Thursday, July 21, 2005

Loving you is easy cuz you're beautiful

I saw the house and I knew. It sounds so trite, but honestly, from the moment I stepped foot on the property, I felt absolutely certain that this was our house.

Here's what I wrote about it at the time:

February 28, 2005 -- Tomorrow we get a second look at a gorgeous 18th century house that we fell in love with last week. If nothing is seriously wrong with it (that is, beside having no heating, electricity, kitchen, bathroom, etc.) we will buy it. I don't know how I will feel tomorrow, but last week it was, as it is said in France, a coup de coeur -- a blow to the heart. So much so that I walked around, I often found myself staring at the property with my hand pressed to my heart, as if I were swearing an oath of fealty. I couldn't help it. Every time I saw something new I liked (like the master bedroom with the cold, clear light spilling across the hardwood floor), my hand would fly to my heart. I saw family Christmases there. I saw picnics under the big tree in the garden. I saw long, gauzy white curtains fluttering from the top floor windows in a June breeze. I saw us drinking wine and eating cheese in front of blazing warm fireplaces. And, without even saying a word, I knew my Dawg saw it all too.

March 14, 2005 -- we're going to make an offer on the house on Saturday. It's going to be much, much, much lower than the owner thinks. In fact, it'll be half his asking price. That first visit, we saw the house as it could be. The second visit, we saw it for real. It is practically a ruin. We've had two architects take a look at it and both of them winced when they saw it. The last one, who took measurements of the rooms and listed all that needed to be done, shook our hands at the end of the day, glanced up at the house and said, "Bon courage," then he looked at the house again, tried to find something more encouraging to say, but in the end, he could only shrug and say again, "Eh oui. Bon courage." It's hard not to be terrified.The good news is, we met an English family that lives in the village and they told us that the house was on the market last summer for 50% of the current price! The owner (apparently a strange gypsy-ish character with sharp mood swings) decided to jack up the price when another old house in a neighboring village was sold for approximately the price of "our" house. Thank God we met these people. Not that we'd have bought it for this guy's asking price -- but our starting price might have been as much twenty thousand higher than it is now...or we might have abandoned the project. Of course, the owner could very well tell us to kiss his gypsy ass when he hears of our low bid. Well, if so, so be it.

March 28, 2005 -- We have put in an offer for the house. As expected, it's way, way below the asking price of the crazy owner, so we have no idea how he'll respond. Our sources say that initially he'll say no but eventually will come crawling around. We'll see. If not this house, we'll find another -- but I must admit: I love this house. Weekend before last, we spent the entire day in the village while our loyal, lovely architect friends from Berlin measured and made sketches of the the place. It was a beautiful day, even more beautiful than the first time we saw the house, and we feel in love with it all over again. We sat in the garden under the walnut tree looking up at the house and, almost like in a dream, the house morphed into a future version of itself. Gone were the dirty grey-blue crepi, the unshuttered windows, the brown peeling paint on the front door, the charred remains of a bonfire in the yard. As we watched, the house began to glow with beauty and warmth. The crepi became a light, welcoming color. The windows reflected a cozy, comfortable interior. Pink roses flourished in the garden and sweet-smelling jasmin twined around the handrail of the double staircase that leads to the front door. Fruit trees -- apple, pear, lemon -- sprouted along the long stone wall surrounding the garden. And we found ourselves sitting before a long wooden picnic table covered by a snowy cloth that flapped slightly in the breeze. All of this happened.Yes, yes, yes...I love this house.

Let me tell you something. This has to be our house. We must be fated for each other. Cuz this beautiful, blessed house, ain't really so beautiful. Not only does it not have electricity, plumbing, or heating, there is not one aspect of the house that does not have to be redone. The roof is sagging and has holes in it, the structure needs bolstering, all of the windows will have to be replaced, the front door needs...I don't know....a new door. There are five fireplaces, but they are all filled with cement. There is a bathroom, but I would only use it under heavy sedation. There is a garden, but the weeds in it are (literally) taller than I am. There is a room whose floor is completely covered with birdshit and dead flies.

To be honest, it would seem that we are buying the Amityville Horror .

But damn if I don't love it anyway.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

How It All Began

I have always dreamed of restoring an old house. Don't ask me why. I’m not a ‘handy’ person. In fact, I’ve never so much as attempted to repair a thing in my life. Before I met Dawg, when something broke, I either: (a) bought a new one, (b) continued using it until it was completely broken, or (c) decided I didn’t really need it anyway. But dreams are rarely based in logic or common sense, and the idea of restoring an old house stuck in my head anyway.

When I met Dawg, we quickly discovered that we had this restoration dream in common. Lucky for me, Dawg is handy. He installed our oven, washing machine and dishwasher when we first moved into our apartment. He rewired the electricity in the dining room and bathroom, while I stood by, cringing in fear. He takes apart, cleans, and reassembles the pipes under the sink when they get clogged. He has a big toolbox. Need I say more?

After fantasizing about it for a few years, about a year ago, inspired by passing a weekend in a fabulous 18th century manoir in the Loire (, we decided to go for it. For the next 9 months, we spent every day eyeing profiles of centuries-old houses on the internet (, pouring over the grainy pictures in a real estate magazines, calling owners and agents to set up appointments. Every Saturday morning, we'd get up at the crack of dawn to drive the 2 hours down to the Loire or Burgundy, check out 2-4 old houses, ask questions, scribble notes, take pictures of everything, do some more poking around the region, and then fight the traffic on the A6 to get back to Paris time for dinner.

House shopping is a lot like dating: you have a number of false starts before you find The One. There were houses we lusted over, even though they were bad for us. There were houses were couldn't get away from fast enough. There were houses that we liked only okay, but tried to work up lots of enthusiasm for because we thought they were what we should like. And, a few times, there were houses that we thought we loved.

There was:

  • the goregous 19th century farmhouse in the Loire, with the weeping willow in the courtyard, and phalanx of gnarled apple trees in the garden...situated in a town full of hideous cinderblock houses, and right next to a very loud and busy street.
  • the maison burgeoise in northern Burgundy, with the exquisite tile floors, spacious rooms, a vast and wonderful barn, lots of land....and a really good view of the 18-wheelers that rumbled by the living room window;

  • the cozy U-shaped farmhouse that lost its charm after we learned it was located in a town that was a deportation camp for French Jews in WWII;
  • the lovely overpriced house that had lots of land, tons of character, and a long-eared donkey in the backyard that liked to sneak up on you;
  • the sprawling farm with 9 rooms and no bathroom;

  • And then, all of the sudden, there was The One.


    I'm Lola, a 36-year old non-practicing lawyer living in France. Against all good advice and common sense, my husband (Dawg) and I are in the process of buying a gorgeous 200-year old ruin house in northern Burgundy, about two hours south of Paris. We're determined to restore it to its former grandeur. Too bad almost every architect we've met has run gibbering and screaming off the property.

    OK - I'm exaggerating. A little.