Here we are in France, 3 weeks of putting the (hopefully) finishing touches to the house. So much had happened since I last the house that I was very excited to see it. The week before we were there, my sister and her family stayed for a week. They had to do a bit of indoor camping because unfortunately the kitchen hadn’t been fitted in time for their arrival. I hope they still enjoyed themselves though – at least they were able to have a hot shower! Sadly for them, the kitchen started to go in just as they were about to leave and was ready to use by the time that we arrived. The kitchen may be have been delayed, but it is well worth the wait. It is much nicer than the kitchen we have at home and is great fun to use. We were lucky to find our kitchen fitter because he was able to help out with a lot of the other jobs that we needed to do. There was no way that we would have been able to work on the flooring, skirting, wall cladding and other bits and bobs if he hadn’t helped us out. We are very grateful to Matt for all his hard work.
During our first week, Tom spent a lot of time fixing lighting in the rooms. It is all well and good having a shower or going to the loo with the door open when it is just the two of you, but when there are a lot of builders around, it is a good idea to have the door shut! My DIY skills amount to painting and fixing towel rails and it was a little too early for that, so I was on Supermarket runs and Lego building with Molly. Neither of these things are particular hardships, although letting me loose in a French supermarket may not necessarily be the best idea.
I was able to help Tom with the storage for the living area. He had worked this all out very precisely on IKEAs design page which then kindly gave him a list of all the bits he needed. All of this was included on his mammoth ‘three trolley’ trip to Bordeaux IKEA, but something went wrong and a few bits were missing and a few bits were left over (a door rather than the vital screw we had forgotten to use). Off we popped to IKEA once again, but got round in record time and didn’t even stop for meatballs.
We also went to the Mairie to talk about bins and rubbish collections. I know that even though the translation of Mairie is Mayor, he isn’t the same as our Mayor in Lewisham, I still found it funny that we had to talk to him about our bins when at home residents have to ring a big call centre in a Council building somewhere. I work in the same office as the people whose role includes dealing with problems of missed collections and missing bins and I know that they like me would find it amusing. I can never imagine a situation where Tom and I would walk in to Lewisham’s Town Council Chambers to talk to the Mayor about getting a bin.
We have just started the second week and things have moved on massively. It was a flurry of excitement and activity here on Monday (yesterday). Thromas – our plumbers and electricians – came to install shower screens, heated towel rails and some of the lighting. This was the lighting that needed scaffolding to install so Tom wasn’t able to do it. It is amazing what a bit of lighting can do to a room. With these major jobs done there would be a lot less dust being created. This meant we could put furniture together and remove plastic coverings from the windows – the later of these activities certainly made the place feel a little less like a building site. Flapping plastic in never a good look. With the furniture in place we were finally one the way to having a home.
On Thursday, Fred (French Fred), the man doing our earthworks is starting. Hopefully, by the middle of next week we will have a driveway, footpath and some useable garden at the back of the house. This will make a huge difference to the look of the house. Removing plastic from the windows does help stopping the place look like a building site, but the piles of earth and stone all over the place do nothing for the look of the house.
I’m off to do some more cleaning now, we’ve got guests coming in a couple of days, so we need to get things a little more tidy – I think you put up with a lot more when you’ve been living with it for a while. I’ll report back soon on our progress…., but it really is all coming together….!
Tom, Molly and I have spent a happy couple of days looking at interiors for the house. This has included a trip to Leroy Merlin, Godin to look at poêles, Cedeo for bathrooms and Cuisinella to look at kitchens. These were the jobs that I had been looking forward to and it was great fun. As I have mentioned before, it was very hard not to get carried away when looking at shiny tiles and sparkly taps. It was very a useful exercise to get a better idea of how what we would like fits in with out budget and where we can save money to get the items that are more important to us. As Tom has designed the house, my responsibility lies with running and checking the budget (remember excel is you friend).
I have asked a few people about what they would expect to see in a luxury bathroom and double sinks seemed to come up every time. Fortunately, Tom has designed the master bathroom large enough to fit one in, so those of you that suggested may be in luck! We also looked at baths a showers that squirt jets of water at you, something I think is quite fun, but sadly I don’t think I can persuade Tom of their benefits!
We then went to Marandat to see our house being built. It was very exciting to see the guys working on our walls and windows. They still hope to start on site next week which is when Tom will be back in the UK, so I really am going to have to gen up on my French building terms. At least I know the words for build, timber, wood and stop!
Tom has also been contacting plumbers, electricians, tree surgeons and we have arranged for our mains drainage to be connected! It is about to start to get very busy on site…..
Today we received a very exciting letter from the Mairie in Montemoeuf telling us that we have been granted planning permission for our house! Our only planning condition (accord avec prescriptions) was in relation to the drainage (more on that below). It took them under 2 months to decide, so probably a lot less than you would expect from planners in the UK. We were worried that they wanted more information about the drainage and that this would hold things up, but it appears as though this was sorted out for us. We were also concerned that we were going to have to put in an application for a septic tank, but seeing as there is a drainage system right by the land, we are able to connect directly in to this.
We have both been very impressed by the service that we have received from the planners in Confolens and the speed in which they got back to us. We are also pleased that they have approved something that isn’t typically ‘French’ and seem have embraced the designs that Tom has come up with. Then again it does appear as though there are a few timber framed houses in the Charente and near to where we are, so maybe things are changing. Also with organisations such as Futurobois building in timber frame is no longer seen as ‘out there’. Futurobois which is an inter-professional association of timber companies in the Poitou-Charentes region, including all firms, from logging, to architects, to sawmills, coopers and carpenters. They also assist. professionals in the responsible and sustainable development of their business, through collective or individual actions.
There are still a few legal matters that we need to get through first though. Once consent is granted a public notice procedure follows. We have to display a notice on site, which must remain during the whole of construction period and must be clearly visible to the public. During the first two months in which the notice is displayed, the planning decision can be contested by third parties! The Mairie also places a decision notice at the town hall for at least two months, although a failure by them to do so does not delay start of the period for contesting the consent.
The Mairie also have a period of three months when they can withdraw the planning consent that may have been granted, on the grounds that is was granted illegally although this is not common! A similar right exists for the local préfet for a two month period after the consent was granted. Tom and I are not too concerned by this, but it is good to know where we stand and the possibilities that could hold us up.
We are now obliged to start work on site within two years and we must proceed in a reasonably regular manner, or risk having the consent rescinded. I don’t think that there is any danger that we will not comply to this, it is just a question of finding the right builders to do there work. Tom is hoping to pay a visit at Easter, but this will slightly depend on our impending arrival….All the more reason to apply to Grand Designs, they like nothing more than a pregnant woman working on site!