Entry Hall & Exterior

So this is what I bought. I was sitting in California nursing a sprained ankle and a broken heart when a realtor sent me this photo. If I like it in person, I said to myself, this is my house. I did and it is.

The house had issues, to put it mildly. That sad exterior coating — in this area they stucco over the stone rather than leave it exposed — was falling off in chunks. Pipes and wiring were all exposed and most in dubious condition. Rising damp was rotting the whole place, inside and out. But the slate roof was new and the foundation damp but solid. So I went for it.

They removed and replaced all the old stucco. They removed the rotting shutters and then, well, they just painted them and put them back up. For now. Windows were replaced with wood-framed thermopane windows which only leak a little bit.

Notice the incredible disappearing garden. It’s a long story, only partly attributable to contractor devastation. That yard is full of rocks and gravel. The stunning row of chestnuts had been pruned in a way that caused them to rot. Rather than have them fall over we pulled them down. The topsoil is almost nonexistent. This is the most serious unforeseen condition. It will cost well into five figures to properly landscape the front garden.

The entry was dated. Maybe that’s the best way to put it. Note head-height display cabinets. Note one original fixture that does nothing for the space and one replacement, which doesn’t work, either. Peeling paint is one effect of rising damp. Maybe the tile is a postwar replacement of, I’m guessing, the same gorgeous wood floor that was in the dining room. I don’t want to know who thought emphasizing the door to the electrical panel with avocado green paint was a good idea.

Oh, and the original doors leaked. Maybe the contractor didn’t notice because for over two years that door was never closed. We’re still working to remove the water stains. Baking soda is pretty effective.

At least you can see some improvements here. Display cabinets, gone. Paint, improved, with cabinet door de-emphasized. Radiator, damage from rising damp and unsympathetic tile replaced by heated stone floors.

This space has such a strong axis that we just went with it, giving it this solidly symmetrical pattern. I hope the horizontal lines stop that mental rush to the back door. Because I didn’t want the strong contrast of the more commonly seen black accent tiles, I was happy to find this more subtle variation.

Here you see the crew from Reignoux Creations installing one of the new doors. Steel and bulletproof glass in a period-sympathetic design. It works for me and I can’t recommend Reignoux highly enough.

Above their heads is a Fortuny light fixture, one of two in the entry. Things that match, what a concept. Also, as with the floor pattern, I hope the horizontal lines of the fixtures balance the strong front-to-back axis.

So here it is, home sweet home. The shutters are back, the door replaced and there is now a little foundation planting, at least. I’ll talk about the terrace, which you see to the left, and the apartment, which you see to the right, in later posts. This at least is clean and tidy and won’t invite one of those “abandoned” posts you see tagged on Instagram. I love those, but still.

I must have some shots with furniture in them, but sometimes it’s nice just to see the space. This is looking toward the back garden, with the old door still in place.

Opaque glass at the front door for privacy.

Clear glass at the back because I always want to see my scruffy garden.

I haven’t mentioned the stairs because they just needed to be cleaned. While alterations to the house were often dubious the original house, at least to my taste. was spot-on. Here is one of the details that figured in my decision to buy the place.

And here is Jacques, perched where he can see the front and back doors, sense upstairs activity and scent possible kitchen treats. Smart little dog.

Kitchen & Dining Room

So okay, inquiring minds, at least one inquiring mind, clamored for more house pictures. The terrible truth is, they are just crazy disorganized. They came from half a dozen sources over what, six years now, so they are scattered all over the place. And while a great mind, Frank Lloyd Wright’s, declared the fireplace the heart of the home, this mind declared fireplaces to be energy inefficient space hogs. In this house they were not even pretty. All were removed. Wright’s symbolic heart, gone. So where to start? Why not the middle?

Okay, too weird. Why not the start? This is the old dining room. Note the gorgeous, probably elm, flooring that has buckled and become unusable because for three years before I arrived, nobody heated the house. Don’t ever do that to your house, not in a place with freeze/thaw cycles and lots of rain.

The guys removed the wood. My request to have it stacked for reuse was met with “Nah nah, can’t hear you,” and every last bit of it was burned. Why did I fire my architect? Here is one reason. So, out came the floor, leaving this odd half-basement that I think was filled, sort of, with rocks. Eventually, out came the fireplace. Of course the icky dark gray marble remains in the garage to this day.

Stone, pierre de Bourgogne to be exact, replaced the wood. We installed heated floors in most of the ground floor, reducing the need for radiators and giving the house nice, even heat. There are no hot or cold spots and the heat is lower than with radiators, so the air is not so dry. That said the heated floor does create a barrier that eliminates mildew, at least in the rooms where it is found. The basement and the utility room can still have problems.

Mildew, this in the old kitchen, is not your friend.
The guys removed the old ceramic tile. Jacques supervised, as only he can.

I must have a better photo of the old wall, but where? Anyway, you get the point. The kitchen and dining room were separated by this thick stone bearing wall and the kitchen was a dump, destined to become a big storage area if we didn’t fix that. Honestly, it was awful, useless as a kitchen and, as a dining room, just sad. So they removed the stone and put in a steel beam, thus joining the two spaces. Now the light flows from the front of the house to the back. I have a big kitchen where the elm-floored dining room used to be — note fireplace that warmed Dad while everyone else froze — and improved circulation and access to what is now the dining area.

Here it is, open, free space. Note the hole in the wall. The old dining room had a solid wall flanking the fireplace. I wanted natural light from multiple directions. Also I wanted a terrace at floor level to replace a kind of poky corner outside. So I had the guys put in a window, for which you see the opening, and a door which you see below. It was quite a fight, another nail in the architect’s coffin. But I won and really, it is so nice to have those things.

This, too, gives you some idea of how much nicer it is to have that wall gone. You can see the Lacanche stove where the fireplace used to be. A range hood has since gone in. The plumbing and wiring are in. The walls are insulated and finished; Stuart had a painter buddy who had some free time, so the entire house was painted way too soon, but it was a good job and the guys protected it, so, okay. Stuart and Liam are installing the cabinets, which were made in his workshop. Stuart also made the windows and the door.

The kitchen needs its range hood, but you get the idea. It is big, by French standards, light-filled and highly functional. The bar stools are by Thomas Moser and came with me from California. Most of the lighting is LED spots. The one hanging fixture is from a shop in Melle.

It is so nice and open. Maybe I should have left it like this, but I stood in the dining area to get the shot and I can’t relax at the table if my view is of the cooking mess that awaits me. So I had Stuart add a low bookshelf that is just enough higher than the countertop to hide a world of cleanup.

Here is the dining room without its furniture and, in general, with quite a bit of work to be done. The stone flooring is cut in to make room for bookshelves. Someone, can’t say who, exactly, has a bit of a cookbook addiction.

This is my only immediately available photo of the dining area. The furniture came with me from California. The bowl is made by Soy, in Istanbul. The view came with the house.

Checking In

It’s almost fall. That seems so crazy. It’s not as if nothing has happened.

In the real world, RBG, RIP. Am I worried about what comes next? You betcha. In my world, I might possibly have sold the rental house, for the second time, don’t want to jinx it but maybe, maybe. We have a new house guest, this time a young man from Afghanistan who left 15 years ago and has yet to find asylum. He’s almost legal, here in France, and finds our guest room to be a step up from the rat-infested basements and all where he has been staying. Supposedly he is about a month away from finalizing the paperwork. Hope so.

I know I have been promising you photos of the house. Before and after, all that. I’m getting there, sort of. Where my motivation has been sidelined by overthinking, mainly, my friend Roger Stowell has stepped up. I encourage you to search Instagram for roger.stowell.35, where you will find his take on the place, along with the many other images that he posts. Brilliant guy. Please like, comment, subscribe, etc. Let’s keep him going.