New Digs

wiring

Well, I did it. After nearly ten years of living in Paris, I am finally going to have a place that I can call my own. After dipping my feet in, and checking apartments from time-to-time, I decided that it was time I went ahead and did it. So I bought my own apartment.

Hunting for an apartment in Paris is quite an adventure; there’s no multiple listing services like there are in other countries (and it’s estimated that over half the apartments in Paris get sold directly by the owners), so you need to spend an inordinate amount of time searching online, in the newspapers, and in real estate agency windows. And since each agency will only show you what is offered by their particular agency – and some real estate agents have a less-than-stellar reputation here – it’s a process that takes a combination of luck, timing—and of course, plenty of time.

Getting a bank loan is another hurdle to cross and I had noticed two major bureaucratic mistakes in the paperwork, then I was required to submit to a full series of medical tests to complete the loan, which I wrote about, but deleted, because I didn’t think anyone would believe me, because I couldn’t either. I guess I should be happy, though, because one friend of mine who was applying for a bank loan had to take a stress test on a treadmill, which fortunately I didn’t have to do…because my stress level was going through the toit.

In short, I almost had three nervous breakdowns. Well – nine, if you count the entire week of 4am conference calls when I was in San Francisco on something I’ve heard about, called a “vacation” trying to save the purchase when the first bank I was borrowing from changed their mind at the 11th hour and rescinded their offer, putting me in a tenuous position since I’d already committed to the purchase. And the mind-numbing amount of paperwork I blew through felled a record number of trees, and more brain cells than I could afford to spare.

So a process that might normally take 30 to 60 days, dragged on for weeks. Then months. Then half a year. And finally, seven months after inking the first round of paperwork, the deal was done and I got the keys to my apartment. It was once an old print shop, previously cobbled together into a living space. Beautiful old stone walls were covered in wallpaper, which is called “cache-misère”, literally meaning “hiding the misery”, which is a reference to things people to do hide something considered “messy” or “outdated.” So one of my projects is to remove all of that and refurbish the stone. Another is to clean up the tangle of wiring that while creative, probably is a good idea to replace.

But most importantly, I won’t have to churn ice cream in my bedroom – and I won’t have to explain to my housecleaner why there is caramel in my bed – because one day I’m going to have a kitchen counter larger than a tapis d’acceuil (welcome mat) – although it’s gonna be a long way before I’m going to be able to roll one of those out around here.

Godin oven

So in the meantime, I’ve been working on getting the place in shape. I’ve been doing things like explaining that Americans like windows that can open, I’ve learned that three is a maximum of number of people that are allowed to yell at me in different languages at the same time (and they are learning that I have a shorter fuse than initially first appeared), and that there are panoply of words that seemingly mean the same thing, like—say, for a sink:

1. Vasque (a really big sink)

2. Évier (a big sink)

3. Lavabo (a regular sink)

4. Cuve (still haven’t figured out that one)

5. Lave-mains (a small sink)

And plumbing catalogs don’t list by ‘type’ of item, like ‘sinks’, ‘bathtubs’, and ‘faucets’, etc but by “Collections”, with ominous names like Opus, Détente, and “Stillness” — so you have to flip through a series of square toilets (and who the heck can manage any kind of détente on a square toilet seat?) to find a normal one.

And I now know that something which is 199 by 282 by 79,5 is cent quartre-vingt-dix-neuf par deux cent quartre-vingt-deux par soixaint-dix-neuf virgule cinq, is even less-comprehensible when you’re holding up a crumbling wall,standing under a shower of plaster dust while avoiding electrocution. Plus I’m trying to teach delivery people that if they ring the doorbell, rather than just affix a delivery sticker to your door requesting that you call to reschedule the delivery, they have a better chance of completing a delivery on the first round. Oh, and I just got called for jury duty in California for next week. Needless to say, the explosion that will be heard around the world may be my head.

The good news is that you won’t have to hear my anymore bemoaning that I have a tiny kitchen. The bad news is that it’s going take me a while to get there. But after all I’ve been through, demolition and construction is a walk in le parque.

No, the bathroom isn’t functional. And the kitchen is nothing but a counter with a Godin oven, which embodies the paradox of French taste: the handmade stove is enameled in a gorgeous red enamel color, and right smack in the front is a bright-blue digital clock with large, flashing electrical numbers. (I wonder if that can be removed?) But that’s the least of my problems at this point. So the last few weeks have been spent stripping everything out to clean up the space, to see it better, and the next few weeks (or months) will be spent figuring out in which direction I’m going to take it next. But first, I need to figure out how to find a sink.

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247 comments

  • Oh gosh its a minefield isn’t it! We are (very) slowly trying to renovate our place in the allier region of france. We got a new roof on it (about 27 years overdue) last summer and I dread to think of the horrors of actually getting down to fine details! I wish there was a specific dictionary for all the building vocabulary! It has taken us a fair bit to get used to conversations about struts, insulation, thermal bricks, ceilings…… I’m sure you know the pain!
    Good luck with it, I can’t wait to see the progress
    xxx

  • Every time I’ve moved I swore I’d never do it again, and every time I meant it more, so you have my deepest sympathy but I’m also pea-green with envy because doing up a new place is such excitement (though litres of wine will be required to get you through it). I look forward to reading future posts on this but for the moment, could I just pop in a word of warning? I know some people in Burgundy who stripped off all the wallpaper to expose their beautiful stone walls, and the following winter they realized why the wallpaper had been there. If it’s the really thick kind, it may be doing a useful job in keeping out the worst of the cold and damp.

    • Yes, people put up things like wallpaper to “hide the misery” which in this case, was certainly true. (I was suspicious when the seller had the heat on, even in the summer!) But I know from owning places before that water is an issue that doesn’t get better, and usually persists and makes this worse. So we’re resolving it. (Although it’s gonna cost a lot more than a few sheets of wallpaper!)

  • I am doing a kitchen for a friend In Tucson AZ.The most aggravation I have is missing or faulty parts for the IKEA kitchen we have purchased and resulting in a 200 mile round trip up to Phoenix or waiting 5 days to have shipped.We are also customizing it by re glazing and re varnishing the fronts to alter the color and give it more character.
    This is the 5th kitchen redo for me between myself and my friends happy to do this in English which is also a foreign languages for most workers in this area,most workers are Spanish speaking and very good pretending not to understand when something is new or strange to them.

    • I did a kitchen with Ikea cabinets a number of years ago and delivered all of them – except one. And, of course, they no longer were able to keep that cabinet in stock due to some manufacturing issue. So I had a big hole in my kitchen for a few months before they could track one down to fill it. It wasn’t the end of the world, but if was funny to have a big empty square space in my kitchen for a while. (I don’t think they would have taken a picture of it and used it in one of their Ikea catalogs..that’s for sure.)

  • I’m coming a bit late to this discussion (and if someone has made this point already, my apologies) but I wonder why you didn’t turn to your readership for the money you needed for the purchase.

    Granted, keeping track of a number of smaller loans might have been a hassle, but surely nothing like what you went through with the banks, and my guess is you could have raised the le fric in no time at all.

  • Each time is a pleasure and very amazing to read your posts. I like your humor, I like you vision on the things around and – very important! – your recipes. I’m baking right now the chocolate chocolate chocolate-chips cookies: my apartment smells simply great…. Good luck with the new apartment!

  • Hot burners on the stove top, even cooking oven, deep kitchen sink, good light over sink and stove, room enough on counter to easily roll out dough or knead a batch of bread, enough distance between bathroom sink to toilet, comfy toilet seat shape, good light in shower, fog free mirror in shower to shave. Also, check-out LED home lighting, they are now producing down-lights and directional lights that are cheap to operate, and a few are capable of accepting a dimmer switch. Knowing you from your posts, I would strongly avoid the ‘Ikea’ look, and go for the more hands-on, artistic look. Warm paint tones, soft textures, complimentary patterns…I would avoid the ‘Industrial/white’ look…not so good as a background when you take photos of ‘at home with David’. Good luck my friend, I’ve been there, and it turned out great. Bonne Chance, un lecteur consacre, Philippe (excuse my bad french)

  • Whenever I find myself whining about my tiny kitchen and almost non-existent counter space, I remind myself that your kitchen is way smaller and that I absolutely have no right to complain. Now that you’re moving into a bigger one, I’d like to take a moment and scream at the top of my lungs: “I HATE MY KİTCHEN!” And love your new one. Wishing you the smoothest ride possible with the contractors and a huge freezer.

  • Have a look at this website http://www.bricodepot.fr/fleury-merogis-ste-genevieve-des-bois/cuisine/eviers-encastrer-poser maybe you can find your sink (not too far from Paris if you have a car) and your tiles http://www.bricodepot.fr/fleury-merogis-ste-genevieve-des-bois/carrelage-sol-et-mur
    Congrats for your new flat.

  • Right after I moved from SF to Australia, I got called for jury duty in California. So, naturally, I did what any grown man does, and had his mother write a letter to the clerk of the court :)

    Your mileage may vary!

  • dear David,

    I love reading your blogs.
    Although having been a Parisian for years, I am now looking for another apartment in the center of the city.
    I fully agree with you ; you only see what the agency has in its portfolio, not knowing if you are not missing THE one, unless you screen all the agencies and internet…
    I saw one yesterday too smal, the one besides had just been sold: different owner, different agent. The 2 together would have been great. Too bad for me and fro the owners as the 2 together might have sold for more than 2 separated.

    So I fully related to your comments and hope I’ll be able to choose my lavabo and evier soon.

    Just for your knowledge an “évier” is a kitchen sink while a “lavabo” sits in a bathroom. A lave-mains (no accent) is a small one, sometimes with only cold water, that stays in a “toilettes” for people to wash their hands before going out.

    I also relate to your foodie experiences.
    Thanks for all of that.
    Martine

  • David – your blog and website are such a treat! I love coming here to read and to pretend I am eating all of the delicious food you talk about. A good friend of mine is taking her first trip to Paris (first trip to Europe, actually).I was so excited that I could point her in the direction of you blog and the “My Paris” section. I know her trip will be greatly enhanced by all of the fabulous suggestions and resources you have shared! Thank you. Looking forward to following your kitchen progress.

  • WTF? You’re obligated to undergo a medical exam to get a mortgage in France?! Well, I wouldn’t have thought it possible but you have actually written something that makes me despise American bankers (who don’t–or can’t–impose such a requirement) a little less.

  • Félicitations David, I too was shocked about the medical exam requirement, since medical exams are a bit strange for Americans especially when it concerns mortgages. Obviously unless you pay cash, it’s not required. For some lenders, “c’est depend” it could always be a requirement or depends on the loan amount, or whatever the banker is feeling that day. However, I have friends that just purchased apartments recently, and some only required a perfunctory document from an e.g., American Doctor that you have no chronic illness etc. or in one friend’s case, cancer is in remission. It wouldn’t be France if we didn’t have alot of exceptions or dosiers to fill out, n’est-ce pas?

    Medical health and healthcare in general is important in France. You have to have health insurance before you can apply to be a resident, and to finalize a residency card “carte-de-sejour” you have to have a physical exam in France. And, in some cases for work as well.

    Personally, I think the French don’t object because it’s something that’s just done, “C’est l’habitute de la Français”. Plus, just look around, there are pharmacies on every block, hospitals everywhere, methinks there’s alot of hypochondriacs here. I mean Assurance Maladie will send you reminders for free e.g., colon exams etc. They believe in preventive medicine. So, doctor’s, health exams, testing and pharmaceuticals is a way of life in France. Whereas most in US can’t afford such tests. I think it’s cultural!

    I had asked some French friends about this, and in a complacent tone, they just said, “c’est normal”. Oh well!

  • OMG, Congratulations on the new digs! How fun. I’m laughing at the jury duty in CA. I just got one too. and I decided to fill it out and explain why i can’t go “because I am not a resident of CA” was the check box I checked… you know living in Switzerland is not the same as living CA… so i sent it in via internet and got a notice back that said something like ” your answer is not acceptable. The judge is the only one who can excuse you from jury duty for not living in California.” So I have to fly back to ask the judge to excuse me because I don’t live there? Ya gotta love legal logic.

    cannot wait to see your remodel! Congratulations again!

  • Gosh David, I’m green with envy too! Although I have just moved into a wonderful flat with the most adorable under-the-eaves kitchen, I seem to have the house bug and, no matter how much I love where I stay, I can’t stop dreaming about other houses and homes.
    Yours looks so promising! I adore open-space, loft-type homes, but I have a word of warning – walls are useful! no walls = no space to prop bookcases and wardrobes against. I have learnt this the hard way ;)

    hope that more pics are on the way! congrats and good luck.

  • Dear M. Lebovitz,
    It’s not all that bad! My parents renovate every house we live in. The last one included us all sleeping in the living room for six months, a contractor with a mullet who kept his milk in our fridge, and a “meticulously maintained” roof that fell down.
    Have courage!

  • David; you won’t need this comment since I’m no 227 to write but honestly, this is just all too true. When we bought our house here in France we experienced much the same things as you do and without wanting to add to your obvious distress; the French workers have an output rate of max 60%, and that’s generous. So take all the patience and courage you can master, dispose of it in even measures and breathe deeply.
    With regards to choosing your hardware, do you know about Leroy Merlin? They have a huge online catalogue to browse and you’d also find all the right words for the equipment. Isn’t it fantastic how rich the different languages are? :)
    Congrats to your first own place and much, much luck with the work. We have bought, renovated, and lived in 3 houses in three countries in the past 10 years.

  • oh, just in case nobody has pointed that out, a ‘cuve’ is a tank, we had a cuve installed in the garden for rainwater-reuse. So definitely not something you’d need in an appt in Paris.

  • omg…a full set of medical tests to complete a loan?!! I wish you hadn’t deleted… it would also have been fun to read– it would have been the icing on “le gateau”!

    Hang in there David, it will all be worth it in the end!

  • Oh David. The photos show us what you have to work with. I guess we have all renovated kitchens and bathrooms in houses we have had.

    The good thing is that it is so blank that you have a lot of scope. The bad thing is that it always costs more than you budget.

    Like everyone here, I am gob-smacked by the medical tests requirement to complete a loan.

    You have our sympathy and enthusiasm for this project. The end is always worth the time and effort.

  • During my 41 years of living in Paris we have renovated a 2 story 260 meter apartment
    from 1927 in horrible shape as well as a 1800′s schoolhouse in the country.
    We had workers in Paris who spoke neither English or French thus no communication possible. As far as the country house goes MODERN was not in their vocabulary and
    their refusal to take any advice or decorating desires from a woman, especially one who
    is a foreigner and who speaks French fluently but with an accent was totally unacceptable for them. But finally it all came together & we love both our homes.
    I can only wish you patience and courage David.

    Patience

  • Congratulations! Hope we get to see (and hear) more about your new place.

  • J’aime lire vos articles qui sont amusants.Felicitations pour votre appartement,vous aurez beaucoup a ecrire pendant les travaux.
    Il faut de la patience ,mais c’est la meme chose aux EU…..je sais car j’ai eu a faire avec des ouvriers qui n’ecoutaient jamais ce que je leur disais.

  • David,

    Put one foot in front of the other, keep in mind your finished product, and soon you will have your lovely home. Can’t wait for pictures!

    Best of luck from a former student,
    H

  • Congratulations on the new home! i feel your pain. I’ve been in the midst of renovating a kitchen, dining room, laundry room and bedroom for just about a year. It was originally supposed to be just a kitchen renovation!

  • courage!

  • Oh David, Congrats and bon courage with the apartment. A call for jury duty in California? Me too, resident of Cahors, but U.S. citizen. I must have been excused for stupidity as I failed to understand the online questionnaire written in my mother tongue, e.g., I request to be excused from jury duty because: “I am not a citizen”. Check yes or no. Duh! Yes, I am not a citizen or No, I am not a citizen.

  • Dear David:
    Renovations are just as bad even if you live in Australia and everyone speaks English! And IKEA does have a large double white porcelain sink which has proved to be a great success even if we had an empty hole in the bench top waiting for it for weeks – doesn’t mark and so far,after two years nothings broken in it.
    Publish the lost post that you deleted.
    Harry

  • I am dreaming of first finding the right apartment of course but then second step of a semi-pro kitchen.
    I visited parisdeschefs and put all the KitchenAid appliances on my wish list: vacuum and steam oven, low temperature……it is SOME budget.

    What do you think ? I cook a lot, I host, I used to have a table d’hôtes, but I am not a restaurant.
    Would you recommend them ?

    Thanks for taking time to answer this if you can.

  • Congratulations. Renovating and decorating can be a headache but so fun nonetheless.

  • Oh, David, that looks like an almost impossible task! But be brave. Just like giving birth to a baby, you forget the pain once you see the end result.

  • your apartment will be lovely, have fun!

  • Thanks for sharing your life in Paris; I’m looking forward to a trip there next year.

  • Looking forward to a trip to Paris; thanks for sharing your experiences!!!

  • We have the exaxt same red kitchen (different hardware though) and absolutely love it. You are lucky to have gotten it on time though, since Ikea has discontinued it…or at least here in north America. Bonnie chance with the remaining reno!

  • Yikes….7 months? That’s nuts. I guess HGTV lies haha. Despite all the nervous breakdowns, I bet your really really excited to design the place to fit your lifestyle. Very cool…I look forward to updates!

  • Bravo….