We did it! We got the green light to renovate our 17th century apartment in the center of Carcassonne!
Officials from the Bâtiments de France toured, asking questions. Many of the old buildings in the center have been “renovated,” but without regard to historic preservation, even though almost all have historical classification. People rip out the original tomettes, or red tiles. They install dropped ceilings to make it easier to pass electric cables. They stick wires and pipes anywhere they want, including on the façades, which is strictly forbidden. They even get rid of historic details like chimneys and decorations.
As a result, renovation permits require a visit from the Bâtiments de France (the folks who break the historic preservation rules also don’t bother to get permits or to pay contractors officially). It’s really sad.
So our visitors seemed a little on guard at first, wary of what we might do. Their smiles got bigger and bigger as we explained that we would completely rewire the place, restore all the tomettes, replace the rotted windows with exact replicas, install completely new bathrooms and kitchens and not touch any of the antique decoration.
The renovation is going to cost more than the apartment itself, and we’re doing it all by the book. But in the end, we’ll have a treasure to share with travelers to Carcassonne who want more authenticity than one can find in most hotels or lodgings.
We’ll post updates about our travails with our travaux. No sooner did we get the OK to start work than the electricians started ripping out the old wiring.
We’ll also tell share stories about the building, which has had many lives over the past four centuries.
4 thoughts on “Get to Work”
Bravo for talking to BdF and developing a positive relationship with them.
I was really impressed by them. Though they had a little infight about the barrettes on the windows. But they want to set some standards so the place doesn’t turn into one big cache-misère.
There are some rental apartments a block away from us, and you can see that they were DIY without authorization–the ceilings come down to the tops of the windows, with no moldings, obviously dropped to more easily run wiring. The floors are cheap parquet, so you wonder whether they even tried to save the tomettes or whether those were already gone. The kitchens are in the living rooms. BdF are very picky about those things and I doubt they had been alerted to the renovation.
The problem is that people are frightened of BdF because they are necessarily disinterested in cost. Their remit is to protect the building and retain its historical material and context. Also problematic is that once unauthorised alterations are done, there is a statute of limitations, so they just have wait 2 (or maybe 3 – I forget exactly) years, and if the property owners haven’t been challenged BdF can’t enforce reconstitution of the building to an appropriate standard.
I don’t know. We had put in an offer for another building, only to discover that it had been renovated “hors norm” and that BdF wanted us to restore–find and reinstall–the spiral staircase and bakery oven that had been there. Otherwise, we would not get permission to transfer the electricity and water bills. That place is thus unsellable, because the mairie refuses to terminate the permit des travaux without the restoration of the pieces that were removed without authorization. OTOH, one of the BdF people wanted us to save all the glass from the old windows and put it into the new windows. Yes, it was beautiful, but single pane! She said, well, your heating bill will be higher, but it will be historically accurate. I told her I love historic accuracy but I also love the planet and want the place well-insulated. These are the dilemmas. They are siloed, each with their own concerns and each concern conflicting with others.