Day to DIY life

A week in the life of ren­o­vat­ing an apart­ment in France – Holly Howard re­veals the good, the bad and the ugly!

French Property News - - Contents -

A week in the life of a young cou­ple ren­o­vat­ing their Béziers apart­ment

My hus­band Alas­tair and I moved to Béziers in the south of France over two years ago now. On our first ever trip to our lit­tle city, we viewed our apart­ment and pretty much in­stantly knew it was where we wanted to set up our new life in France. Af­ter the first few weeks of clean­ing ev­ery inch of it and wait­ing for our piles of boxed be­long­ings to ar­rive, we started ren­o­vat­ing.

Over 24 months in and we’re still at it; in win­ter when the rain blows through the cracked win­dow­panes and dur­ing the sum­mer months when we wished we’d bought a sec­ond fan to an­gle to­wards where we’re work­ing. We’ve had some help along the way – from our lovely fam­ily, a plas­terer who made our dire kitchen walls smooth and a chauffag­iste who pro­fes­sion­ally fit­ted a log-burner into our fire­place – but mostly, be it af­ter we’ve stopped work­ing for the day or at the week­ends, it’s just Alas­tair and I, plug­ging away.

Alas­tair’s top tip for ren­o­vat­ing is, when re­search­ing ma­te­ri­als and ad­vice on­line, try to do it as much in French as in English, no mat­ter how con­fus­ing it is at first, as the rec­om­mended prod­ucts and shops will be ones that you ac­tu­ally have ac­cess to.

Satur­day and Sun­day Yay le week-end! Week­ends in the Howard house­hold mean two things. Firstly, a pas­try of your choice. Liv­ing in France means you have to set some boulan­gerie bound­aries. We try to re­sist any delights in the week so that on Satur­day and Sun­days we can en­joy a pain aux raisins, crois­sant aux aman­des or a fam­ily favourite, a suisse, ac­com­pa­nied by a cafetiere of cof­fee.

Sec­ondly, week­ends are DIY heavy. We’ve rarely had a week­end in France when we haven’t been ren­o­vat­ing and Alas­tair usu­ally has a tea-stained list of what he hopes to achieve that week­end. We’ve worked out, through trial and er­ror and a few melt­downs, that we work best when Alas­tair runs the show and del­e­gates work to me. I do a lot of the scop­ing out, re­search­ing and plan­ning of any de­sign el­e­ments of the apart­ment and Alas­tair is the boss at all things tech­ni­cal. Two years in

and our sys­tem works well; we’re still mar­ried and haven’t (yet) thrown each other out over our pretty bal­conies!

Our big­gest les­son from ren­o­vat­ing so far has been that most things are pos­si­ble to do your­self if you give them enough time and thought. Equally, there are some jobs that are a real craft and best left to the pro­fes­sion­als.

A likely trip at some point dur­ing the week­end (hope­fully not re­al­is­ing half an hour be­fore it shuts) is to Bri­co­man. Luck­ily, in Béziers we have a num­ber of trade mer­chants within a 10/15-minute drive (POINT.P, Brico Dépôt) and even though we’ll have tried to re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing the last time we were there, we’ll be sure to do a mad dash at some point on Satur­day. Not Sun­day, of course… Oh how those of us ren­o­vat­ing in France would love Sun­day open­ings!

Other than the weekly Bri­co­man spendathon, week­ends are usu­ally al­lo­cated to big­ger projects where we can use the two full days off to get our teeth into some­thing.

The hard­est part of ren­o­vat­ing an apart­ment is hav­ing to carry ev­ery­thing up stairs – in our case two flights of stairs to the sec­ond floor. Our apart­ment block has com­mu­nal stairs and no lift, so we can only store ma­te­rial in the en­trance hall for a day re­ally, and have to make sure we tidy up af­ter our­selves.

I’ll also add the fact that there is nowhere to park. This means that when you’re un­load­ing ma­te­ri­als, added to the stress of ac­tu­ally try­ing to carry them into the apart­ment block is the fact that you’re block­ing the road. Also liv­ing in a town cen­tre means that a lot of de­liv­ery lor­ries can’t – and won’t – de­liver ma­te­ri­als to you.

The lat­est room we’ve been ren­o­vat­ing is our kitchen. It’s the first room you reach from the front door and is fairly square in shape. A

We’ve had some help along the way but mostly it’s just Alas­tair and I, plug­ging away

win­dow looks out onto an in­te­rior court­yard and the ceil­ing (be­fore we pulled it all down) is lower than the rest of the apart­ment.

We couldn’t wait to get started on la cui­sine. Whereas the other rooms in the apart­ment had pretty pat­terned tiles, beams or long win­dows to ob­scure the many other ques­tion­able fea­tures, the kitchen was just grimy and sad.

The de­mo­li­tion phase started on a Satur­day morn­ing, as did putting up the in­su­lated ceil­ing, tak­ing up the floor tiles and re­lay­ing the floor tiles. Some­times we’ll make the week­end into a three-day af­fair when there is one big job to do but gen­er­ally we find any­thing over three days’ labour too much.

Our proud­est ren­o­va­tion mo­ment so far was fit­ting the in­su­lated kitchen ceil­ing, just the two of us. We man­aged to load the hire van with all the plas­ter­board and me­tal stud, carry it up two flights of stairs and then fit it up­side down on the ceil­ing, with­out any in­juries or dis­as­ters!

Mon­day evening By no means rou­tine but, if we’ve had a par­tic­u­larly heavy ren­o­va­tion week­end, we might take Mon­day evening to do some ‘lighter’ ren­o­va­tion jobs like re­search, or­der­ing ma­te­ri­als or mak­ing the apart­ment live­able again for the com­ing week.

For ma­te­ri­als, Alas­tair will re­search what he’ll need next and then price matches. France is fairly eye-wa­ter­ingly ex­pen­sive for most things com­pared to the UK so of­ten or­der­ing from Screw­fix.eu or Tool­sta­tion.fr achieves the best deal.

Also, Lidl and Aldi have be­come our go-to places dur­ing their DIY weeks (you can see what pro­mo­tions are com­ing up by go­ing to lidl.fr/fr/nos-of­fres.htm and aldi.fr/aldi_nos_ of­fres_4.html). We must have saved hun­dreds of eu­ros buy­ing our paint there. Again… how we miss UK paint and prices!

My top tip for ren­o­vat­ing is to al­ways make sure you’re stocked up on teabags and have a cou­ple of treats stored away for main­tain­ing mo­ti­va­tion on long DIY days.

Tues­day to Thurs­day evenings

It’s re­ally in­cred­i­ble to see how much you can get done dur­ing week­day evenings. A two or three-hour stint on a Tues­day, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day evening amounts to the same as a full day of work at the week­end.

We’ve found sum­mer is bet­ter for week­day work than win­ter – lighter and less de­press­ing – al­though dur­ing a par­tic­u­larly cold patch last Fe­bru­ary, we ac­tu­ally looked for­ward to an evening of DIY to warm our­selves up!

Jobs that we have found worked well in the evenings in­clude: Tile clean­ing. This is a de­press­ing job that I had to do when we were re­lay­ing quarry tiles in the kitchen. How­ever, if you plug away a lit­tle each night, you make a lot of progress by the week­end. Tile lay­ing. Pick an area you know you’ll be able to do in a few hours and this is a feel-good evening job. Wiring. Only works in the sum­mer months as oth­er­wise you’re com­pletely in the dark with the mains switched off! Paint­ing. Again, you want to be able to start and fin­ish the area within an evening sprint, so this worked well when I had to paint our new bed­room shut­ters as one shut­ter would take about two hours. Sand­ing. Whether it’s win­dows or fur­ni­ture, sand­ing is a grubby job that you can go at for a few hours. The build stages. Putting up shelves, build­ing kitchen units and so on are all great evening jobs that don’t need to be fin­ished in one evening.

Fri­day evening De­pend­ing on how the week is go­ing, by Fri­day we might have just had enough and be won­der­ing what on earth we’re do­ing all this for!

We may es­cape to the beach with a take­away pizza or see friends – or just stay in the zone and carry on with what we’re work­ing on. We usu­ally play this evening by ear!

An evening pause on the newly ren­o­vated Place Jean Jau­rès in Beziers to keep sane!

Holly and Alas­tair bought an apart­ment in Béziers, which is on the River Orb and close to the Mediter­ranean coast in Hérault

Kitchen ren­o­va­tion day 1: a black and white snap for the al­bum be­low we started de­mo­li­tion

Re­lay­ing quarry tiles in the hall­way is a pun­ish­ing task! Tealights mark the way

Ren­o­va­tion prob­lems for apart­ments – nowhere to store the bike!

Sum­mer ren­o­va­tion with the fan on full blast

A ren­o­va­tion week­end break­fast when you have no ta­ble

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