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Friday, August 1, 2014

Buying a Home in the South of France

Oh that title sounds SO romantic doesn’t it?

But how does one capture a bit of the dream without it turning into a French folly?

There have been many books written on the subject. I myself love Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence” as he perfectly and humorously captures the French work ethic. There are also a few films such as “A Good Year” and “Under the Tuscan Sun” that had thousands flocking to France and Italy in search of their own piece of Paradise. But please know while the films were made to entertain there is also a heaping dose of absolute truth in the well scripted plots.

We as Americans were spoon fed on the concept on manifest destiny. However it is not a concept embraced by the French. More than one American has become completely exasperated in the red tape and rules associated with owning French architecture and given up. You must have patience and an understanding that the French are just trying to protect and preserve their culture. Particularly if the home has been designated as historical architecture. Unlike America,  French properties cannot be torn down or massively altered if it is a historical property.

But that’s ok. It is because of this that France is France which is why we love it. Grasp this concept and you will be fine. Oh and one other small thing. You must LOVE France. Because we all know that when you really love something you will make allowances for its idiosyncrasies.

My cousin and her family LOVE France and are in the beginning stages of purchasing property in the South of France. I for one wanted to sit shotgun on this ride. 

Not everyone wants a place in the country. My cousin is a city girl and wanted a place close to a train station so that if she and her dashing husband woke up and felt like having lunch in Spain or Italy they could. For that reason she looked at properties in town and after some lengthy research her heart was captured by a 19th century set of apartments.

You can see that the exterior of one side of the apartments has been cleaned and completed its restoration.

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The other side has not. This is the entrance to her apartment. :)

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Now is a good time to introduce you to Johan and François. Johan, on the left, is an agent immoblier ~ better known as a real estate agent. The best way to find a good one is through the recommendation of a friend. François works for the French architect who will be renovating the property. Both are well versed in the rules regarding French property. Let me also say that everything that is said about French men being totally charming and having that certain je ne sais quoi is true. After spending the afternoon with these two gentlemen I inquired if they were single as both would have been lovely suitors for my daughter. They both laughed (charmingly) and Johan was very game. :)

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Upon entering the property I immediately noticed the mosaic floor. From then on I basically had stars in my eyes throughout the visit.

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The amazing staircase was straight ahead although a small lift (elevator) will be installed as well.

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I want to say that there were two apartments on each level and there were approximately five flights of stairs. So it is a relatively small complex. At the top of the stairs was a skylight that filled the space with amazing light.

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Are you ready to see the apartments? Remember, there is “No smoking” on the tour.

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We toured several apartments. Upon entering each space in the main salon there were French doors on the left…

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…and French doors on the right. A small balcony ran between the two doors with a grand view of the town. Even though the day was overcast and rainy the light was lovely.

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Yes, the paint was peeling but the plaster ceilings were SO good!

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No two spaces were alike. I loved this ceiling medallion with its cherubic faces. I would finish it off with a lovely old sparkly chandelier.

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This medallion would work well with a modern fixture.

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Everywhere you looked love was living in the details.

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Sure the bathrooms need to be updated…

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…and the kitchens all require a complete overall….

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…but there were surprises upon surprises just waiting under layers of bad remodeling.

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If you have priced French antique hexagon terracotta floor tiles (tomettes anciennes, carreaux de terre cuite, format hexagone) you know that you are looking at a treasure trove.

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I would remove the black ceramic tile, which was added at a later date, to let the focus remain on the carreaux hexagones.

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But if you would prefer not to have this classic French tile…

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…there were several apartments with antique oak flooring.

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As well as numerous styles of fireplaces.

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One of the apartments had suffered through some interpretation of monolithic deco mid century madness.

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With a bit of Art Nouveau on the walls thrown in for good measure.

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But for the most part with just a bit of scrub, sand, paint and glass replacement I can see the potential that lies beneath. Can you?

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For those that need a garden don’t despair….

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… a lovely little park is right next door.

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Yes, the building is just filled with goodness. On the exterior there is a plaque that says so. A loose translation is that during WWII the building was used to house many Jewish children who ultimately were saved from deportation. I think this is what sealed the deal for my cousin. You can read more about the amazing Camille Ernst HERE.

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French bank accounts and mortgages are a must. I shall report back to you in a few months on how the property is progressing.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Visit To Montpellier, Regional Fare & Camargue Horses

Several years ago my cousin and her family hosted a French foreign exchange student. Over the years they have continued to correspond and visit one another. Their French student, Thérése, grew up to be a beautiful dentist.  While in Provence we traveled to her home to visit with her so that she could show us Montpellier.

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Montpellier is a large city located on the south coast of France on the Mediterranean Sea. It rose to prominence in the 12th century. It has all the conveniences of a modern city nestled within lovely 19th century architecture.

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The city center has a lovely fountain. You can see the opera house in the background.

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Here is a close up.

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As with most French cities it pays to look up. The detailed architecture was stunning.

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The lovely Thérése took us to lunch at a very nice seaside restaurant.

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All three of us opted to order the special of the day which was a lovely salad accompanied by a seafood pâté. Oh my when I put it fresh French bread….it was delicious!

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Dessert was equally spectacular. The moelleux au chocolat or chocolate lava cake was superb as was the French vanilla ice cream that accompanied it.

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As you may of surmised it was a rainy, overcast day. It was the only time it rained while we were in France. I enjoyed it immensely as it hardly ever rains in Phoenix.

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We spent the afternoon looking at real estate which I will expand upon in Friday’s post. That evening Thérése took us to her parents countryside ranch. Our lovely hosts, Michéle and Bernard, raise Camargue horses.

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The Camargue is one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. A smaller horse, they are known for their stamina, hardiness and agility. This is the foals mother.

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Camarague foals are born with a dark coat but it becomes white as they reach adulthood. Isn’t this baby sweet? You can see that his coat is starting to transition to white.

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While Monsieur Bernard was busy in the kitchen Madame Michéle shared with us the French quilting art of boutis.

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You begin with a detailed pattern that takes many days to transfer to white cotton fabric.

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Once the pattern is in place you hand stitch the channels. Then the channels are gently stuffed with the finest of cotton. It takes years to complete just one piece.

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My apologies as I did not capture a photo of the charming Chef Bernard. But oh what a meal! We began with local raw oysters. It is a good time to mention that I had never eaten a raw oyster prior to this. I took the plunge as I wanted to experience what all the fuss was about. In addition I must stress what an absolute GIFT it was to be invited into Michéle and Bernard gorgeous home. They had never met me before and were truly gracious hosts and lovely people. It is just good manners and common courtesy to at least try what your hosts offer particularly when it is a specialty of the area.

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The entire meal was just full of lovely regional fare such as this lovely mushroom and potato gratin.

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I had two helpings of ratatouille.

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The Boudin sausage was superb and it made me wish Mr. Décor was by my side as he so loves a good sausage.

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It was truly a wonderful evening that is now a treasured memory. While many prefer to dine in a 4 star restaurant I prefer a delicious meal cooked in someone’s home. It is truly a priceless gift.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Would You Choose The Move in Ready Option?

There are no shortage of lovely houses for sale in the Fort Worth area.

1528 Lakeview Dr, Keller, TX 76248

This beauty is pretty much move in ready.

1528 Lakeview Dr, Keller, TX 76248

It’s all recently been redone. But therein lies the issue. Although the kitchen is gorgeous I personally would have selected white subway tile for the walls and I probably couldn’t bring myself to rip out perfectly good tile. So should I just settle?

1528 Lakeview Dr, Keller, TX 76248

I would have selected just one color of wood laminate flooring all through the house. Would you just settle for oak and walnut?

1528 Lakeview Dr, Keller, TX 76248

Should my fur boys settle for no grass in exchange for low maintenance?

1528 Lakeview Dr, Keller, TX 76248

Yes, it is a gorgeous house but I’d like a home I can transform to my hearts desire, not someone else's vision.

1528 Lakeview Dr, Keller, TX 76248

What would you do?