A renovation project in Paris
Bernard and his sister Ann decided to pool resources and invest in a holiday property for the whole family to benefit from. Together with their respective significant others Anne and Ronnie the idea was to find somewhere where their grown up children and the whole extended family would enjoy going to visit all year round. Ronnie has family in Paris, and they all had visited the city many times and loved it so the answer became clear. There were so many things to see and do that they would never run out of good and interesting reasons to visit Paris.
Once the decision to buy was made, it was simply a matter of deciding where in Paris. The conditions were that the property should have good transport links and to be able to reach it on the metro from the Gare du Nord without making any changes.
Both Anne and Ronnie had separately seen the area in Paris called the Butte aux Cailles which they both liked for its good mix of restaurants and shops and the village atmosphere. They agreed that they all preferred an older property with character and, of course, it would have to be within the allowed budget.
What resulted from the search was a little treasure in their preferred area of Butte aux Cailles. The apartment is on the third floor of a Haussmann building facing the southern sky, which get loads of light. The property had good bones but needed renovation. Refurbishing a property is a challenge in your own town, renovating remotely in a foreign country, in a busy city, that was an entirely different proposition.
Nearly every surface was redone and the works covered the entire range of trades. Since it is located on an avenue, as most Haussmann buildings are, they also invested in replacing the windows facing the boulevard to double-paned, which served to reduce noise and provide additional insulation. So how did they manage the long distance process? We asked Bernard and Anne to share their experience, and also spoke with Tim, their renovation specialist, to ask him about the particular challenges of renovating in Paris.
How did you manage the practicalities of a renovation from a distance?
The renovation process went very smoothly. The four of us made an initial visit to Paris to discuss our preferences with Tim. Once work started Anne became the main liaison point between us and Tim, our renovation specialist, which worked well.
What is your favorite thing about the flat?
The flat is a calm oasis and is so lovely to come back to after a day out. We all like to visit our flat several times a year, sometimes with each other, sometimes with friends and sometimes with our children. We love it!
What is your favorite thing to do around your neighbourhood” (quartier)?
It’s just a 10-minute walk from the Butte aux Caille in one direction and in the other direction there’s Chinatown. Just round the corner from the flat we have discovered a restaurant that does food from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam which is really good.
What would be your advise to someone thinking about renovating their Paris flat?
The key is to find a builder you can rely on particularly if you cannot speak French and who understands the style you want to create in your home. As we are based in the UK, we were able to compare prices of the furniture between branches in UK and in Paris and find a cheaper price for the same goods.
The point of view of a professional:
Tim, what would you say is the main difference between a renovation in Paris compared to a village or rural property?
I have been doing renovation and general contracting work in Paris for over ten years, but have over 35 years in the field, with my specialty being carpentry. Even after having worked in Paris for over ten years, there are still a litany of challenges that come with each new project. In sourcing materials, for example, it is not unusual to have entire suppliers close down two hours a day for lunch. In scheduling deliveries, parking is always a challenge and you are always under the watchful eye of the parking officials.
As most buildings are centuries old and without elevators, there are challenges in getting materials and equipment to the site. If a building has an elevator it is typically minuscule and sensitive to weight restrictions. Performing renovations in apartments, there are regulations regarding the periods during which noise can be made, which I respect to the letter of the law. This notwithstanding, more often than not, you will have a neighbor that is retired or working from home, who decides that hammering at 10:30 in the morning disrupts their breakfast time. All kidding aside, we do our best to adapt to the surroundings while respecting the timeline to delivery the project.
Also as the buildings are older, most of what we uncover comes during the demolition phase and it is at this point that modifications to plans can or must be changed. All tradesmen must be licensed and insured to perform the work. However, for most work done on the inside of the apartment, no permits or approval is required with the exception of the demolition or modification of a load-bearing wall, which requires approval of the co-ownership and syndic and studies performed and reports submitted by an engineer and building architect licensed through the bâtiments de France.
What would you recommend to somebody thinking of buying an apartment to renovate in Paris?
My best advice for those looking to do renovations is to do your research, hire qualified builders and be cautious about hiring designers who are not qualified in dispensing structural advice, but focused only on aesthetics. Because a qualified contractor or builder has had more practical and on-hands experience, they can see a project through to conclusion. Check the references of your builder, make certain that you have an easy time communicating with them and that’s the best that you can do to increase your chances of delivering the best results while also increasing the value of your property.
• With thanks to Tim McCafferty of SAINT MAC, SARL www.saintmac.fr Tel. 06 60 26 42 28
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