There is always a point whenever we have worked on houses, when the niceties of life have to go by the wayside and you simply have to make do with chaos for anything from a few days to a few weeks. And this week Andy got to that point.
Over the years we’ve become experts at ‘camping’ in the houses we have been working on, to the point that it just wouldn’t feel right to live somewhere else, whilst (even major) work is being done. I have photos, from one of our earliest renovations in The Cotswolds, of Andy sitting in a hideous turquoise bath, surrounded by nothing but rubble, with a void open to the underside of the stone tiles of the roof. Then people seemed surprised, when I spent the majority of my first pregnancy on a plastic garden chair, in front of a calor gas heater , cooking on a camping stove set up on a pasting table, in fact the carpets were laid the day we brought George home from hospital. And more recently, I don’t think Tom’s friend will ever forget coming for a sleep over and lying fully clothed, in a sleeping bag on a makeshift bed, with the icy wind whistling up through the floorboards and behind him, still visible traces of the ivy that we had pulled from the inside wall of the house.
So when Andy suggested, earlier this week, that he felt it would be a good time to empty the old kitchen of even its makeshift set-up, so that he could tile the floor, I didn’t bat an eyelid.
To begin with though, the week had started relatively quietly, with him finishing off plastering the new doorway that he had opened up from the old kitchen and tidying the terrace, moving all the (still flowering) geraniums, round onto the steps that will lead up to our new room. The first frosts of the winter were being predicted, and although we’re not great gardeners, we felt it was best to try to give these joyful blooms a bit of shelter and protection.
Having seen them in their new place, catching the low winter sunlight, and making what was a shabby old set of steps, rather more attractive, I have a feeling they may be staying there all year round. On the plus side though, this will simply give us an excuse to find new tubs and containers for the terrace in the new year.
For once the forecast was spot-on and Andy woke the next morning to a heavy frost, with even Fifi looking a little chilly in the early morning light.
It was then, over our morning coffee, that he said he was going to empty the old kitchen and tile it, whilst there was only him there. There was a huge amount of logic in this, as it is a ‘walkthrough’ room with steps leading into it from the living room and then up from one end to the bedrooms. It is always being used, and this is only going to increase as we will now be walking through it into the new kitchen as well.
I suppose we could have just left it, but the old 1980s terracotta coloured ceramic tiles, weren’t really our taste (in fact not at all) and they just looked outdated and simply very tired, and with Travertin throughout most of the house now, it was just wrong. The problem was that tiling it would mean massive upheaval, as the room would have to be fully emptied, and walking across it would have to be kept to an absolute minimum. So Andy, suggesting that he did it whilst there was just him to worry about, seemed like the best plan, although I couldn’t help worry about how on earth he was going to be able to empty the room single-handedly.
As ever though he finished his coffee and set about clearing everything out and putting it in the living room, which now had to house a make-shift kitchen too, as he would not be able to put anything back for a few days, allowing for the tiling, grouting and sealing to be done.
Some of the things went relatively simply, with the ancient oven and rusty old hob finding a new home by the woodburner and the various cupboards being stacked around the room, but then there was the dresser and the fridge to deal with. The fridge he managed to lift onto the stairs, supporting it with pieces of oak beam, left over from opening the new doors, not the easiest of tasks, but effective.
Then the dresser….. we love this big old piece of furniture, that was one of our many finds from the local ‘recyclerie’. We always seem to raise an eyebrow, when we walk in and buy big pieces of wonderful, old, wooden furniture, but this simply had to come home with us. It is cavernous and acts as a pantry, as well as being a store for pots, pans and cooking equipment, so firstly, all that had to be emptied, again increasing the piles in the front room, before it could finally be dismantled and moved there too.
This was never going to be a simple task…. it is probably best described as being ‘all there’ and had taken 2 of us, several blankets and a lot of heaving & to-ing and fro-ing to get up the steps and through the narrow old doorway when we bought it, so the thought of Andy tackling it by himself, did rather make me worry. He started by removing the cornice, finding the intricate vase-shaped mud structures of the ‘dauber’ wasps that seem to love raising their young in our little house. We had seen them coming in, but I had thought they were using the beams as a suitable nesting spot, but evidently not….
Then he took the dresser to pieces as much as possible, moving it, then reconstructing it again in the, now incredibly packed, living room, before he could finally sweep and hoover the floor of the now empty room.
Having moved everything out, it gave us a real sense of the size of the space we will have and we started to imagine how it will look and how we can use it, once the new kitchen is fully-functional. Without the units and furniture, it’s so much bigger and it needs some careful thought, so that we can make sure we make the most of it, rather than it simply being a big corridor with a nice view!
But whilst this room was looking bigger, the living room was in utter chaos, with just enough space for Andy to be able to shuffle between cupboards and piles of ‘stuff’ to a sofa and the oven, with the prospect of using the low coffee table for all his cooking preparation and dining for the next few days. Not exactly a look usually associated with elegant provencal living, and I’m not sure the magazines would be keen to do a feature on our interior design and incredible sense of style…. In fact I think it would be more appropriate for an article on hoarding!
Anyway the job was done and after putting up barriers to stop the animals walking through, he painted the floor with a rather fetching, bright blue solution, that will allow new tiles to stick to the old ones and settled down for an evening surrounded by chaos.
The following morning was still frosty, but beautiful, and Andy quickly got to work setting up his tile cutter at the bottom of the steps and starting to cut the tiles to go against the wall. We always knew this wall was incredibly wonky, but as he started laying the tiles out, the wavy lines became more evident … it was going to be a long day of cutting to make sure they fitted properly. But by the time he stopped for our daily coffee, the first row was down and it was easy to see what a difference this would make to the room.
The day warmed up beautifully and the constant trips up and down to the tile- cutter were a joy, although I’m not sure Andy’s back and knees would agree, but the colour of the late November sky was such a beautiful shade of ‘cobalt’ that it couldn’t help but brighten the work..
Which was progressing really well…
With the final few tiles and wooden edging strip at the top of the steps being fitted just as the sun was starting to sink in the sky…
Just enough time for a quick tidy up and a walk with the dog, to enjoy the stunning golden sunset, at the end of another busy, packed day…
Before he was finally able to settle down in the ‘comfort’ of the living room to a supper of toast and marmalade, with wine from a glass mug …. Andy really knows how to live!
Despite his best efforts to dissuade the animals from walking across the new floor, Pusscat had simply jumped the boards and was found curled up on our bed, as her usual space on the sofa had been taken over with bits from the cupboards…. and there she stayed
The next day was another beautiful day and the floor was ready to be grouted….
Before Bertrand arrived to start on the second fix of the electrics into the new room, which quickly started to look as if demented multi-coloured spiders were trying to escape from every hole that had been made in the wall
Although slowly but surely over the next couple of days it started to take shape, with new switches and lights being fitted too, making it even more of a room than we ever imagined we would see before Christmas.
Andy continued, sealing the floor in the old kitchen, before finally being able to start moving all the units and furniture back in, creating a bit of space in the living room, although he has decided the dresser will have to wait. It was one thing shifting it downstairs, but even he admits that it would be a totally different kettle of fish to try to move it upstairs himself.
So finally, and incredibly just in time for the daily exercise limit to be lifted from 1 km for 1 hr per day to 20km for 3 hrs per day, Andy feels he has earned a sit down ….
The rooms are as ready as they can be and are awaiting Pascal to finish creating the doors and new porch, which should be done in the next couple of weeks.
And we finally have a plan for Christmas, which will see Tom and I head down, meaning Andy can leave more wall-building, tiling and tip runs until he has the help on hand. It will be our first Christmas there for a couple of years, and it will be lovely, although it won’t feel right as George can’t join us, due to the ongoing quarantine regulations on return to the UK.
It’s great that Tom will be able to help as I am still unable to lift anything heavy, in fact lift anything at all, as after 14 weeks, my clavicle bones are still practising a strict social-distancing policy, and are showing no signs of even starting to heal, so I will be limited to walking and just encouraging the boys on with the tasks that need to be done, providing food and drink when needed….
So this morning, Andy made the most of the new regulations, completed his attestation and finally headed out on his bike for the first time in months.
I think anyone who has followed what he has managed to achieve over the last couple of months would agree that he has well and truly earned it!