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.

17 thoughts on “Entry Hall & Exterior

  1. Isn’t it amazing when you look back? I remember your earliest posts, and your occasional despair! The house spirit must he so happy to have been resurrected!


    1. It is amazing. Amazing they are finally gone. Nothing like running two years behind schedule to make a person miserable. Plus, now that I’m getting bids from other contractors for the remaining work, it’s pretty clear that I was being overcharged on change orders. Nothing like being able to dole out the work in smaller bits to keep people honest. We’re getting into woo-woo territory with that last comment but, just between us, I journeyed a few times to reassure the house and thank it for being so patient. Carl Jung, Marie Kondo, Michael Harner: I do sometimes keep dubious company.


        1. Funny you should ask. With me safely out of the way in Paris, my photographer friend Roger Stowell is at the house taking pictures that put mine totally to shame. He has a book in mind, plus I imagine he’ll sell a few pictures through Getty Images and his online shop. If you are doing a book or magazine article, you want the photos to have a consistent look. I doubt that he will want to use my photos, so I may do my own book using Blurb, really just for my own amusement. Of all things I have started an online bookbinding class through Domestika. This brilliant Spanish woman makes it look very easy. I may select a few shots to print on nice paper, add a house history — I wish I had images from a hundred years ago! — and bind a book myself. Why not?


    1. Yes, I went to the archives, so I know a fair amount. I’ll do a post. For now, an earlier house was demolished in 1863 to make way for this one. A Paris notaire bought the place plus a lot of land for his son, who he set up in business, also as a notaire. So he was probably more a gentleman farmer than the real deal. Just before WW2 it was sold to the family that I bought it from. They ran a porcherie until the 1980s, when the husband died. The business was shut down and the place went into decline. When his widow died, I’m not sure what happened. I need to head back to the archives. I bought the house from her children in 2014.


  2. Absolutely love the house and what you’ve accomplished under Jacques’ careful supervision. You can understand my feelings since you are familiar with all the charm and personality of Southern California tract homes. I mean, you could have vouchsafed plaster and just gone with sheetrock, doncha know. I did notice you incorporated a touch of Los Angeles by spec’ing bulletproof doors, a design treatment straight out of Compton, the “South Central School of Interior Design” if I’m correct. The hallway arch with contrasting white paint is especially effective in focusing the eye towards the doorway. Super light fixtures. Amazing what one can find at “Le Home Depot,” no? :snorf: Your floor tile treatment looks great but I also puzzle why folks with hardwood floors love to cover them. That’s a fabulous staircase, great rail details too, and I imagine a certain little white canine races up and down. How long did it take for M. Jacques to figure out where all the great overlooks and peeking spots were?

    Whoah, look at me sounding all Architectural Digest and stuff.😛 I better shut up while I may be ahead.


    1. Compton, my old stomping grounds. You’re so perceptive! So how did you miss the kitchen photo showing the whole place sheetrocked from end to end? I’m fine with sheetrock. It’s those 8 ft. ceilings that got to me. Our Home Depot is called Leroy Merlin, King Merlin, if I’m translating that correctly. They are so similar that I was immediately able to find my way around. Trouble is, they don’t allow dogs, so I do most of my shopping at Mr. Bricolage. They not only let Jacques in, the staff play with him. My little silver-haired devil doesn’t just charm random strangers. He has had that house scoped end to end, from the day the guys put in some decent flooring for him and lifted the kraft paper from the stairs. He has two overlooks: the one you see and another at attic level that allows him to spy on the landing on the second floor. The landing itself has an ottoman where he can perch and supervise in comfort. He also has a racetrack running down the entry hall, into the kitchen, then past the dining table and back into the hall. When he has a squeaky toy in his mouth and dashes toward you, you fail to chase him at your peril.


      1. If King Merlin won’t accept Jacques then it deserves to be boycotted. Or girlcotted or dogcotted, or something. As I wander around my house doing little projects I am always amazed how creatively the builders of Chez Lowest Bid managed to do things on the cheap. At least you’ve avoided crown moulding made out MDF, essential compressed paper and sawdust, that has the charming propensity to absorb moisture from the air, swell and crack along every joint.


  3. I like jacques’ various observation points, obviously a born supervisor.
    Bullet proof doors? You’ve obviously adapted well to rural France.
    It looks stunning…you must be delighted with the result.


    1. Thanks. True, I started with a stone tent. In effect it was a variation on all the barn renovations that people did a while ago. Glad you like it.


  4. Architecturally your place is the quintessential Maison de Maître. In my opinion the MdM category is the best in French architecture because it’s got more or less grand proportions without being too big to manage.
    The stairs are glorious! The curves are just wonderful and so profoundly French 🙂


    1. Well, your stairs are better, but thanks and I agree. Every time I see a chateau renovation, all I can think of is impending bankruptcy. That or they live in the place Charleston-style, which means they paint the surfaces but freeze in winter, put up with little plumbing, faulty wiring, etc.

      When I came to see this house I was also taken to other large houses that looked right outside. Inside they had rabbit-warren floor plans, arbitrary changes of level, all manner of irreparable strangeness. I feel lucky to have found a place that was right on the inside, as well. And you’re right about the scale. A visitor described the house as a cosy mansion, as good a description of a Maison de Maitre as I can imagine.


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