at one of their houses, I’ll do a little victory dance.

Comments are closed.