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.


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.


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.

The horror!
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.

Before…toward the living room.

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.

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.)


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

Before/After: Kitchen


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.

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.
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!

Before. The armoire on the left is now in the next room.
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.

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.

Before. The built-in cupboard is called a confiturier.

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.

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!

Dining In

Check out that fireplace! Love it!!!

This weekend we gave the courtyard apartment a test drive with a family slumber party.

It was like a mini-vacation. As if living in the south of France weren’t living-on-vacation enough.

Our kid decided that the best way to feel at home, and to test out the new oven, was to bake cookies. So we did. (They turned out great, which is why there are no photos).

We also cooked a simple meal. It’s almost embarrassing: we had cassoulet OUT OF A CAN. And you know what? It’s darn good. Not nearly as good as at any of the restaurants in the Academie Universal du Cassoulet. Not nearly as good as homemade, and I promise to give you a friend’s recipe soon.making-cookiesBut in a pinch, it’s a great no-thought hot dinner. We are partial to La Belle Chaurienne (translation: the pretty female from Castelnaudary).

Yes, even prepared, industrial food in France tastes pretty delicious. I can complain about a lot of things in France, but food isn’t one of them (except for the utter dearth of Mexican restaurants!!!!!).

We were smitten by the ambience of the 17th-century-updated kitchen. The table felt good there. A table that has been there for generations. We are keeping it in the same spot.

Some more before/almost-after shots coming very soon.

Just wait until you see what’s destined for that big, white wall.

Renovation update

chimney back aptThe painting is done. The kitchens are built. The electricity is done. The floors are ALMOST done. The bathrooms are installed.


back living fireplace
The living room of the apartment facing the courtyard.

The painter, Jacques, has been amazing. Look how he did the details on the chimney above.

back kitchen sink wall
The washing machine, wrapped up on the left, goes in the hole on the right.

On the other hand, the kitchens were a nightmare. A friend who used to work for one of the fancy kitchen outfitters said that if we weren’t having custom-made solid wood cabinets (which would be crazy expensive for a rental), then we should go with Ikea, because the quality is the same as the fancy kitchen outfitters but at a fraction of the price. Indeed, we made the tour and decided to go with Ikea. We were quite happy with an Ikea wardrobe wall in our kid’s room.

front kitchen
In the other apartment, a different style.

We made plans using their online tool, but the wardrobe experience taught us that there are little astuces, or smart tricks, that their experts know so it’s worth going to the store for advice. We took an appointment with a kitchen expert–I don’t know how it is in the U.S., but in France meeting the kitchen expert costs €149. Which is worth not having problems.

Except, we did have problems.

front kitchen tile
I just love this tile.

Delivery was promised for 10 days later, July 28, with an SMS the night before to give us a two-hour window for arrival. We arranged for a carpenter to install the kitchens the following Monday–and even begged him to delay his vacation so we could get the kitchens done.

A hard-to-get, out-of-stock Dömsjo sink.

But we didn’t get an SMS. On July 28, husband waited at the apartments, but nobody came. I called Ikea, and learned that the Dömsjo sinks we’d ordered weren’t available, so the delivery had been canceled. No warning. The customer service center said, basically, tough luck. They could reschedule us for late August. Or I could go to the store myself and beg.

I wasn’t crazy about going to Toulouse–1.5 hours away each way, but likely far more in July and August when the autoroute is bumper-to-bumper with vacationers. But I REALLY didn’t want to wait that long.

back kitchen fireplace bottom
The big fireplace in the big kitchen.

The person at Ikea in Toulouse was very helpful, and spent an hour dealing with the delivery contractors to get us in earlier. We canceled the problematic sinks and planned for Tuesday, Aug. 2. Then a manager got involved and arranged for Saturday, July 29. Even better–the kitchen contractor would be able to get right to work on Monday.

I warned them that the driver needed to call us when he arrived near Carcassonne, because  the main street is closed on Saturday because of the market. Not all the streets are closed, though, and if you know your way around, you can get almost anywhere. I would guide them through the labyrinth.

back kitchen whole fireplace
Another view to show the chimney

We got our text the night before: delivery between 9 and 11 a.m. At 11:15, we got a text from the driver saying they would be there in 20 minutes. Well, we thought, maybe they would be able to slip in with the trucks of the market vendors, who would at that time be lining up to remove their stalls.

confiturier 1
confiturier, or built-in cupboard in one kitchen.

An hour later, still waiting, we texted the driver. He texted back that the police had told him the main street was closed (DUH) so he’d left! We couldn’t believe they had loaded up two kitchens and driven two hours and then not made an effort to complete the delivery.

Back on the phone to Ikea. But madame, your delivery already has been rescheduled for Tuesday, the guy told me. Promise? I asked. Promise, he sweetly assured me.

No text Monday night. No delivery Tuesday. Back on the phone to Ikea. There was no delivery for Tuesday, they told me. That other guy was wrong. But we can squeeze you in on Thursday.

Powder room

The fourth time was the charm. Kind of. The guys arrived on time. It was impossible to keep track of what was delivered, because the 17 boxes had no relation to the five-page order form. It turned out we had too many toe-kicks, a missing drawer-front (which, it turned out, had been ordered by the “expert” in the wrong size–10 cm tall instead of the 20 cm needed), and were short of feet for two cupboards–again, the “expert” counted wrong.

That meant another trip to Ikea. Actually, it took two, because it wasn’t until everything else was done that we realized we didn’t need the other toe-kick. Sigh.

We checked all the hardware/plumbing stores to find sinks. We found a farmhouse sink like the Ikea one by Villeroy & Boch for €600. You have to hand it to Ikea that they do good style at a decent price (Ikea’s was €125). I suggested we look at, which is a French kind of craigslist. Husband was skeptical, but we were desperate. And….we found the exact same sink near Perpignan, at half the Ikea price. New, too–the seller had decided to remodel differently.

kitchen back
Missing drawer under oven not shown….

We then stopped at a last hardware store. We didn’t want stainless steel or some kind of plastic amalgam, which were the only choices under €600. That hardware store was the kind of mom-and-pop place where they don’t throw out merchandise if it doesn’t move. We got a ceramic sink for the other apartment at the same price as Ikea’s.

front sink
A hard-to-find ceramic sink.

The appliances were delivered and installed, and it’s all taking shape. Now comes the fun part: decorating!

So: Ikea yeah or nay? Were our mix-ups exceptional or typical? Share your stories!