RENOVATING A PETIT PIECE OF NICE! 28 Days to make this house our Home

RENOVATE verb: do up (informal), modernise, redecorate, refurbish, rejuvenate, remodel, restore,
revamp…update.

As you can see, renovate is a complex word. Don’t get too excited, there was a lot to do, but completely gutting and re-modelling the place à la THE BLOCK (Australia) is not what occurred! I’m not going to brag that we pulled off some sort of enormous heroic feat, but there was a great deal of paint, pain, cutting, measuring and drilling involved. Copious amounts of dirt, dust and rubbish to deal with, miles of roads travelled in the search for the ultimate pieces and many hours of tedious little tasks to tackle! But it was all part of The Big Plan and we had assigned ourselves four weeks to turn this little place into an absolute knockout!

Here is how it all unfolded…

Arriving in Nice in the coldest, wettest month of the entire year (and one that will probably go down in Niçoise history), March 2022 was already shaping up to be challenging in many ways, let alone providing a smooth path for MB (Monsieur Bleu) and I to begin our Mini Reno Revolution! This project was going to be a creative effort by just the two of us – working side by side, day and night and hoping that by tools down on the final day, we were both still talking to each other and not on the brink of separation!

Receiving the keys for the apartment for the first time after viewing it once for about twenty minutes many months previously, it was with baited breaths, sweaty palms and slight trepidation that we entered, hoping that we hadn’t made the most expensive mistake of our lives! However, despite the foul weather and upon opening the huge re-enforced front door and stepping inside, all our fear and anxiety simply melted away. YES it is just how we remembered it and YES it already felt like home!

We had purchased the property fully furnished. That loosely means that the previous owner had kindly gifted us with about 25 million years worth of ‘stuff’ – things that he obviously couldn’t be bothered moving or dealing with and had left it ALL at our disposal! For example, there were three huge, ugly shelving units in the entranceway (which took up valuable space), loads of odd glassware, crockery and cutlery, rusted pots and pans, a battered sofa, some heavy steel and glass black tables, a mattress, some wonky lamps and too many worn out sheets, towels, blankets and quilts that had seen better days. There were boxes upon boxes of wires, hangers, odd clothes, bulbs, bottles of half used liquids, broken bottles, plastic chairs, ugly curtains and mouldy cupboards and that was just upstairs! The cellar was a bomb site of neglected items as well, and even we had no idea why it was all there or what use it all may have once had!

You see, MB and I had decided that the best way to keep costs low and be sensible was to be creative. So we needed to salvage and keep as much from the old property as possible, whilst attempting to reduce our carbon footprint at the same time. We would then buy most of our furniture, glassware and crockery second hand (vintage just to be posh) but keep it super chic of course, only purchasing new items where necessary. It wasn’t an easy task, as searching for appropriate and stylish second hand goods took up a lot of our time, but we both hoped that it would be worth it in the end! We would also do ALL the work ourselves, be it carpentry, electrical, plumbing, plastering, painting…you name it! MB is a master of all trades and I am an expert list compiler, visionary and bargain hunter so we made a winning team!

So, bright and early that very first freezing morning in March, we fuelled up on an explosive concoction of enthusiasm, espresso and croissants and armed ourselves with various weapons for destruction and a plan of attack! Dressed in the most unglamorous (but warm) working clothes you could imagine, we were all ready, set, go to begin this 28 day Mammoth Mission. THIS was going to be FUN!

A TOTAL THROWOUT session was a very cathartic and cleansing way to begin.
We required as much space as humanly possible in this tiny French apartment, so all the large unwanted items needed to go first. We had to completely deconstruct the three enormous chipboard shelving units (which were attached to the walls) and move them downstairs to the cellar where they would then be recycled, reconfigured and reused as storage facilities! A genius idea, but it took FOREVER!

The heavy glass tables just HAD to go too (as did any other dark or ugly furniture) as they were just too black, angular and modern. They’re also the ultimate dust highlighters which is not the best when attempting to portray a Happy Summer Holiday type of atmosphere! Within the first few days, the place was stripped backed to bare basics, but now we had room to move and could visualise what we needed.

We must have walked about 100kms over those weeks, trudging up and down six flights of stairs every day, only taking the lazy lift option when things became too heavy or a mini coronary was imminent! A little old man, Jean-Baptist and his Italian born wife Anna (who lived on the second floor and had probably resided there since the dawn of time) were really the only people from our building with whom we interacted the entire time we were there!

They wobbled in and out of their apartment a few times a day and Anna painstakingly swept their landing every morning. JB would tip his hat to us – these crazy new youngsters who had moved in upstairs – and utter words of encouragement and cheeky bits of advise as we passed each other in the stairwell on yet another trip to the cellar or bin room ladened down with armfuls of junk. He once caught us attempting to fit a sideboard into the lift; drawers piled high against the doors, and by the bewildered look on his face, we’re positive that he thought we were both a bit cuckoo, especially the American girl (me) who was always covered head to toe in paint or dust and dressed in rags! So very un- French!

Amazing is the power of a TOUT EST GRATUIT sign, as all the unwanted furniture and odd items that we lugged out to the bin area that month were eventually snatched up by the other occupants or the rubbish collector, so despite being annoying and noisy, we must have made a lot of people very happy! ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure’. So very true…

A wise woman I know (my sister ZB💖) once said; ”Tackle everything room by room first and
only then you will know where you stand”. So here it is…my Epic Tome of a blog that hopefully and truthfully depicts all the passion and dedication that was injected into this monumental labour of love!

THE KITCHEN:

The heart of the house is the kitchen, so they say, and this one desperately needed surgery! It is only a small galley and we didn’t have the funds or inclination to do a complete re model, but the bones were good and it was still cute and quirky. The downfall was that it was completely red (a colour of which I’m not a huge fan and a bit 80’s) and not very ‘workable’. But, in keeping with the happy house vibe, we left the ceiling in all its scarlet splendour and decided to just paint all the other areas white!

(PAINT: It is here that I think one needs to stop and give credit to this cost effective magic liquid that covers a multitude of mistakes! What would the buildings of the world be without it)?

I decided to remove the buckled, old red doors from under the stove top, leaving it open to provide instant access to (a set of spanking new stainless steel) pots and pans and other various cooking paraphernalia. The bar / bench top was rejuvenated and re vamped using odd extra tiles (which we found in the cellar under a pile of dirt) to make it useful but with a modern twist. Even the original white and chrome bar stools have been revived, thus tying the whole space together whilst maintaining its slightly eccentric overall appearance!

With the addition of a small dishwasher carefully plumbed in under the tiny white ceramic sink, a modern tap, a full size fridge (which has now been reconfigured into the wall) and a new glass cooktop, the place looked great and so much lighter and brighter! All that was left to do was make the space pretty and give it a good scrub down and it was all set to use!

THE REVAMPED KITCHEN!

A complete kitchen clear out ceremony also occurred one drizzly morning. Filling three garbage bags with an assortment of unwanted, broken and overused goods, I hauled it all down to the cellar (smiling to a bemused JB and Anna as I passed their door) and this left us with a handful of items to use and an excuse to spend up big on a much needed trip to the second hand market and the local Croix Rouge (Red Cross)!

A one stop shop occurred as we raided this little gem of a store, which had a huge back room filled with bric a brac of all sorts and everything one required to fill a house! After an hour, we eventually returned home with ten antique plates, two vases, a lamp, some pretty occasional bowls and a large outdoor ceramic cicada (the symbol of Provence) all for under 20€! Combine this shopping excursion with a whirlwind whip around Le Cours Saleya’s brocante market in Nice’s Old Town, one rare sunny Monday morning, and I was in bargain Heaven!

There, we were lucky enough to discover a rare set of crystal stemware that was on sale, a pair of vintage tan leather driving gloves for my frostbitten hands and a woollen beret for my cold little head! We couldn’t wait to ride home that day (me in my new gloves and hat) and to make dinner that night just so we could play with all our fabulous new finds!

THE BEDROOM:

This room was the Nightmare from Hell! Being an old apartment block dating back to 1930, many mini changes had been made by various residents along the way and this was the issue. The walls of the apartment are all solid concrete with 3m high ceilings, so a simple paint tidy up should have been all that was required. But NO! Dans le boudoir, some bright spark had decided to wrap the walls IN FABRIC (an old and outdated technique that was used for insulation). This proved to be a HUGE problem as completely stripping it back would take forever, let alone discovering and dealing with what may lie beneath and unfortunately this was beyond our time frame and budget. Our solution (for now) was to simply re paint over the existing fabric, MB carefully unpicking the hideous, dark floral banner which encircled the ceiling and do a patch up job using the extra paint which we found in the cellar. One day we will completely remove it all and create a papered accent wall, but for now, it just had to do! Exhausting and frustrating work…

AND SO IT BEGINS!

The ‘wardrobe’ for want of a better word, was also in a horrendous state and had to go. An entire day was dedicated to dismantling this monstrosity (fun times) as the entire thing was falling apart! The huge weighty doors were coming off their tracks, the shelves were broken and the rusted hanging rack was going on a trip to the local tip. Behind the wardrobe was yet another disaster area that needed a lot of work, and this all had to be rectified and repaired before we could even address the flooring and bed issue!

The ‘bed’ was built on and attached to an old white floating floor. WHY? Who knows, but this also had to be extracted tout de suite! The mattress was moved into the lounge as we proceeded to break apart the bed base and rip up the floor, revealing damaged, paint smattered tiles beneath. This caused a great deal of noise as we smashed, snapped, splintered and split the boards and years of dirt and dust clouded the room leaving us looking like a couple of Bolivian drug lords! This was all then packed together and slowly lugged back down to the cellar (passing a stunned looking JB of course) to be later turned into work benches and more storage or discarded on kerbside pickup day!

We ended up living the life of poor students for a few days as we lay on the old mattress on the unsightly tiled floor, but after much searching and pricing, we eventually invested in a luxurious double bed and a chic fold out couch for the lounge!

The Tape Measure: MB’s solution for every problem. This bendy, yellow metal magic wand was always just at arms reach and appeared many times daily, triumphantly snapping back into its shiny shell with an air of finality after every use. “Measure twice, cut once!” was the phrase of the month as he brandished it about like a swordsman, but I learnt how to read millimetres and inches like a pro.

Only then could the new, modern style floating wooden floor be sought, bought and laid, prior to the bed/couch delivery, along with the new open plan wardrobe. This also needed doors to be found and fitted and this itself took forever. We eventually bought some white louvered bifold doors (after much deliberation and hassle) and carted it all back to the apartment one drizzly day and yep…JB was there! Everything was miraculously installed in two days with a lot of cutting, screwing, measuring and modification involved to make it fit into the odd space! All hail the genius of my Frenchman…

THE BATHROOM:

This little space, just off the bedroom, was not in bad shape, (thank God) and only really needed a lot of TLC for improvement. Again, we were faced with years of shoddy building workmanship to rectify before buying anything new. We discovered that (originally) the shower cubicle had been tiled like a moroccan bath. Wonderful, colourful and exotic, but some lunatic had decided to TILE OVER THIS in dark grey slate! I nearly died, but had a cry instead as I investigated this terrible err in judgement and realised that it could not be reverted to its former moroccan glory. The grey slate had been well and truly cemented onto the existing tiles…never to be removed. Such a waste and a shame. Bits of glue, droplets of cement and old mouldy sealant were plastered everywhere too and it took an entire day for me to scrape it all away.

So many simple tasks were just so time consuming and even my feverish attempt to scrub the stupid slate (which is not suitable for showers I have now discovered) did nothing to lift my mood. On the bright side, the moroccan style tiles remain elsewhere in the bathroom (and kitchen bench now as well) so at least we still have a small representation around the place! We bought a new sink, taps, toilet, light and towel rails so at least that spruced up the area somewhat. Bits of painting needed fixing here and there and new sealant squeezed everywhere, but the most important addition required was a door for the open shelving cabinet!

Allow me to tell you the story:

Agreements and disagreements and an array of bizarre ‘coverings’ were trialled for this area, but none worked. Despair and disillusionment started creeping its way in until suddenly, one day, we had an epiphanic moment! Why not keep with tradition and transform an old Niçoise shutter (persienne) into a door. Brilliant!

With yet another exciting feature-finding mission up our sleeves, we made enquiries as to where these could be located. Le Bon Coin had some on offer for low prices and a trip to a local restorer revealed that you could buy a broken down one for a steal at only 350€ ! Unbelievable…

Aborting this avenue of attack, we came across (one day quite by accident) a perfectly dishevelled persienne propped outside yet another restorer’s shop; however, this one was FREE as the shop owner simply wanted it out of his life! After a load of high fives, twisty dance moves and excited screaming all round, we eventually strapped it to me and the motorbike and rode off into the sunset with our new baby, eager to give her a new outfit and a new home! ’Twas a great day indeed.

THE ENTRANCEWAY AND LOUNGE:

These two areas had the least to do! Already in great shape, the lounge room with its soaring ceiling had been freshly painted white and the wooden floor had been sanded and polished so that was a bonus. All that was needed was to redecorate, fix some lovely locally inspired prints to the walls and find some unusual but practical occasional lamps. MB raised and bracketed the exisiting television to the wall for better access and we also decided to have air conditioning installed for all year round comfort.

The entranceway had already been partly tackled on that first day when we removed the shelving units, but now the walls and ceiling (which were once again covered in the famous fabric wrap) were in desperate need of attention. Hours were spent on this tedious task alone as the fabric literally sucked in every drop of the cream coloured paint we rolled onto them!

A tiny built in broom cupboard (which also houses the meter box) was tucked into a corner and had been wallpapered in a gaudy, silver flower print. We decided to keep this as it’s really quite radical, but authentic to the era, so I just repainted the inside a bright turquoise, as we had discovered that this was the apartment’s original wall colour!

The ceiling in the entranceway (which for some reason had been lowered) featured a dingy, dust covered plastic lamp that was rapidly replaced by a vintage dome from the 30’s that we had found at our beloved Red Cross for 4€! One fine day we will completely remove all the fabric to expose the actual ceiling height and maybe then we can invest in and install an original, majestic Murano art deco chandelier. Maybe I will find one at one on the side of the road!

THE NEW ENTRANCEWAY!

SHOPPING:

Now that the apartment was beginning to take shape, the subject of essential purchasing needed to be urgently addressed, as we were rattling around a zen like, minimalistic space! Not being huge fans of ‘cold weather’ as it is, having to rug up in scarves, gloves, arctic puffy jackets and beanies just to ride to a store to do shopping of any kind was not really the dream working vacation conditions we had envisioned, but it was all for a good cause and we kept having to regarde le ‘Big Picture’ every day just to keep up our spirits!

We had discovered a huge warehouse style shop called LA CAVERNE Depot -Vente not too far from our neighbourhood that solely dealt in second hand furniture, accessories and decorative pieces! It was meant to be as this two level haven of vintage effects became our favourite store in Nice and our second home as we stopped by a few times a week. New deliveries of stock arrived every day from deceased estates, old French houses and closed down shops or sometimes a truck load of unwanted goods was unloaded and exchanged for cash!

Armed with a list of things required and hoping to uncover and discover a beautiful bargain that suited our new home, we would gingerly enter, avoiding ‘Manu’ the French floor manager whose stony face basically read “Oh Christ, here THEY are AGAIN” as we stalked around, meticulously inspecting and photographing any new additions and haggling down the prices!

I’m pleased to report that nearly all the furniture and accessories in the apartment today (lamps, mirrors, tables etc) came from this amazing store, including my vintage turquoise Valkyrie statue and was either walked home in the freezing wind or tied to the bike for rapid transportation. Sorry Manu my love, but it isn’t over yet, as we’re coming back to show you just where all these elegant and unique pieces that we purchased from your fine establishment, have been displayed and rehoused!

SOME OF MY VINTAGE FINDS!

Hardware stores: There are many in the Nice area, some large and some small and also giant versions a few kilometres out of town. MB and I visited them all at least three times each during this mega mission and I have now become an expert in DIY paraphernalia! It became a long running joke in the end, as discovering a new bricolage store hidden away down some unknown street was the highlight of our day! Faced with rain, wind, fog and/or (rare) sunshine…no element of the crazy weather could prevent us from layering up once again for yet more freezing trips on the bike! Power tools, screws, sandpaper, plumbing devices, electrical gear, paint and a million other little bits and pieces were necessary if we hoped to fulfil our renovation reverie!

On the days that we needed to bring home larger objects, we simply hired a small van and basked in the glory of heating and cushioned seating, making as much use of it as humanly possible in one session! Our mass of pre-loved goods all got donated to our beloved Red Cross on these days too, as well as returning any other unwanted or refundable objects that were mistakes bought in haste. A welcome cup of delicious hot chocolate always ended these painstakingly long drives back and forth around the countryside but it became our small reward for this colossal cause!

THE TERRACE:

The terrace was our baby. It’s probably the best thing about the entire apartment and was the selling point in the beginning, as being an ‘all year round outdoor couple’ we needed a space that could be used in any weather and for many different reasons! Already fitted with a long table and some plastic chairs, we were dithering about how to change them as they were old and unsightly. Enter stage right our very hip German neighbour, soon to become our saviour, Gerhard. He very kindly donated four cream, modern designer outdoor chairs our way as it was torture for him to watch us sit on ‘unfashionable and ugly cheap ones’ any longer! He also tried to give us more of his unwanted furniture including a claw footed bath, but we sadly had to decline due to lack of space, need and unnecessary greed. What a generous man!

An electric outdoor heater though, was something we needed badly, as every night we perched ourselves on our stylish new chairs, wrapped to the eyeballs in woollen scarves, (MB in his beanie and me in my new beret) and subsequently proceeded to freeze to death! Dining inside was NOT an option (as we are permanently in denial) because this is the South of France! La Côte d’Azur! The warm playground of Europe even if it is below zero in March.

We did eventually track one down and brought it home, extracting it carefully from the box and then erecting it like it was the Eiffel Tower. This heater was worshipped day and night for the entire four weeks as we cooked ourselves to a crisp under its magical, warm orange light and it was the best money we have ever spent!

Our terrace also became more than just an area used for dining, as it housed all the paint and tools needed for any immediate action and was also transformed into my personal workshop for the rejuvenation project of ALL shutters! Amongst endless cups of espresso, sanding and scrapings, the small Niçoise persienne (for the bathroom shelving unit) was reborn here and painted a beautiful shade of Ladurée Green. The large outdoor foldable shutters that framed the main bifold glass doors totalled twelve in all and were carefully scraped, sanded and then lacquered in a bold turquoise colour suitably named Miami 6. The whole process was a very long and tiresome job that took three full days, but now with these two very necessary jobs completed, they make the house a whole. (PS: We have now just been informed by our Body Corporate that the Miami 6 colour is forbidden and that we need to repaint them ASAP! This does not make me happy) 🙁

A stylish, vertical garden was attached onto the old glass partition that separated us from Gerhard our neighbour, and a large Buddha head and old indian wooden screen were purchased (from Manu’s of course) to tie the whole area together. A set of brand new loungers (which we found in the cellar) can also be used for a spot of sunbathing when the temperature eventually rises. A small French style, round metal breakfast table and chairs has been placed in the front corner of the terrace near the railing and provides a panoramic view of the surrounding streets so we can indulge in our favourite past time… a spot of people watching, whilst sipping on a well earned aperitif at dusk. Ah, bliss!

THE CELLAR:

La cave, or MB’s ‘man cave’ was the topic of discussion from the moment we bought the apartment, as I think it is every man’s dream to have a space of their own in which to potter around. Tools of every description can be displayed on the walls as a homage to home improvement devotees and boxes of shiny, metal pieces can be housed in their individual compartments like mini treasure troves!

Always yearning for a house in the Greek Islands, the closest MB could get to this dream was to paint the entire interior white! After carefully extracting everything that was piled into this lair of discarded objects and discovering even more random tins of paint and tiles, we set about vigorously slopping litres of whitewash Santorini style onto every available surface. Only then could we set about re assembling and attaching the shelving units from the entrance way. My word…did this take some time!

Being an underground area, it was cold, dark and musty but even this couldn’t deter JB from the hypnotic lure of the man cave as he appeared in the doorway like a vision from the past to survey the madness! Ninety years of wisdom came rasping out in rapid fire French as he waved his cane around, sniffed the air and eyed off the crates of wine.

Now it is has been slightly more organised, but still needs work and more shelving attached. It even has room to house our little inflatable boat AND stand up paddle board (both of which we found in the garbage)! So now MB can come and go as he pleases, to his French heart’s content, via the stairs or the lift (maybe even with JB) and do whatever it is that men do down there… probably discuss the problems of the world over a glass of Volnay Premiére Cru!

…So at 7pm, on the 31 March 2022, it was tools down for the final time! Everything had been swept and polished, cushions plumped and the bed made. Sinks had been wiped and the fridge emptied and the last bag of rubbish was hauled downstairs and loaded into the bin.

Our backs ached and our hands and fingers were spit and bleeding. Our skin was as dry as the Sahara, our eyes rimmed in red and our clothes worn and torn, but GOD was it worth every scratch!
Making ourselves as gorgeous as possible, showered and scrubbed of four weeks of grime, grit and dirt, even JB and Anna couldn’t believe the transformation as we swanned down the stairs in all our finery for our celebratory night out on the town! At last we looked like we actually belonged in this fair city called Nice!

As we closed the all the shutters and locked the door behind us, we waved farewell to our beautiful 30’s / Miami inspired apartment. We both agreed that it was the BEST FOUR WEEKS we have ever spent with each other and our newly renovated Petit Piece of Nice is now ready for all to enjoy!

**MB has now nicknamed me The Machine as I had the drive, the vision and the dream….but, my darling man…YOU made it all happen. Merci.**

~THE END~

…”Some people look for a beautiful place…others make a place beautiful”…Hazbat Inayat Khan

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