Up until now, Robin has been doing all of the renovation to standard building codes (he has done some serious homework and seems to be the only person around here actually following the rules). We knew we would always need a little help with one thing – knocking down the wall that separates the kitchen and the living room. This actually used to be the outside wall of the house before the extension was added in the 70s. It’s a serious wall. We needed to hire builders to help prop up the ceiling, install a new beam to replace the old beam that would now be too short, and help us with the exposing of the stone. We had 2 workers for 2 weeks. It was a race to see how much we could get done.
Working with the Locals
Within 20 minutes of the workers arriving it looked like a true construction site. There were cigarette butts and coffee cups everywhere, not to mention the pet terrier of one of the workmen running around. I was sent out to keep the caffeine coming. Meanwhile, Robin was asked to pick up some terrine (paté) for lunch; he found himself in the local butcher asking what is more appropriate: wild boar or rabbit terrine? Is 200 grams enough for a hungry Frenchman? Is a baguette tradition the one to get- or a plain one? You don’t want to risk getting a Frenchmen’s lunch wrong…
Supporting the Ceiling
The first step was to find the correct steel beam sizes and install a steel beam to support the wall. Once it was in, we decided that we actually quite like the beam so we’re going to leave it exposed (though we’ll paint it).
The new beams arrived 3 days before we actually needed them. In a flurry of movement, it was decided, little to our knowledge, that the neighbour’s garden would be the best place for them. We then had to explain why this enormous beam was in our neighbour’s garden after it had already been deposited there. Our kind neighbour acquiesced. We’re thinking of supplying her with weekly flowers!
Revealing the Stone
We weren’t originally going to reveal all three walls but we learned that a certain type of cement-based render was used (instead of lime based) as a wall covering behind the plaster. This render allows for dampness and damp spots to accumulate behind the walls. We had already noticed this was a problem. (Then there’s me thinking that all European houses are just like that…) It had to come off. This meant, of course, a lot more work!
One pleasant surprise was to find that one-half of one of the walls is the back of our neighbour’s chimney. These large Pierre de Fontvieille stones add another dimension to the rustic charm of the walls. I quite like all the varied subtle colours in them.
The artisan maçon at work on our walls. As a favour, Philippe showed Robin the more traditional recipe of chaux-mortar than what Robin had done upstairs. The mixture included little pebbles which is quite pretty. Then, Robin finished the walls himself. We’re probably going to have to re-do the upstairs wall so that they match. This more traditional mixture of sand and lime produces a lighter colour rather than the mixture Robin originally used which is more in tune with the recent style of using warmer tones. Philippe, the expert, convinced us to stick with tradition (basically a mantra in these parts).
Re-doing the Floor
As always with any renovation, there are nasty surprises. After knocking down the wall we found that the cement under the tommette floor tiles had a large crack in it. This explained how the floor sloped towards the back of the house. The guys agreed to help us re-do the floor. We figured it was now or never. All the tommette tiles had to come up and sadly many of them were broken. The red earth you see is what the house is directly standing on. There is a lot of ochre here in Provence. We’re moving in in 3 weeks. There’s going to have to be a serious push to get all the messy stuff done before we move in…It’s going to be interesting!!
See more about the renovation.