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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Flophouse House & Garden Fall Projects

"A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body."

Benjamin Franklin

Did I ever tell you the story about how we bought our little house in Versailles?  We'd been living in this city ever since we came back to France from Japan. At the time my spouse and I were working at the same company (Dassault) and since they had plans to move their headquarters from Suresnes (a city on the outskirts of Paris) to Vélizy it made sense to find an apartment close by.  So we did and we lived happily there for many years.

A few years, a couple of jobs, and a life-threatening illness later we were walking in the neighborhood near the Porchefontaine train station and saw that a little house that had been sold a few months prior was back on the market.  We'd been kicking around the idea of finally buying something after 25 years of renting and this one looked interesting.  It also looked affordable.  A little cottage in the "cheap seats" of Versailles that was so run down that the previous buyer (according to the real estate agent that sale fell through because he could not prove that his money from Russia was "clean") planned to tear it down.

We fell in love.  Yes, it was small (55 square meters/592 square feet), and run down (ancient peeling wallpaper, ugly carpet, cracks in the windows, cracks in the walls, water damage, not-at-all-to-code wiring and asbestos).  But looking past these things we could see pine floors, old chandeliers, crown molding and all sorts of other features that made us think that it could be charming and beautiful if someone gave it a little love.  And there was the garden, of course, which was twice the size of the house.  

We (one Frenchling, two adults and two cats - race "European" which means "mutt")  moved in December of 2012.  Today in the latter part of 2013 we are still in love with the house though our family pocketbook has been lightened considerably. And it is everything we had hoped for-not any bigger mind you, but it is cozy.  One of my friends from church calls it, "La maison de blanche neige et les 7 nains."

And we still have a long long list of projects (stuff that must be fixed and stuff we'd like to have fixed if we can afford it).  Now that we are back home after our extended vacation to the exotic world of the Pacific Northwest in North America we are once again working on the house.  Here is the progress we've made:

The Petit Godin:   Godin came by on Monday and installed the wood stove.  It is magnificent.  You can read here about our quest for the perfect French "poele" and here is a picture of ours in the living room.  We just have to wait until the sealant is completely dry before we can make a fire.

Basement/cellar:  Basement has a laundry area and two small rooms that we turned into a bedroom and a study.  Both have been useable since last year if you are short - anyone over 6 feet/1.8 meters is going to get hurt by the low ceiling and beams.  We couldn't make the rooms taller but we could make them pleasant.  Here is what the study looked like when we moved in:

And here's what it looks like after a week of stripping ancient moldy wallpaper (three layers), plastering and painting.

Last week the plumber came and moved one of the old radiators from the first floor to this room right under the window.  So not only does the Flophouse now have a guest room but it has heat.  Ok it's not exactly this but it's warm and bright and has a futon.  The laundry area is right next door so you can even fall asleep to the sound of our ancient dryer rumbling and tumbling in the night.  Just think of it, mes amis, as the "authentic Versailles experience."  And really, what more could any guest ask for in a free room....

Garden:  For those who were kind enough to ask, I am pleased to report that my spouse did not kill the garden.  On the contrary, it was a jungle out there when I got back - weeds like water too.  But there were still a few flowers and vegetables.  We are drowning in tomatoes.  Before leaving the premises all visitors must take a bag of homegrown tomatoes - our very own Flophouse octroi. We also have pumpkins. These I am keeping to make Jack-o'-lanterns, pie and soup.

My parents arrived earlier this week from Amsterdam - my father's annual pilgrimage to the International Broadcasting Convention.  Since "idle hands are the devil's work" we have shanghaied them into helping us cross a few projects off our list.  Right now Mom and I are concentrating on taking out the diseased juniper on the right hand side of the back garden.  

We are generating a mountain of "clean green" and wood for the new wood stove.  How cool is that?

As I have been writing for this blog my mother has been writing for her friends back in Seattle. I will leave you now (it's market day) with one of her notes and her report on our lovely little house (aka "money sink") and its projects.  She called it "Why Juniper Sucks."

"So here we are here in Victoria and JM's lovely new (old) house in Versailles, An excellent example of a well designed, comfortable and very functional small house. They did the smart thing and figured out how much work needed to be done BEFORE they moved in and they hired a really good contractor to do it. (On time and budget, a bit envious after my elegant but behind schedule and way over budget stair project.) As with far too many houses inhabited by old widow ladies it was a mess of bad repair decisions and horrendous amounts of deferred maintenance. And there is still (isn't there just always?) more to be done but the big messy stuff is behind them.

 The garden was truly horrible. It was possible to see the bones installed by a good gardener so Victoria has been careful to preserve much of it but sometimes removal is the only way to go, bringing us to the hideous use of juniper as hedge material so beloved by the suburban gardener. It really wants to be a tree so it's a bad choice for a average sized city garden and the damn stuff tends to turn up its little green toes - generally somewhere in the middle of a hedge row - leaving a nasty hole. It's susceptible to root rot, just one of the things that kill it - one of the MANY things actually. So out it goes. The most hideous mess was removed just after they moved in, we are now tackling the rest of it. Since stacking a lot of plant material in JM's really nice company car seems ill-advised we are taking the longer approach- putting out the maximum amount of "clean green" for each pickup. It goes slowly but the damn thing is coming out. We progress.

A really sucky thing, with all the best intentions, is the historic district designation. Nothing whatsoever can be done to the exterior without approval. So, as we move to refreshing the trim paint on this stone house we can't lift a sanding block without submitting a proposal (five copies) for the exact color and type and a visit from two city departments, any contractors involved, all on site at the same time - imagine trying to get that organized. Then you actually do the work and then arrange at least one inspection. If we all threw ourselves into it we could knock out most of the work in a long weekend but not this trip. It takes months as you might imagine. 

The quandary of the moment is the front gate- not lovely when new, it is considerable less so after the city's street work undermined one of the posts (before JM and Victoria's purchase) and no amount of tweaking is fixing the scraping that attends actually trying to open the damn thing- it is a mess of rust and it could be a better color but no, no, no- approval is required.  Ok, we all get why historic structures need to be protected but the gate was installed around 1960. Heads are being scratched about the political implications of pointing this out to the city's historic PC cops. Apparently they canvas the neighborhoods on scooters looking for criminals attempting to paint houses without permission. Paperwork has been submitted for the gate including detailed drawings (five copies) and we wait. Makes the vagaries and general whimsey of Seattle's zoning department seem like reading Dick and Jane. "


Sauve said...

What a great home y'all are making of it! I love the yellow interior too.

I agree with your mom about juniper as hedges. We have one here in Normandy, where we rent. The thing is about 10 feet tall. Ok for the country but not the city.

We will be moving to your neck of the woods in Dec. Well, perhaps more along the lines of the shoulder region, Mousseaux-sur-Seine, where there is no garden at all so junipers are not part of my plans.

You are so lucky to have your parents with you and lending a helping hand is just another bonus.

Bonne Weekend!

Anonymous said...

The Petit Godin looks like it was always there! How timely to have it ready to go as the cool weather descends. I have enjoyed your entries so much, esp. re: home, hearth and health. The writing that you share about the ALA issues has enlightened me, however, and picqued my interest in travel and rights in general. I am so glad that you are your own boss about what to include in your blog, its a lovely mix of life matters.
Warm regards from coastal Maine,

bubblebustin said...

Thank you for sharing your stories. I've had the absolute pleasure of touring your mother's home (unfortunately without the chance to meet her) and I can see first hand her mastery in turning what's old into something charming. It appears you've inherited her taste and skill.

Perhaps equally as challenging but different from resurrecting charm is the need to add it in a new home - my predicament. Not one for enlisting the help of interior decorators and painters, I've been spending the last 4 years since our home was built contemplating, procrastinating and sometimes ignoring the fact that our master bedroom walls still have only a coat of primer on them. Excuses for not having done anything include 'the weather's too nice I should be outside' (a great excuse, because as you know there's always outdoor work to do), 'the weather's too lousy to open the windows for air', to to 'I need to find the right slipper chair before I decide on colour'. Part of me also wants to hold on to the new house feeling, but that too now's wearing a bit thin. So along with my resolve to finally finish several other minor projects, I am going to paint my bedroom this winter. That's my word. You can come and check on it next time you're in the Pacific NW, ok? Oh, in the charm department, I thought I'd paint it espresso brown and maybe add a touch of wallpaper, although I've never hung any before. Wish me luck.

Question: do you consider yourself fortunate that you don't have to get permission on what interior colours to use, considering they can be seen from the street? I too love yellow, it brings the sunshine in.

Pat L said...

Hi Victoria,
Thanks for sharing your experience with us. It looks great.
As for the junipers, I agree, they tend to be somewhat invasive.

Bon courage to both of you,

Victoria FERAUGE said...

@Sauve, The yellow turned out to be the perfect color. Just made the whole house look brighter. It was my friend Susan from Arizona who went through the color samples with me and helped me choose the colors for the living and dining room. Leila, the wife of Curtis who blogs at Overseas Exile helped me find the right tone for the hallway. Group effort - the best kind. :-)

You're moving to the neighborhood? Wonderful! Well, once you get settled in you should come over to the Flophouse and help us test the efficiency of the Godin at the height of winter. Just send me a note. Are you moving into a house or an apartment?

@mame, So good to see you! I've been wondering how you are doing. Yes, the Godin really fit the style of the house AND it should heat the entire first floor no problem.

@bubblebustin, I'll pass your words onto my mom. She's sleeping now but she'll be in a few hours. The house in Seattle (and didn't we have a lovely time drinking coffee and admiring the Olympic mountains) was another fixer-upper once. I like my parent's style because it's a nice mix of comfy, practical and pretty.

I can't wait to see your house next trip. Painting the bedroom is a splendid winter project. Expresso brown? I like it.

I found out from the contractor that there are some really old houses/apartments in Versailles where yes indeedee they get a say about the interior remodel (color, style and so on). Thank goodness I'm not in that case or I think I would lose it. :-)

@Pat L: Thank you! Not bad for the "cheap seats" in Versailles :-)

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read how the house is developing. It's so pretty! However, I'd shy away from burning Juniper in your wood stove. The fumes are unhealthy and the tars can build up in the chimney.
Bonne weekend from Marina!

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