Ar­chi­tect’s diary

It’s all in a week’s work for France-based Neil Vesma

French Property News - - Contents - Neil Vesma’s ar­chi­tect’s prac­tice is at Villeréal near Berg­erac Tel: 0033 (0)5 53 01 74 20 neil­

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


...and af­ter

The gîte near An­goulême be­fore...

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