Before/After: Bathroom

WC 2Our vacation rental apartments are a collection of used-to-bes. The bathroom in the courtyard apartment (which we’ve named L’ancienne Tannerie, because the courtyard used to be a tannery) used to be a laundry room.

Sink must go 1
It must weigh a ton

One of the earlier demolition moves was to extract that gigantic concrete sink. We kept the niche in the wall. That corner now is the shower, with two shower heads. I tried both and can’t pick a favorite.shower with nicheThe door in the before shots leads to a circular staircase in another building on the courtyard. We sealed it off, and smoothed out the curve, because that deep corner gathered scary things.

buanderie
Before.
towels
After.

I had a hard time getting decent photos. This room is crazy bright, even with a glaze over the windows. The inside of the window frame is black. The Carnivore, our painter and the other workers lamented such a bad decision, but I got the last laugh because it looks great.

toward 3rd door
Before.
looking in door
Same view, after. No more door. The sauna is directly behind me. I love a towel warmer.

This room got the black and white cabochon floor that I had wanted for the big kitchen. The walls have metro tiles, which are beveled subway tiles, like in the Paris Metro. I had asked at the tile store about “subway” tiles and was told crisply that surely I was looking for “metro” tiles. Ahem.

The bathroom is next to the sauna. Of course.

sink and mirror and light
I love the Venetian mirror.

On the other side of the sauna, but reached by a different door, is the powder room, in its original place but with a different door (it used to be reached via the closet for the furnace and hot water heater. Yes, that had to change).Toilette 1The former doorway’s arch became home to the sink, with the toilet now across from it (next to where the sink originally was). The floor has the same tile as the wall. I was nervous that it would be too much, but the floorspace is small and it looks nicely seamless.

WC2 from door
After.

While we have been obsessed with finding antiques for the apartments, here it feels so clean that everything is brand spanking new. Well, except for the Venetian mirrors. And the little marble-topped cupboard for toiletries in the bathroom. New and old.

The apartments are available for rent on AirBnB: l’Ancienne Tannerie here and the front apartment here.

Before/After: Bedroom in l’ancienne Tannerie

Bed afterThis is a difficult room to photograph. It used to be a den, with four doors. Now it’s a bedroom, with two doors.

It looks out at the interior stairway, with a light well. That makes it a bit dark, which  usually is a good thing for a bedroom. It also is very quiet and stays exceptionally cool in summer–nice when there’s no air conditioning (the historic preservation authorities frown on air conditioning units sullying the exteriors of buildings).

Toward doors before
Before, with doors galore.

I liked the old wallpaper, but it was in bad shape, and anyway rewiring made lots of holes in the walls. The floor was covered with vinyl, and we had no idea what we would find underneath.

Bureau actuel sol
Before: mustard vinyl. You can see the transition to the kitchen in the top left.
removing vinyl
The joy of ripping it out. Actually the joy was when it was done, certainly not during.

First, the floor: we ripped up the vinyl and found tomettes. But in what condition? We didn’t know until all the glue and gunk had been removed by our tomette expert. The verdict: the middle of the room was a ruin, but the tomettes around the perimeters were OK.

uncovered tomettes
What we found. Good or bad news?

However, we had the same situation in the kitchen. We decided to save the kitchen by cannibalizing the bedroom: all the serviceable bedroom tomettes were used to replace broken ones in the kitchen. Not a single one to spare.

We favored the kitchen, with its big, beautiful fireplace, over this room, which, as the Bâtiments de France architect put it was “without historical significance,” lacking boiseries, a fireplace or other embellishments. A quiet room, sleepy for sleeping.

Bed after shows floor
New floors that work nicely with the carpet.

I dreamed of putting in herringbone parquet, but that was far beyond our budget. Instead, we found long tiles that look like a plank wood floor. The weathered design has a blue/gray tinge that goes perfectly with the blue silk oriental carpets we had chosen.

niche before
Velour curtains: gone. Scary wiring: replaced. Niche: still there.

The niche was preserved, in all its lopsided glory (including the slanting base, which limits what can go in it). A very odd brass and copper urn took the place of honor.

Niche in progress
WHY lopsided?
vase
It’s as if ancient Greeks had created a mash-up of Jules Verne’s submarine and a golf trophy.

The doors in the corner led to the other apartment: on the left, to the bedroom and on the right to the entry. They have been closed off with sound insulation and drywall. Some books and knickknacks adorn the shelves, but we wanted to leave empty space for guests to stash their bags or set out their things without creating clutter.

Another door, used by us only, goes to the closet with the furnace and water heater. And the fourth door leads to the big kitchen.

wardrobe
That door on the left leads to the kitchen.

You might recognize the Art Deco bed and matching wardrobe from the blue-flowered bedroom that now is the salon of this apartment (husband points out that a living room combines sitting and dining areas; a salon is for sitting only). We enlarged the bed frame to queen size, topped by a bio (organic) mattress from a local maker in Mazamet.

toward niche before
The windows before.
window during
During: freshly painted.

The windows have interior shutters, and I made a single curtain (it opens to one side because of the niche) with white-on-white damask fabric. Everything is as white as can be.

Toward niche corner after
After.

We are still hunting for art for the walls. Some things must not be rushed.

 

Before/After: Salon

trumeau closeupThis room faces a pretty courtyard full of flowers. It has evolved as we worked on it, and I’m so glad we didn’t rush. Plus, I procrastinated on sewing the curtains and only just finished them.We have two vacation rental apartments, both extremely elegant and spacious, yet they couldn’t be more different. The front apartment faces south, with balconies over the street. It has some of the most elaborate boiseries, or carved high-relief decorations, of Carcassonne.

courtyard
The view from the back apartment.

The back apartment faces north, with the hidden courtyard, and somehow feels more intimate, despite having large rooms and ceilings just as soaring as the front.

 

The apartments started as one huge, unpractical labyrinth (who wants to wind through a couple of other people’s bedrooms to get to the bathroom?). We sealed the connecting doors with sound insulation and drywall to create two separate apartments, which had separate entrances anyway.

salon toward piano before
Before. The curtains hide glass French doors that lead to a separate entrance. Note the linoleum floor in that entry.

That is why this room used to be a bedroom.

The previous owner’s wallpaper aside, it has always felt like a blue room to me. The front apartment feels red, but this room feels blue. Does this happen to you, where a room seems to tell you what IT wants? And it’s up to you to find the right pieces to carry out the room’s vision of itself?

tomettes before
Tomettes before, with paint.

The tomettes were stripped to their original state. Painting tomettes was fashionable, the restorer explained, because often houses had many different kinds, from different makers in different periods, with different colors,  even in the same room.

tomettes during
Removing the paint.
salon painted not furnished
Old paint off the floors; new paint on the walls. Didn’t our painter, Jacques, do a great job on the chimney?

Because it faces north, we chose a bright white for the walls, and gray for the trim–the reverse of the other apartment. I like that the boiserie doves are white while the chimney is a contrasting dove gray (it’s true!).

 

birdsWe bought most of the furniture with the apartment, but the family kept some things, including the mirror that was here. But look at that trumeau mirror the Carnivore found. We were going to touch it up, but friend Ali advised leaving it alone, and I’m glad we listened to her. It’s perfectly imperfect. A place that’s 400 years old shouldn’t be too glossy, even if it’s grand.

mantle before
Before.
mirror and fireplace
After. I just scored some cool decorations for the mantle. Later!

The furniture went through several iterations. We had the daybed in here with the greenish gold armchairs. They were true to the cool blue feel and went very well with the silk carpets the Carnivore scored (he is a genius at shopping, especially for antiques), but I wasn’t happy with two carpets side by side, as gorgeous as they were, and identical, to boot. They were still a bit too small. We separated them for use elsewhere and moved that furniture to the front living room. This is what happens when you furnish with antiques: you discover something, then find something else. It takes time, not like walking into a store and getting everything at once. I am very happy about giving these beautiful, high-quality pieces a new life.

During
First try. The mirror was too small and is now in the front apartment’s entry.

 

toward kitchen with carpet
After. New (but old) carpet that’s much bigger. The door leads to the big kitchen, my favorite room of all.

We found a bigger carpet, mostly cream tones, with a little blue-green and touches of salmon. And the salmon chairs, which had been in the front, worked here, despite not being blue. They actually are the exact same color as the tomettes. This wasn’t on purpose–they were upholstered before the tomettes were restored, when the floor was a dark red. Happy luck.

 

 

toward piano after
After. Same view as the shot above with the bed.

We managed to find a Louis XVI-style sofabed–not easy! I’m not a fan of sofabeds, but we wanted to give the option for more people; the front apartment is for two people max. The sofa (which has a matching armchair) has a dark teal-blue stripe. The curtains are a paler shade of the same color. They turned out great–out of all the curtains I made (for five very tall rooms), they were the least anguished.

 

toward kitchen door
The armoire with the faces in silhouette was refitted to hang clothes.

The coffee table was hand-carved in Lamu, Kenya, by an artisan I first met in 1985. He was still in the same place when I was back in 2001. I bought a chair from him, and also wanted a coffee table. He didn’t have one but, not wanting to miss a sale, got one from his house to sell to me. Trust me, I gave him a good price. In our house, that table felt too small, but here, with the imposing sofa, it feels just right, and it’s easy to move if the sofa needs to turn into a bed.

 

Behind the sofa, the piano moved in from the other apartment’s entry. I hope to get it tuned, if that’s even still possible. A painting, strong on blues, by my mother will go above the piano as soon as it’s framed. We are looking for other little gems to decorate as well. I think it will never be “finished,” but will always be evolving based on our discoveries.

toward tv
After. The tapestry is of Carcassonne, a handmade reproduction of an historic one.

If you look closely, you’ll see how we repurposed furniture. The armoire originally was in the kitchen; husband cleverly installed rods for hanging clothes; it also holds pillows and extra blankets for the sofabed.

The lyre-back chair was originally in this room (you can just make it out in the shot with the bed), and now accompanies a little desk.deskThe pièce de la résistance, though, is the chandelier. Not only is it dripping with crystals (called pampilles), it is gigantic. The room is so large and the ceiling so high that you don’t realize just how huge it is.chandelierWe bought it via the French version of craigslist, driving at night into the foothills of the Pyrénées to a house on the edge of a little village without cellphone reception. Yes, it totally felt like a horror movie. But the sellers were lovely and their house was beautiful. It was more like an oversize cottage, rustic, with low, beamed ceilings, and its new owners said their old chandelier didn’t work at all–it was too big and anybody kind of tall would bump their head on it. We barely squeezed it into the car. The Carnivore had spotted the ad only about an hour after it was posted, and we were there about two hours later to buy it, otherwise it surely would have been snapped up by an antiquaire and resold for many times more.

entry before with door
Before.

This entry is fairly small: just a coatrack in there. Previously it had been used as a closet. In the first before photo, you can see the linoleum that had covered the tomettes. There’s another small bedroom off the entry; I’ll show it later.

 

entry
After. You can see the reflection of the salon’s chandelier in the top pane of the French door. There’s a small montgolfier chandelier in the entry, but I had to lie down to get a shot and it really didn’t capture it well. You need to see it in person.

The apartment is for rent via AirBnB or VRBO (which is the same as Homeaway and Abritel). Or contact us at booking.carcassonne@gmail.com.

(The front apartment can be found here on AirBnB or here on VRBO.)

window
Admiring those curtains one more time. They even were straight. Not bragging–just RELIEVED. All the curtains are DONE.

Before/After: The Bedroom

The bedroom of the front apartment underwent a major transformation. For one thing, it had been chopped into two bedrooms, and we turned it back into one. You can relive the demolition here.

Bedroom wall gone huge room
Notice how the little wall had gone right up around the moldings!

It wasn’t easy–all the debris had to be carried out bucket by bucket.

bed
After

We ended up with a space that’s 35 square meters–more than 375 square feet. For a bedroom. It’s almost a ballroom.

The historic preservation folks asked us to keep the jib door, but it’s sealed, with sound insulation and shelves on the other side. The door to the right used to lead to a hallway, which opened to the space with the furnace and hot-water heater, and the toilet was off of that. We closed it off and put a toilet in the hallway.

img_1573-copy
Before: a hall
wc-1-after
After: a powder room.

The view to the street shows how each former room had a window. Sorry about the backlight.

32-chambre-1-actuelle-vue-rue-copy
Before
br-toward-windows
After. The door on the left is the bathroom.

I’ve made pale gray slipcovers for the chairs. The fabric is lovely soft velvet with a tone-on-tone paisley pattern.

br-angle-to-door
That door goes to the living room.

The bigger space is more suited to the gorgeous fireplace.

fireplace-vertical

fireplace-boiserie
A closeup of the boiserie
fireplace-detail
Detail on the mantel
kneeler
The kneeler found a home

The bed is full of special details. For one thing, we went with a queen-size organic mattress made in Mazamet. So it is a bit bigger than the antique headboard.

bed-lights-on

bed-detail

The sconces were another antique find.

sconce-detail

Even the sheets are antique. What young bride-to-be embroidered them for her trousseau? And then put them away, because they are like new.

sheet-initials

sheet-detail

Whenever possible, we chose Made in France.

made-in-france

We look forward to welcoming visitors with an authentic French experience in an amazing setting.

Our apartments can be found on Abritel/Homeaway/VRBO: the front here and the back here or on AirBnb, with the front apartment here and the back here.

Before/After: Kitchen

kitchen-straight-afterAnother reveal in the front apartment: the kitchen.

The apartment is really half of a gigantic apartment that was very impractical–it was a maze and each room could be accessed only by passing through another room. So one had to pass through bedrooms in order to get to the bathroom. Not great if the person in that bedroom wants to sleep.

We split the apartment into two still-large apartments (about 80 square meters or 860 square feet each). But that meant we had to create a kitchen for the front apartment. Our options were limited by historic preservation rules.

The only place to put it was in the entry. We removed a closet and closed off the door to the other apartment. We discovered that the flimsy 3-cm wall of the closet was supporting the “harnais” above. That required bringing in a beam to hold it up.

 

kitchen-straight-before
Before, taken from the same spot as the top photo. That far door is now closed off, the closet on the right is gone and a kitchen is in.

 

kitchen-after-wharnais
After…the door to the harnais, where horses’ harnesses once were kept, had been hidden by wallpaper.

The original tomettes had been covered with vinyl.

10-entree-1-sol-copy
The horror!
11-entree-1-sol-raccord-entre-lino-et-tomettes-dans-placard-copy
Unadulturated tomettes in the closet. Would they be like that under the vinyl? YES!

We loved this bookcase and decided to use it for open shelving to make it easier for renters to find what they need.

entry-bookcase
After
entry-bookcase-wall-before
Before
toward-salon-before
Before…toward the living room.
toward-salon-after
After

The kitchen is small but efficient. The two windows face the stairwell, which is lit by a skylight. To keep the space from feeling dark, we installed three sconces in the kitchen, in addition to the two in the enty and the overhead pendant light.

The apartment is now listed on AirBnB, HomeAway/Abritel and VBRO.

entry-straight-before
Before…facing the opposite direction (you can see the “hallway” next to the closet in the reflection of the mirror). Check out the locks! (The tall door had warped.)

 

entry-straight-after
After…a silk carpet on restored tomettes. The locks replaced by a three-point system and the door fixed.
entry-mirror
Lots of crystal pampilles on the new sconces.

Before/After: Living Room

salon-daybed-centerIt’s way better in person.

The first apartment is ready. The second one will be ready soon. The last i’s are being dotted and t’s crossed on the piles of paperwork.

The journey has been satisfying, especially when we see where we started. The before, below.

salon-before
Before

Wallpaper (flocked!) removed, wiring and plumbing completely redone, floors restored, windows replaced, furniture edited. Surprises along the way.

tomettes
400-year-old tomettes, paint removed.

Here’s another angle:

angle
Before
angle-before
After

Contrast the dining area:

dining-area
After
dining-area-before
Before

No longer cramped, it’s the perfect place for breakfast…

croissants

or dinner.

table-setNo pets allowed, but there are plenty of animals:

table-animals

p1060451The details are carefully preserved.

zoom-mirror-chimney

The elaborate mirrors echo…

mirror-and-boiserie-chimney-side
the boiseries above them…
street-mirror-boiseries
in the style of Versailles.
fireplace-detail
Fireplace detail
salon-table-bottom
More under-the-table fabulousness

The apartment is arranged as enfilade rooms, designed for a continuous line of sight as well as for cross ventilation.

en-filadeThe previous chandelier is now in the bedroom. We found a bigger, more sparkly one:

chandelier-and-street-side
It looks small up there but it’s a meter wide.

It really does have va-va-voom.

chandelierAs is my wont, I changed the furniture around about eight times. I think I like it with the daybed parallel with the wall, rather than in the center of the room (as in the first photo). What do you think?

salon-daybed-on-sideIf you’d like to rent it for your vacation in Carcassonne, contact me here at taste.france@yahoo.com or at booking.carcassonne@gmail.com. It will be up on the holiday rental sites very shortly.

Sew What?

zippersIt isn’t easy to find curtains that are four meters long (13 feet). Lined, traditionally pleated (no grommets or tabs for hanging). Made of elegant fabric. Custom is too costly; the only option was DIY.

I HATE to sew.

It’s right up there with gardening. Something I can do but would rather not. I just had an old filling replaced; I was happier getting my tooth drilled than I was trying to line up meter upon meter of slippery satin and taffeta.

It used to be nearly obligatory for girls to learn to sew. Proof: In the “Ramona” books by Beverly Cleary, Ramona’s mom is always making the kids’ clothes. In the 1970s, my mom made many of my clothes, and she taught me, with grandmas and aunts offering additional tutoring. I made clothes. Some rockin’ elephant-leg corduroy bell bottoms. With a zipper and everything.

But I refused to take home economics in high school, despite heavy pressure by my adviser. I was more interested in economics than in home economics. And still am.

p1060391
La bête noire. About 33% of sewing is pinning, 33% actually stitching on the machine and 33% ironing. Most despised task ever.

So, curtains. I can at least sew a more-or-less-straight line, and that’s about as much as one needs to know for curtains.

Comptoir des Tisseurs, at 25, rue de la République, in the center of Carcassonne, has beautiful fabric and excellent advice. Turns out the address has been home to fabric-makers for generations. Fabric from France is a practical souvenir–take some home for pillow shams. Unbreakable, not too heavy, something to remind you every day of your trip. Perfect souvenir!

The living room of the front apartment got satin in a dark gray like the walls. The curtains had to be slim enough not to cover the beautiful boiserie and mirror on the wall between the windows.

lr-curtains
The living room

The bedroom got taffeta of the same color. Made in France. I bought all that was left–the maker had gone out of business. I wanted these curtains to be fuller, plus I wanted heavier, black-out lining because it’s a bedroom and the shutters don’t cover the top squares of the windows (called impostes, they are fixed; the shutters cover only the parts of the windows that open).

To make the curtains as big as possible with the available fabric, I took a page from the informative window treatments post by Cote de Texas and did like the photo she shows by Suzanne Kasler, putting a contrasting band at the bottom: bordeaux taffeta from the same company.

The transition between the two required a woven ribbon, the search for which entailed visits to all of Carcassonne’s merceries, or notions shops. Let me tell you, they are hopping. Apparently some people like to sew.

DesignSponge provided clear instructions. How hard is it to sew a rectangle? (Answer: Very hard, if the rectangle is ginormous.)

pinning-on-floorThe lining was the worst part. Just the bedroom required 22 meters (about 22 yards) of lining. Even when we managed to fold it in half (and it took all three of us to wrestle it to the ground), it was longer than our “great” room, going up the steps and into the library.

New skin.jpg
Blood was shed but stanched.

It was HEAVY–10 kilos (22 pounds) for the lining and six kilos (13 pounds) for the taffeta. So each panel weighs four kilos. Yanking all that through the sewing machine gave my left arm a workout. I’m surprised I don’t have a Popeye bicep.

What I do have is fingertips with more holes than a diabetic’s, and deep cuts from pulling thread.

And I screwed up.

Pleating tape is different here than in the DesignSponge example. It has two cords; you knot them on one side and pull on the other, then knot it. The system is similar to making ruffles.

pull-thread
The brownish threads get pulled…
pull-thread-2
to make pleats…
pleats.jpg
that end up like this. DO NOT LOOK CLOSELY. You will see where I ripped out stitching.

Well, I sewed the tape on inside-out. I spotted this at the apartment, having already made the pleats. I had executed this stupidity on two panels. The four-kilo bedroom panels. Of course.

wrong side.jpg
WRONG!
right-side
Right side. The little squares of thread allow for the hook to slip through at the height you want–rings visible, partly visible or completely hidden.

I had to take them home, undo the knots without losing the cords and retie them with most of the pleats eased out, rip off the tape, carefully push all the remaining pleats to one side so some tape was flat for sewing, sew the tape back on correctly up to the pleats, push them all to the sewn side and stitch the rest. Did you get that? Me either.

curtains
The bands actually lined up. Miracles do happen.

The curtains were so heavy we couldn’t open and shut them, even using a broomstick, which was far too short. The blackout lining worked very well–the room was plunged in darkness with the curtains hanging straight. ties.jpg

 

Next improvisation: find tiebacks. The effect wasn’t what I had in mind, with a straight band, but I think it is pretty anyway.

 

curtains-tied

New upholstery (more sewing!) coming for the chairs, which are in good shape, just not what we want. Pale gray velvet with tone-on-tone paisley.

Another sewing adventure: a new cushion on the daybed. It’s a weird size, because everything in those days was handmade, including the mattress and box springs (francophiles can read a little about this in M.F.K. Fisher’s book “Long Ago in France” or here).

p1060373Of course, it wasn’t just a rectangle. That would be too straightforward. It has notches in the four corners. Just to ensure my hair goes gray. Like the walls.

daybedOne day, I will DIY lime the wood so it’s kind of white; the room has more dark wood than I want. Although the apartment is ready to rent, it may never be “done.” I suspect we will always find things to add, get tired of others, changes here and there. We have barely started on art for the walls. In the meantime, the daybed will make a good spot for watching TV or reading a book.

Three more sets of curtains still to go for the courtyard apartment.

puddle
Mega-puddles. Ponds, even. Because the floor isn’t level (after 400 years) and I’m not competent enough to hem for a slope.

Don’t look for the defects; their massive numbers will overwhelm you. I don’t sew as well as, say, an 8-year-old in Bangladesh. This is something I thought about a lot while sitting at my sewing machine. There are so many people–mostly women, too many too young–for whom sewing occupies much of their waking day, in a room not as nice as mine, with few breaks, no benefits, and paltry pay. They are glad for the employment, I know, and their exports have hugely reduced extreme poverty. But it does seem we and they should be able to have jobs and reasonably priced goods without having to resort to work forces that are barely a step above slave labor.

More updates about the renovation coming soon. If you’re interested in renting, let me know at taste.france@yahoo.com or booking.carcassonne@gmail.com!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before/After: Kitchen

cuisine-2-toward-window-after

First, I was remiss in not wishing everyone a happy new year, and above all, good health–meilleurs voeux pour 2017, surtout la santé. It’s the first thing everybody says here at the moment, even strangers.

This kitchen is possibly my favorite room in our renovation. It’s huge. It has plenty of counter space, plenty of storage, seating and a fireplace big enough to stand in.

kitchen-fireplace-before
Before. Sadly, we didn’t get to keep the cauldron or the crémaillère, the hook hanging by a chain. “Pendaison de crémaillère”–or the hanging of the hook for the soup pot–is the term for a house-warming party.
kitchen-fireplace-after
After.
fireplace-grate-after
We managed to find a new grill, though the fireplace can’t be used.

We didn’t get to buy all the cool copper pans, but as we installed an induction stovetop, they wouldn’t have worked anyway. Let me just say again that induction is the greatest!

cuisine-2-clock-before
Before. The armoire on the left is now in the next room.
cuisine-2-clock-after
After. We put in a door (to the powder room) where the clock used to be–and found that there had been a door there previously, covered by wallpaper.

We took a leaf out of the table–it’s already big with one–and changed out the benches for chairs. Benches are useful for squeezing in crowds but they are never comfortable. Pointless in a two-bedroom apartment.

kitchen-view-to-brlr-before
Before.
kitchen-view-to-brlr-after
After.
cuisine-2-toward-window-before
Before.
cuisine-2-toward-window-after
After. That door goes to the sauna and bathroom.

I loved the idea of black and white checkerboard–damier in French–but what was there was nasty, cracked linoleum. Replacing it with tile or stone wasn’t historically accurate enough, especially since we found the original tomettes under the linoleum.

kitchen-view-to-cupboard-before
Before. The built-in cupboard is called a confiturier.
kitchen-view-to-cupboard-after
After.
kitchen-2-stovefridge-wall-before
Before.
kitchen-2-stovefridge-wall-after
After.

Some of the hardest work came from things that are unseen, namely completely rewiring the place. We LOVE our electrician. And our painter. Here are links to the work along the way: changing the windows (the one with wind blowing is the kitchen) and the sink.

light-switch-before
Before. Yikes. All of it–the ancient, probably hazardous, switch, the tile, the wood stain.

I think this is the only vacation rental in Carcassonne–and possibly beyond–with such a nice kitchen. It’s perfect for somebody who wants to go to the market and cook, and we plan to arrange cooking lessons as well. The other apartment is even grander but has a small but complete kitchen. Updated photos of it coming soon.

The apartments will be listed soon–we’re just finalizing the official paperwork. Hope you’ll come!

Before/After: Bathroom

wallpaperThe bathroom in the front apartment is done. Above, you can get full appreciation of the 1970s wallpaper. It looks a lot like the wallpaper that was in my parents’ Midwestern kitchen. That probably says something, but I don’t know what.

Obviously the apartment had been renovated many times over its 400 years, but it still feels old and historic. We wanted the bathroom to feel new and old at the same time.

sdb-beforeThe bathroom had a number of oddities. It was in what originally was a service hall because nobody had bathrooms when the place was built in the early 1600s. The very interesting blog The Seventeenth Century Lady gives an idea of the period’s hygiene, or lack thereof.

strange-pipeOur hall-cum-bathroom has a strange pipe ascending to the roof from who knows where below. The first floor is a shop, currently empty.

According to an old floor plan, there had been a bathtub, but it was replaced with a shower recently, and we kept that. It is huge. The room is bathed in light from a (frosted) window that rises more than 11 feet. Natural light is so important in a bathroom.

bathroom-from-doorA new false ceiling over the shower takes care of that weird pipe as well as new ventilation and flush spotlights. The rest of the room has a four-meter (13-foot) ceiling.

toward-showertoward-windowWe included a washing machine, because nobody wants to go to a laundromat on their vacation and this was about the only place we could fit it.

mirror-closeWe hunted high and low all over southern France for the sconces and the  mirror. The sink, too. It’s hard to find something that isn’t completely modern. But that antique Venetian mirror makes me swoon.

wc1-before
Before: just a hallway

Right next to the bathroom is a separate loo. We used the same tiles but put them on the floor. The sink, with a marble-topped cabinet, came from a farmhouse, with a matching mirror. How do people photograph mirrors without being in the picture?

wc-1-after
After: a new WC

Almost everything in the apartments–aside from the appliances and kitchens–is antique, bought at estate sales or brocantes, or else bought with the apartment. We looked at some new replicas of old styles but were disappointed by the combination of low quality and high price.

 

Before/After: Pantry to Sauna

sauna-exteriorWe had dilemma with the pantry of our 17th century apartments. As in, what are we going to do with this space?

painted-cellier
During. The tomettes had been covered with linoleum.

It was too big to ignore. But a vacation rental, especially one with plenty of kitchen cupboards, doesn’t need a pantry, called a cellier in French.

cellier-before
Before: a dark hole.

The municipal and national landmarks experts suggested making it a bathroom, because it was in the former service hallway that we’re allowed to change as we like. But the low ceiling and lack of a window would have been unpleasant as a bathroom.

cracked-paint
Horrors

So we put in a sauna.

interior
Perfect for two.

Why not, right? It was just the right size. An ugly, awkward hole became a little spa. We tried it out on our most recent stay. It heats up in just a few minutes. There’s a timer so it automatically shuts off–a nice safety feature. We don’t want somebody passing out and getting cooked (you’re supposed to drink a lot of water before and after). The lights are cool blue. There are even speakers and a jack to plug in your phone for music (see the cord, below on the left?).

It’s right next to the bathroom, for a cold shower afterward. A before/after coming on that soon–we finally found the right light fixture.