It’s all in a week’s work for France-based Neil Vesma
Designing new homes and improving old
Never marry a ventriloquist. As you awake from a peaceful night’s slumber, looking forward to a long, warm doze under the duvet, you will hear your partner ask you for a cup of tea. You compress your lips and pretend to be still asleep, but hear yourself saying quite clearly “Yes my love I’ll make you one straight away. And would you like a chocolate hob-nob with it?” Never marry a ventriloquist.
You can tell it’s August. The phones are quiet, the artisans are all sprawled on various beaches around the globe, and I’ve managed to catch up with the paperwork at last. Some things however have to happen, and I’m off to the pretty riverside town of Lalinde on the Dordogne river to meet a huissier de justice, a court bailiff.
By the sound of his name, I imagine Maître Perriquet wears a barrister’s wig to work, but when I meet him on site he turns out to be dapper and business-like without any headgear whatsoever. I have asked him to verify the erection of our site board notifying neighbours of the permis de construire my client has been granted, which he duly does, and tells me he will send through the constat, the formal confirmation, in due course.
Erecting a site board is obligatory and triggers a two-month period for objections. If it’s not done, an objector can wait till we’re halfway through the project and then slap an injunction on us to stop work with the roof off, whether he has a valid reason to object or not. This constat de huissier is not something I do for every project, but my client has a neighbour who is threatening to challenge the legality of the permis and we have to be seen to be doing everything by the book.
So we need the board up before work starts, and we need the huissier’s confirmation that we’ve done it. I’ll call him back after two months to confirm the board is still there, and the period for objections has expired. Then we can start work in peace. Hopefully.
Up to Dordogne again today to set out the footprint of a new house where we’ll be breaking ground next month. I travel up with Pierre, my Gauloise-chain-smoking project manager, who very kindly refrains for most of the way there but then can’t help himself and has to light up a clope. At least he opens the car window.
We’re also meeting the géomètre who is marking out the boundary with the neighbouring farmer, who arrives on his tractor. He also seems to be smoking a Gauloise. The groundworker and maçon show up a minute after us (not smoking) and we all get down to work with measuring tapes, wooden stakes and fluorescent spray paint.
Ten minutes later my client’s car hurtles through the gate and does a Sweeney-style emergency stop, the driver’s door opening before the car halts. He jumps out, calling out “No! Non! That’s not right! Pas bon!” It seems he has mistaken the stake marking the corner of the house for the stake marking the edge of the site, 15m away. Once we’ve set him straight he graciously concedes a bilingual “Pardon!” and it’s all smiles after that.
His site overlooks the Dordogne valley and the town of St-cyprien nestled under the skyline, 5km away. Once the setting out is done, we head off to a bar there to run through the fine-tuning of the artisans’ quotes.
We find the town has been decorated with some 500,000 (no I didn’t count them) artificial flowers strung over the roads and alleyways ready for the annual Félibrée, the celebration of all things traditional and Occitan – the old name for this part of southern France. On the days of the festival the entire town will be packed with parades and raucous onlookers, many in traditional dress, but today it is eerily quiet in anticipation of the bustle to come.
Back in the office this morning for the contract completion documentation on a gîtes conversion near Angoulême. The project is painted, furnished and open for business, but as we all know, the job’s not finished till the paperwork’s done...
We’ve phased the work over two years to tie in with the client’s capital release schedule. This has enabled a soft opening last year, and also given the landscaping a chance to bed in, so the site is looking very inviting. The steely blue sky of a hot summer’s day will finish it off very nicely thank you very much.
My clients have gone for a contemporary feel, with plenty of glass for the views over the lake and woods, and their choice of furniture reinforces the cool, stylish ambience. But behind these elegant apartments there has been a lot of hard technical work, budgeting and planning. So to finish today I have to send off the formal completion notice to the mairie (town hall) and, for each tradesman, prepare a procès verbal de réception de travaux, a handover certificate to be signed by all parties.
This is a critical document as it marks the date the artisans’ 10-year warranty starts, as well as the owner’s 10-year umbrella warranty, their assurance dommages-ouvrages. It’s a very dull process but has to be got right, so if you will excuse me for a moment I need to focus.
Well if everyone else is off on holiday I think I shall take a long weekend on the coast at Biarritz or Bayonne or somewhere else beginning with B. I can get an early start as my neighbour Marie Balaie was banging her bedroom window shutters at 5am to shut up the dawn chorus. “I’m getting my own back,” she told me when I mentioned it to her at a more civilised hour. “If they’re going to disturb me I’m going to disturb them!” She seemed to be really quite stressed. I wonder if her husband’s a ventriloquist?
Erecting a site board is obligatory and triggers a two-month period for objections. If it’s not done, an objector can wait till we’re halfway through the project and then slap an injunction on us
The four corners of the new house!
The gîte had a soft opening last year but works are finally completedl
...and after, with a sleek contemporary feel
The gîte near Angoulême before...