It isn’t surprising that a building from the 1600s has seen its share of renovations through the centuries. Electricity and running water, for example. Central heat. Windows. A door would be better here. No, there.
The apartment was about 100 years old, when the owners decided to give it a massive upgrade. The Bâtiments de France architect who inspected our place told me the boiseries above the fireplaces came into style in the 18th century and probably were added to our place late in the century, considering we’re in the sticks vis-a-vis trend-setting Paris.
At some point, walls were added. You can tell, because the coffered ceilings extend to the next room, but the earlier renovators finished out the moldings in the main room to make it look like the wall had been there all along.
A little storage area for horse harnesses was added above an entry. What was shocking was to strip off the wallpaper and find a door. How did they get up there? Ladder? While carrying a harness? Or was it the harness room much later and this was for a maid or servant? Very mysterious.
My biggest surprise was discovering just what our place is made of. Clearly the two-foot-thick walls are stone—the place has an incredibly good energy rating, despite having leaky windows.
When the contractors were piercing these walls to run new wiring and exhaust vents, they couldn’t just buzz-cut through solid stone. They had to chip them out and fill in with concrete.
And then, while running wiring through one of the added-on walls, which are only about two inches thick, the plaster came off, revealing the inner wall.
It’s called torchis, made of straw and lime (chaux). According to durable.com, it’s lighter than concrete but just as strong. And it’s a great insulator.
In another spot, some contractor of long ago meticulously filled in the space between wood beams with small stones.
Luckily we have great contractors who seem utterly in love with old buildings. It was the artisan restoring our tomettes who excitedly explained to me about torchis walls. Our painter treats the entire place as if it were a canvas for a masterpiece. He has taken charge of making sure the plaster is in good shape for centuries to come, all while preserving the past.
It would not surprise me at all to find out that what is now one apartment was once two, or at least half of it got added on later. There’s a difference in grade between the front and back. There are separate entrances for the two sides. The windows aren’t alike at all. It’s almost as if they’re two different buildings. Maybe they are. Some past renovation, where somebody added on.
We are splitting the halves again, making a single apartment that’s bigger than our house into two roomy apartments. Trying to get all the mod-cons while preserving the old charm.