Wednesday, November 12, 2008

We did it!

It felt something like a dream walking into our house with our bags and baby, knowing that we were coming home for the first time. But after that, it was surprisingly normal. It was our house - the house we fell in love with almost 4 years ago; the house of which we know every square inch. No ghosts popped out at us. No fretful memories of the years of grime disturbed us. Everything seemed the same as it had always been, except much, much better. And that's when I realized that we had done it. Even though we restored the house from top to bottom, we managed to keep house's original character perfectly intact, while eliminating the creepiness.

This was a major goal of ours from the very beginning. During our house-search, we saw many beautiful old places with horrible modern "improvements." Plastic window frames, glass-enclosed terraces, exposed stone where there should have been paint, eye-watering paint jobs where there should have been stone. We decided that we wanted a house that would look almost exactly as it might have in whatever era it was built. Of course, we modernized it with things like double-glazed windows and insulation, but we tried hard to impress upon the workers that we did not want anything that would change the house's inherent character. (And believe me, it was a struggle. You wouldn't believe some of the things that they wanted to do in the name of modernity and convenience.)

So, walking into the house, it felt great to realize that even with all its shiny new doors, windows and walls, it still was a Really Old House.

That said, it was also a Really Dusty House. We hadn't been in the door five minutes before Lil'Dawg was covered from head to toe in dust. Seriously. Just like we'd rolled him in it. I didn't even bother to take off my coat (though I could have! The house was warm!) before picked up a broom and got to work. All that day, we swept, mopped and scrubbed, but when we left the house the next day it was still dusty. I guess it will take a couple of months of repeated scrubbings for the house to realize that it is, finally, clean.

When we weren't cleaning, we were shopping. We didn't have any chairs and after a full day of cleaning, the idea of flopping on the hard floor didn't seem appealing. So we went to a store to find a table and chair set. We were envisioning buying a lovely wrought-iron set; one we could put in the garden when the weather turned nice, and upon which a simple white table cloth and wine glasses would look appropriate. What we ended up with was a ungodly plastic set in dark green. We threw a colorful tablecloth over it, but it didn't help much. The contrast between our beautiful handmade wood floors and the unnaturally-colored, mass-produced, green plastic chairs was just too striking. They will have a short tenure.

That night, we dined on the same meal we have eaten in our little village for the past 3+years: avocado, tomato and Boursin cheese on baguettes. (If you've never had Boursin cheese, you must, as it is more addictive than crack. It is ridiculous that with all the wonderful cheeses that exist in France we always turn to Boursin in times of need, but we do. I don't know what they put in's possible it's not even cheese. But man, it's tasty!) We had wanted to have something more memorable, seeing as it was the first time we'd eaten inside the house, but in the end it was appropriate: our fabulous Lacanche stove will arrive in early December so we won't be needing to eat cold sandwiches any more. Bring on the boeuf bourguignon!

Sleeping there that night was... interesting. We were on an air mattress that was not too comfortable and reeked of plastic. But the thing that took us most aback about sleeping there was the noise. Not from passing motorcycles or drunken revelers, which we're accustomed to from living in Paris, but from the village church . Church bells! Church bells! Every hour on the hour! We go from dead silence...silence so heavy it weighs on your bong! bong! bong! bong!

Now, I specifically recall asking someone about this before we bought the house. Maybe it was the agent. Maybe it was our neighbor, Red. And we were told that the bonging stops around 10pm, starting again around 7 am. But no, it does not! Why doesn't anyone stop this?? I can understand how one might need the clock to ring in times gone past, before clocks stopped being luxury items, but come on! Even the oldest, gnarliest farmer must have a ditigal clock now! That the bell keeps ringing, even though there's no need for it, seems very French to me. The bell rings all night because it has always rang all night, and even if no one likes it, no one can - or should - stop it either. Dawg now wants to be a member of our village's council to campaign against the all-night ringing of the bell.

To be honest, though, the bell didn't wake Lil'Dawg, and the only reason I noticed it was because: 1) I was tossing and turning on the uncomfortable air mattress and so was awake anyway, and 2) I was annoyed that we had been Lied To!

Okay - enough chitchat. I know you want to see pix. But first, I want to shout out to architects #1 and #2 , who are getting married this Friday. Herzlichen Gluckwunsch zur Hochzeit, my dear friends! And thank you for helping to make our house such a pleasurable place to be!

And on to the pictures.... (These are just a taste; I'm putting together a full set on shutterfly).

Living Room



Guest Room

Guest bathroom

Lil'Dawg's room

Master Bathroom

Master Bedroom

Ready to go home....

Outdoor Shots:

Our beautiful View

The Yard

Our Wonderful, Really Old House

Friday, October 17, 2008

Full Circle

I remember when we first signed the papers for the house 3 years, 9 months ago. We were so excited. We didn’t care that the house was dilapidated, filthy and smelled strongly of pigeon shit. We loved it and couldn’t wait to get our hands on it.

A day or two after signing, I went to the local department store to poke around their hardware department. It tickled me silly to buy a rake and a pair of wellies, and I must have spent a good hour mulling over which canvas gloves to buy. Heavy-duty polythene sacs, dust masks, secateurs, and industrial-strength disinfectants all went into my shopping cart, and when I returned home, my fingers were cramping beneath the weight of all the bags I carried. But I was so thrilled – these products marked the start of a great adventure. Cleaning our house would be our first act of love towards it; the first step toward making the place our own.

Today I found myself in that department store once again. Like last time, I contemplated the best cleaning supplies for the house. But this time, I bought ordinary stuff – rubber gloves. Brooms. Sponges. A dustpan. Mr. Clean (or as it’s called here, Monsieur Propre). Yes, people: the rumors are true. Three years and nine months after buying the place, our house is finally habitable. This weekend we will stay overnight there for the first time.

I must admit, I’m a little nervous. I have only seen the house at night twice. The first time was when we just happened to drive past it in on our way to a local chambre d’hôte. The second time was when a meeting with the workers ran late, and we ended up racing against the sun, like anti-vampires, trying to lock up the house before darkness fell. We didn’t quite make it but we tore out of the village as if zombies were on our tail. The house, with its grimy cobwebs and crumbling walls and missing floors, was just too creepy to be in after dark.

Now, all that’s changed, of course. The walls are all white and gleaming. The new floors smell wonderfully of freshly cut wood. And there’s nary a cobweb to be seen, let alone one black with dirt.

But I’m still the tiniest bit weirded out by staying overnight there. The house has been creepy a lot longer than it’s been nice. I feel oddly shy and apprehensive, as if I’m about to go on a date with an old friend, who used to live out of his car and eat from garbage cans, but has since cleaned up really, really nicely.

What shades of the old house will remain, I wonder? It’ll be so familiar and yet unfamiliar, too. I imagine, like any really old house, it makes lots of weird, creepy, settling noises. But it’ll take us awhile before we know the sounds of the stairs creaking is normal, and not some 19th century ghost coming to reclaim the house, or the village axe murderer creeping upstairs to chop us to bits.


Still, I can’t wait. We’re on the brink of a whole new adventure.

I’ll let ya’ll know how it goes.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Getting my Goat

Architects (or lack thereof) aside, we are doggedly moving forward. Soon we will actually be able to spend a night in our house, possibly as soon as mid-October. Originally, we thought it would happen by the end of September. At the last meeting in late August, the carreleur (tile layer) swore that he would be finished tiling the bathrooms by Friday, September 19th, so that the plumber could connect the toilet, bathtub, etc. and we would finally have a functional bathroom.

Well. We made an impromptu visit to the house on Wednesday, September 17th – two days before the carreleur was supposed to have finished. And guess what?....

Come on, you’ll never guess....

The bathrooms weren’t finished.

Steady now - I know you’re shocked. But actually, so were we. We bounded in, full of hope – but the bathrooms looked exactly the same as when we had visited weeks earlier. Dust-covered boxes of tiles lay on the floor. A half-empty bottle of mineral water was perched on our useless sink. Some tumbleweed rolled by. Our bathroom was a ghost town.

Enraged, Dawg fired off phone calls to both the carreleur and the stone mason (who had subcontracted the work) and threatened to institute penalties if the bathrooms were not finished by the agreed upon date. (Mind you, they told us in May that the bathrooms would be finished by the end of June…which became mid-July…which became the end of July…which then became the end of September.) The carreleur called Dawg back hours later, bumbling with apologies, swearing that he had been planning to finish up that very weekend! He swore that he would be finished by Monday, Sept.22nd at the very latest.

But the very next day, he calls to inform us that a big box of tiles had gone missing, and that he had to order more, which would take 10 days. Now, does someone smell a rat? Of course, it is possible that the tiles were really stolen. Once some wooden floorboards that were waiting to be installed were stolen. But isn’t that just so convenient? We now have to wait 10 days for the new tiles to be delivered.

And to top it off, the stone mason – who has been extremely reliable for the past three years – has become increasingly unreliable. For the past few months we have been waiting for the delivery and installation of stone so that the mason can finish the floors near the fireplaces. The mason, M. Carbourdin, said that there were delays with the quarry. Fed up, Dawg again threatened to institute penalties on the stone mason. A few days later, M. Carbourdin called to say the problems with the quarry had miraculous cleared and said the stones would be delivered within the week.

That was last week.

Today* Carbourdin calls to say that “the stones fell off the truck” en route to delivery and he’d have to order more. Can you believe this? Neither do we. It’s the builder’s equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework.’ Dawg simply told the mason that what happened to the stones was not his problem, and that Carbourdin had been find a solution by next week or else we were going to find someone else to do the job. Sigh.

I mean, can you imagine making such excuses at your job if you fail to deliver to a client? Having worked on construction law cases for 2.5 years, I do know that delays are to be expected, especially from suppliers. But I also know that you need to make reasonable efforts to circumvent delays – like having a going to an alternate supplier if one fails you. It is just. So. FRUSTRATING.


The house, though still uninhabitable, is looking good.

No longer scary. Almost warm.

In July, we invited our friends (whom I’ll call Tollie and Skip) to see the house. And for the very first time, we had guests that looked impressed with the house instead of shocked. Skip who studied landscaping was very excited about our garden (well, potential garden) and we had fun chatting about where raspberry or blueberry bushes should be planted, whether a cherry blossom tree would thrive there, and how to get rid of the many, many, many, many weeds without using industrial strength pesticides. Half-jokingly, I said that we should get a goat. It really was a half-joke, but now each time we think about it, we get more serious. But we have so many questions – like…is it really possible to rent a goat? Would we have to feed it more than grass and weeds? Does a goat require a lot of care? Would it really eat everything in our yard? How long would it take for a goat to eat a 1500 sq meter yard? What if we rented several goats for a week – would that be enough time for them to clean out our yard? If there’s anyone out who knows a thing or two about goats, please feel free to chime in.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with some pictures of the house as of Skip and Tollie's July visit. Feel free to ooh and ahhh.

Living Room:

View of Living Room from Kitchen:

View from Living Room of doors to library (left) and doors leading to hall. (Aren't the doors goregous? The person who made the doors also made the windows. By hand. Just wonderful.)



Master Bedroom (note the beautiful view!):

Close-up of beautifully restored fireplace in master bedroom (I have to do before and after's of this fireplace, the difference is amazing):

Guest bathrooms in-progess!

Guest Room:

And just for fun... Skip and Tollie pushing Lil'Dawg around our lovely village:

*Note: Although I'm posting this on Oct. 11, this post was originally written on Sept. 24th.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Architecturally Speaking

Very wisely, I once advised other potential house-restorers to avoid hiring architects that do not live in the same country as your house, and who do not speak the language of the people who will be working on your house. I stand by this advice. To do otherwise is crazy. But oh how I miss our former architects.

You see, they were very good. And thorough. And they truly cared about our house. Almost too much, really. Toward the end our professional relationship, we were having serious arguments with them over stylistic matters, like how to tile the bathrooms. We wanted about 75% of it tiled, and they wanted about 10% of it tiled. Distressed by our poor taste, they told us repeatedly that tiled bathrooms weren't the thing to do, and said that the bathroom we envisioned would look like “a bathroom out of the 80’s.” (I don’t remember how bathrooms looked during that particular decade, but I’m guessing that tile-wise, they were equivalent of wearing acid wash jeans, ruffled shirts and big hair.) Architect #1, perhaps fearing that my gaudy American tastes were influencing Dawg's sensible German aesthetics, even called Dawg for a quiet heart-to-heart about it. I tihnk he was surprised to learn that Dawg, too, supported a tiled bathroom. Despite quite a bit of bickering, we finally convinced them to overcome their disgust, and draw the plans for the bathroom as we wanted it, which Architect #2 did – a bit grudgingly but perfectly.

Our professional relationship finally ended when, one warm April day in 2007, we went out to the house and saw that all the upstairs walls had been knocked down, on Dawg’s order. Architect #1 pitched a right fit. He thought that the old crumbling walls should have been stabilized instead of replaced. But earlier that year, the workers had told Dawg that stabilizing them wasn’t worth the effort and that we should just build new ones. Dawg had to make a decision on the spot, and as he was standing there staring at walls that trembled when you tapped on them and that were filled with long, spidery-looking cracks, he decided to go with new walls. Architect #1, who is not known for his light touch in sensitive situations, thoroughly berated poor Dawg for this decision. “You should have called me first!” he cried. “I would have told you that this was the wrong thing to do! You should have told the workers to wait until you’d spoken with us!” And at that moment, we realized we needed an architect in the same country, who could visit the house regularly, and speak to the workers directly.

I mean – can you imagine how it was for Dawg? On a huge project like this, having calling the architects every time something came up and having to translate technical architectural issues from German to French while simultaneously trying to account for cultural differences in working styles and approaches? It was just impossible for Dawg to continue being the mouthpiece for the architects. We expressed realization this to our architect friends, and I think there was relief all around when we went back to just being friends. (And no, our relationship suffered no lasting damage or awkwardness. In fact, Architect #1 is Godfather (along with my brother) to our son.)

A few months later, we hired another architect who seemed perfect. She was German but had lived and practiced in France for many years. She seemed as if she could whip the workers into shape – keep them on schedule, parry their bullshit, and organize monthly meetings with them. We also thought she could/would provide architectural advice about remaining issues like how to best insulate the roof, or explain the French building codes in relation to the construction chimneys. And for the first few months, she was okay. The works were progressing. The workers seemed to respond to her well. But after awhile, her work became sloppily and she became increasingly inattentive. She took her sweet time returning phone calls, and even when Dawg set up a time to talk on a weekly basis, she would sometimes forget to call or call an hour late. At first, we were forgiving because she had a baby six weeks younger than Lil’Dawg, plus two older kids, plus – as she told us at one point – she was having a personal crisis: a husband that was openly running around on her.

But soon it became clear that personal problems or not, something was going to have to change. She would forget to confirm meetings with the workers, so that sometimes not all of them would show up for meetings. She was very lazy about checking over the worker’s completed work, and didn’t notice if something was missing. (For example, once we were visiting the house shortly after the lights were installed and noticed that the hallway leading to the downstairs WC was very dark. ‘That was stupid of us not to put a light here,’ we said to ourselves. But after we consulted the electrical plan, we saw that we did indeed have a light there. The electrician had forgotten to put it in – and she, who had supposedly proofed the work, hadn’t even noticed.) She didn’t keep track of costs, and the one time she did, had another client’s name on the report and added up the figures wrong….like, way wrong, like tens of thousands of euros, wrong. And when that issue about the French building codes came up, she simply shrugged and said she didn’t know anything about it. Dawg ended up doing the research himself. Oh, I could go on.

Dawg tried talking nicely with her – asking her to take ownership of the project, to be more attentive, to refer to the checklists that he made for her, to respond to phone calls faster, etc. She would always agree, and then behave in exactly the same way. Eventually, he got fed up and would send her harsh emails or voicemail messages – to which she wouldn’t respond for days and then tell him that she didn’t respond because she “didn’t like [his] tone.” For this treatment, we were paying thousands of euros.

In July we finally decided that she added so little value to the project that we might as well fire her. But before we could, she told Dawg that she didn’t have time to work on our house anymore and was quitting. Dawg was infuriated that she beat him to the punch and we were astounded that she had the gall to quit so breezily. A few days later she sent us her bill.


She must have forgotten that we were lawyers. We sent her a most legal letter citing her grievous and brutal termination of our contract, our fears about how her departure would slow the continued renovation of the house, the damages we suspected that we’d incur. We would, we said, think about what kind of compensation, if any, she deserved. She had already been paid thousands of dollars for doing almost nothing. She should count her blessings that we weren’t suing her.

She responded by threatening to call all the other workers to tell them that we were refusing to pay her final bill. Dawg replied that at least then she’d be calling the workers, which was more than she did when she worked for us. She didn’t have much to say after that. A few weeks later, she suggested that we sit down and talk it over. We told her that we were on vacation, and to call us after we returned. She didn’t, and we haven’t called her. So that’s that.

We really are close to completion now, but – sigh – it would be really nice to have an architect around for these final touches. Like for our kitchen. We spent part of our holidays with our German architect-friends and discussed our dream kitchen with Architect #2. She made a quick but useful sketch of a kitchen plan (which we’ve been carrying around to various stores and showing to the workers) and gave us lots of ideas and tips. Architect #1 did a back-of-the-envelope sketch for the type of insulation we should use for the roof, and explained in detail why would should insulate in the manner he suggested.

Sitting around chatting and laughing and dreaming with them about our house over good food and bottles of wine was just like the old days. It felt wonderful to discuss the house with people who responded to our enthusiasm with equal interest and professional zeal. It made me wonder.…would it really be so crazy to rehire non-French speaking, Berlin-dwelling architects finish up our house at this point?

Maybe. But maybe not.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Three Bathrooms and a Range-Cooker

OK - forget about the "what-happened-in-the-past-year-and-a-half" stuff for awhile. As of today, we are finally on our way to the one thing that, in my mind, will make this house habitable: a bathroom.

For months, M. Carbourdin, the mason, has been promising us that the tiles in our bathrooms will be finished by the end of July. And yet, July inched closer and closer with nary a tile laid. In fact, for the past several weeks we stopped hearing from M. Carbourdin altogether, despite numerous phone calls from Dawg.

Although Dawg was getting anxious, I wasn't worried because Carbourdin, though on the whole extremely reliable, gets like that sometimes. If he doesn't have a positive answer for you, he will simply not return your phone call until he has one. (This strikes me as a very french way of dealing with something. I'm generalizing wildly here, but, in my experience, the french are not big on saying "I don't know." They will go through all kinds of convolutions and sometimes even make up crazy, clearly untrue stories to avoid saying, "I don't know." On the whole, I admire Carbourdin's approach. Clearly he thinks it is more honorable to ignore clients than to lie to them!)

Anyway, yesterday he sent an email, full of apologies, informing us that the tile guy would be starting that very day. And as far as we know, he has.

I am so excited about this. This is the dream. A house with a brand-new bathroom. No, no -- a house with three new bathrooms! Do you remember what the old one looked like? Well, take a gander:

Yeah. You understand why I'm so excited. It will be so nice when this toilet is a distant memory.

Not that we ever used it. I would have happily let myself explode first.

The Range Cooker

But the bathroom isn't the only exciting thing going on. We're buying an oven. And not just any old oven - a Lacanche

Nice, huh? This is a serious stove. We're pretty sure we want the Saulieu model, but we still have a few other decisions to make. For example, how many burners to have. We will definitely opt for the classic four burner hob, but we could have as many as six. Six burners! The very thought of it makes me grin like an idiot. I can just see me now, whirling around the oven in a white chef's hat, manning a half-dozen copper pots and pans filled with complicated sauces and tender vegetables (from our own garden, of course), while checking on the huge golden turkey that is roasting below. Mmm. Six burners sounds nice.

But - is that just me being swept up in another house fantasy again? Will I really use six burners outside of big events like Thanksgiving and Christmas? Will I miss not having six burners if I don't get them? I don't know. I will say that both Dawg and I like to cook, and like to cook big. Anybody out there with (or missing) a six-burner stove have an opinion?

Now, if we don't get the six-burners, we could get a "short order cook." No, not a big-bellied man in a grimy white apron wielding a spatula, but a long cast-iron plate on which we could fry hamburgers, flip pancakes, sling hash, etc. Oh yeah. That sounds good too.

We could also get - a healthier version of the short order cook - a "plancha". This is a long, flat stainless steel sheet on which we could sear fish, cook vegetables, etc. The Lacanche salesman really tried to push this option, openly mocking our interest in the six-burners ("What are you, cooks?). With the plancha, said he, we'd hardly have to use any oil on our food. We'd be super healthy! Naturally, the plancha costs an additional 1,000 euros or so.

We have one more important thing to decide about the oven: the color. These beauties come in a dizzying array of shades, from "provence yellow" to "terracotta" to "tangerine" to "black." Making these kinds of decisions are fun but tough. At first we were thinking yellow, but the saleman told us that a yellow stove is very five years ago. (The horror!) Now we're thinking "tangerine" or just plain old black. The tangerine is gorgeous and fun, but will it still be so 15 years from now? Black seems classic and cozy, but is it too boring?

Readers with an opinion - please weigh in. I'd love to know how other people make decisions like this!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Okay, I lied. I promised four New Things with each post until you all were fully updated. But seeing how long it takes me to write about a single New Thing, if I keep my promise, you might end up waiting another year and a half for another post. So this post will be dedicated to just one New Thing. And let me tell you my friends, this is a big one: we finally have heat.

Because it is June, I know that this statement doesn’t pack much of a wallop. But I tell you, in wintertime it was cold in there. You know how Dante’s vision of the 9th circle of Hell was a giant lake of ice in which the very worst sinners were encased alive? Well, Dante could have stuck his sinners in our house for a night. Or, say, for the month of January. Judas and co. would have considered themselves well and duly punished.

But I digress... Sorry, I’m just excited. For three winters, I have bravely endured (stop snorting Dawg) glacial temperatures inside the house, but this winter I won’t have to. It will finally be warmer inside the house than out.

We decided to go with gas to heat the house, which was an obvious choice to me, but not so for everyone else. Why was gas an obvious choice for me? Read a draft of a post I wrote over a year ago when we were still considering which fuel to use. And try not to call me an idiot:

I can't get over how much there is to learn about home restoration. The questions about heating alone are enough to boggle the mind: what type of heating do we want? What kind is most efficient? What kind is typical for the region? Where will we put the heater? Should we combine and water and space heater? How well insulated is the house? What kind of insulation do we need to add? Does our insulation affect the type of heater we should get? How much will it cost? and so forth.

I am completely clueless when it comes to stuff like this. I've had gas heating in almost every apartment I've lived in, so in considering what kind of heating we should have for the house, I've been automatically reaching for 'gas' since that's the only type of energy with which I'm familiar. What kind of heating? Gas, of course!

But our little village does not have gas.

News like that makes me realize how unprepared I am for this project. I swear it never occurred to this city girl that gas might not be available in every town or village in a civilized country. In fact, it has never truly occurred to me that gas actually comes from somewhere. It doesn't just magically appear in one's oven or radiator -- it must be piped into town and distributed, and is done only so at the behest of the local government. I know this is not a huge revelation for most people, but it makes me wonder what other simple facts I don't know.

I’m an idiot right?

Don’t answer that.

Anyway, as I mentioned, we did finally choose gas. And since the village doesn’t have gas, a big shiny gas truck came – the kind you speed pass on the highway, praying that it doesn’t explode or overturn – and buried a huge tank of gas in our yard.

Kind of strange and scary thought, isn’t it? Something so dangerous sitting there on your property? I know it’s not like an unexploded mine, but it was a big deal to figure out where to put the gas tank so that no car or truck would drive over it.

That’s sort of like an unexploded mine, isn’t it?

Ugh. Don’t answer that.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Four new things

Dear readers - I'm trying so hard to get you something. Really, I am. But I'm finding it surprisingly tough to summarize 1-1/2 years worth of info. So much drama to many pictures to sort though... Yet everyday that I don't post I get further behind in the story. So, here's the deal: for now, I'll just tell you four new things about the house and throw up lots of before and afts pics. Then next time, I can tell you four more new things. Eventually, I'll get all caught up.

How's that sound? Good?

Okay. Let's get started.


Seems impossible to believe that we’ve owned this house for 2.5 years, have been staring at it for over 3 years, have pour untold thousands into it, and yet we have not spent one single night there. We haven’t even had lunch inside it (I refuse). Our friends are still quietly shocked when they see its rubble-strewn interior for the first time. And its resale value would still be far less we’ve invested in it.

But. We are so close.

When you last saw photos of the house back in July 2006 (see Gutted Like a Fish, parts I, II and III), the house had basically four walls and a leaky roof. Remember? Well now, we have:

1) FABULOUS NEW WINDOWS, each of them lovingly handmade by our menuisier, M. Durand. The windows are exact copies of the originals, right down to the beautiful iron espagnolettes (window latches), which he took from the originals. The only difference is that these are double-glazed.

Here are a couple of "before" shots:

And now after!

Better, no?

I can’t tell you how delighted we are with them. You really need to get windows exactly right because if they're screwed up, the character of the entire house can change. M. Durand came through like a champ. They look great.

He also did our gorgeous new doors. Look:

Old Ugly Door:

New Lovely Door:

2) NEW FLOORS. Well, sort of. When last I posted, the house was completely gutted and had no floors. Now we have the beam-work that will support a floor, and insulation that will keep us from freezing in the winter. What we do not have is the actual, hardwood floor that makes a room pretty. But it should be laid by the end of June. Or so the the workers tell us. Anyway, in case you're interested, here is a picture of the insulation. I can't remember what it's called - and I 've never seen it before - but we're told that it's very ecologically-friendly:

Looks like rabbit poo, doesn't it? Maybe it is. Maybe that's why it's eco-friendly. Hmmm.

Moving on, we also now have:

3) WALLS Now this is a big one. At one point, we tore down all the walls on the upstairs floor, so that it looked like this:

instead of this:

Our decision to tear down the old walls and have new ones built resulted in a spit-and-fur-flying argument with our dear architect friends and led us to getting the shiftless architect we have now (details of that confusing time will be in a separate post).

Anyway, I present to you a series of our new plastered walls!

Upstairs hall:

Master Bedroom:

Master Bath:




Downstairs Hall:



(Don't worry, we kept the lovely old tiles in the hall. They're just covered up in this picture.)



And now, same angles, today!

And finally, we also now have:

4) PLUMBING. All-new, lovely pipes and hoses.

There was such drama around the plumbing. We had one of those nasty surprises more experienced home-restorers warn you about:

Sometime in late 2006, it occurred to someone – can’t remember who anymore – that maybe the old pipes in our house were never connected to the village mains. We had this checked out and yes, that’s exactly had happened. The pipes of this really old house weren’t connected to anything. This meant that all the crap that had come swirling down the pipes over the last several decades had simply drained into a big hole under the garden. While this might explain why everything grows so ferociously well there, it did not make us happy.

This news took pretty much everyone by surprise. We were surprised because the former owner attested in our deed that the house was connected to the mains. We also had a statement or something from the mayor of the village affirming that it was connected. So, the mayor was surprised too. And, like us, not happy. Because laying the pipe that would connect our house to the village mains would require tearing up our garden, digging a huge, long hole under the stone wall that surrounds the house, and digging up in the street in front of the house. An expensive endeavor. Our little village is not so rich. And, as we huffed indignantly, we certainly weren't going to pay for it.

Luckily, because of the attestations in the deed, we did not have to pay for it. The mayor (or someone - can't remember who...Dawg? A local lawyer?) spoke to the crusty old former owner of the house, and told him he'd be responsible for the cost. At first, the COFO balked, but after receiving a sharp letter from a lawyer in Paris threatening to sue, he immediately sent us a check for the full amount. He could have sued our village for reimbursement, but it has never occurred to him. Just as well, as he really made a killing off of this house.

But anyway, we got connnected to the mains and now we have plumbing! Finally!

Now, if only we had a toilet.

Coming up next: HEAT!