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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Serene, Patinaed Fantasy

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation, What's the story? on September 29, 2011 at 11:41 am
Apartment buildings lining the south side of E...

East 57th Street between First and Sutton (via Wikipedia)

Accustomed to living out of a suitcase, I pendulumed back and forth between Manhattan where Susan was wrapping up a degree in interior design following a decade-long career in video production, and Westport, New York, where both of our parents owned homes and where we’d met a couple of years prior.

Susan had recently refinished a one bedroom apartment in The Galleria, and she was itching to sell it and start a new project. I was intrigued by the prospect of collaborating on a project and plugging my recent Paris experience into a tired but dignified New York apartment, but the Adirondacks were pulling me. After almost half a lifetime living in cities, I yearned to return to the rhythms and pleasures of rural life.

My idealized notion of a country house had its roots in a small farm that my parents had bought in Washington County while still living in New York City in the 1970s. Initially a getaway for my recently married parents trying to balance life and careers in New York City and later, albeit briefly, a full time residence, The Farm underpins my love for countryside and provides my earliest childhood memories.

The perfect place, I explained to Bruce, the friend and realtor who shuttled me from property to property, would be a small, simple farmhouse in the middle of fields with a sturdy barn and some acreage, maybe a stream or a pond or access to a river. Barns, in particular, pulled me. Secluded places with good light and views, forgotten places with stories still vaguely audible if you slowed down long enough to hear the voices. No loud traffic. An old overgrown orchard, perhaps. Asparagus and rhubarb gone feral near the barn. Stone walls, lots of stone walls and maybe an old stone foundation from a building long ago abandoned, the cellar hole full to bursting with day lilies. A couple of old chimneys in the farmhouse with fireplaces. A simple but spacious kitchen. A bedroom with plenty of windows. A room to read and write and collage the walls with notes, lists, photos, drawings and scraps. Someplace I could tinker at myself, gradually restoring the walls and plaster and roof. Timeworn wide plank floorboards of varying widths that I would sand by hand to avoid erasing the footpaths and dings and cupping from a burst pipe years before.

Although I’d painted the picture often enough, my budget and unwillingness to abandon the serene, patinaed fantasy resulted in a few false starts but mostly a very clear idea of what I was not interested in buying. On the upside, I came around and helped Susan select and renovate a coop in a 1926 McKim, Mead and White prewar located on 57th Street just off Sutton Place. An elegant apartment in a handsome building. Great bones, view and sunlight enhanced with a top-to-bottom environmentally responsible, non-toxic renovation. A success!

Though there were occasional fireworks when our aesthetics and convictions clashed, we enjoyed working together and decided to look for a North Country property that would suit both of our interests…

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Paris Renovation Bug

In Adirondacks, Champlain Valley, Memoir, Renovation & Rehabilitation on September 27, 2011 at 10:50 pm
Paris Exposition: Eiffel Tower, Paris, France,...

Image by Brooklyn Museum via Flickr

Starting in about 2003 I initiated an unfocused real estate hunt for a “fixer-upper” in the AdirondacksChamplain Valley. I’d returned from four years in Europe with enough savings to justify some idle time, a reprieve I hoped to plough into a long languishing novel while tinkering with the vestiges of a web-based business I’d launched in Paris a few years before.

But I couldn’t shake the renovation bug that had bitten me quite unexpectedly while bringing a luxury vacation rental to market in Paris’ Faubourg St. Germaine.

I’d made it into my early thirties without owning a home due to my intentionally peripatetic lifestyle, and despite an aesthete’s appetite for buildings and furnishing and gardens, I hadn’t the least interest in settling down. No biological clock ticking. No nesting instinct. No yen for taxes and maintenance and burst pipes and snow shoveling. No desire whatsoever for the trappings of a settled, domestic life. I understood why it appealed to others, but for me the commitments and encumbrances far outweighed the pride and financial wisdom of home ownership.

Until recently.

Something had changed, and I couldn’t quite figure out how or why.

I’d spent the better part of a year and a half immersed in the acquisition, renovation and marketing of a grand Haussmannian property that promised tourists an opportunity to enjoy Paris à la Parisienne. My business partner and I joked that it was “Versailles in the heart of Paris”, which was a gross exaggeration, but fifteen foot ceilings, 3,200+ square feet of living space including three master suites, a grande salon, a petite salon and a formal dining room invited exaggeration. Magnificent marble fireplaces, intricate plaster moldings, hardwood floors and meticulous finish details exuded Parisian elegance by the time we started booking the accommodation, but it hadn’t always looked so inviting.

The property underwent a top-to-bottom transformation between the day we received the key and the day we shot the photographs for our brochures and website. Half of the property had been gutted and rebuilt from scratch. One bathroom was remodeled and two new bathrooms were created from scratch. Walls were moved, electrical systems were rewired. Carpets were ripped out and herringbone hardwood floors were hand sanded and resealed. Magnificent crown moldings were painstakingly restored, and sconces, chandeliers, and period hardware were refinished.

No architect. No designer. No engineer. Just outsized self confidence and a hepped up learning curve. I scribbled construction drawings on walls and fumbled through French and Portuguese until contractors seemed to understand what I wanted. With the Lebanese contractors I gesticulated, made funny sound effects and scribbled some more. That we completed the project at all was a miracle. That the results were exquisite, a mystery that still awes me. Though I’d grown up assisting my parents with a couple of renovation projects, I’d never before undertaken anything so ambitious or complex. Or so rewarding.

Although our business plan involved duplicating the process in Italy and in Spain, the woman I’d been dating for two years lived in New York City, and after two years of cycling through Paris, Rome and Manhattan on a roughly two week cycle, I opted to trade the business for the woman I loved. I dissolved my interest in the business, packed up my apartments in Paris and Rome, and moved back to the United States.

[To be continued…]

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