Tag Archives: France

I love the suburbs


Call me crazy, but I love suburbs. Ever since watching US movies and television, I have a fascination for them. The idea of urban development specifically designed with space – both private and communal – and convenience in mind is very intriguing to me. And I love how suburbs tend to immediately trigger people; both in positive and negative ways. Some people shiver at the thought of living in cookie cutter homes, with neighbours watching your every step. Others long for the space, yards and convenience that come with a move to ‘the burbs’. And a suburb in the USA is different from a suburb in France for instance. We all know the images of violent riots emerging in the Parisian ‘Banlieu’. And in some countries, suburbs are equally crowded as downtown, and often poorer than their inner-city counterparts. My fascination is limited to the classic leafy suburbs like in the movies. What do you think of when you hear the word?

Levittown. One of the first suburbs in the USA. Returning veterans longed to settle so suburbs emerged in many parts of the country

The very typical suburb Richfield. Once a very dull and uninspiring part of Minneapolis, now a popular place due to its proximity to town.

Brøndby, on the outskirts of Copenhagen

Suburb in China. All homes are the same

Paris banlieu with riot police

The Amsterdam suburb IJburg, takes inspiration from the historic center, with houseboats, canals and back-to-back homes.

Gorgeous Tampa suburb aptly called ‘Beautiful’. And this is the kind of suburb I love……

 

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House hunting in France!


When we were in France last, which was for our honeymoon, we decided that if we keep doing well in our jobs, we would like to buy a second home in France. Nothing fancy obviously, just a nice hideaway ideally within a 5 or 6 hour drive. Since we have a dog it needs to have a garden. Also, we want to be able to entertain so we need at least one extra bedroom, but preferably two. We don’t need a pool, but if it is close to somewhere to swim I especially would be thrilled to bits.

I start my search looking for homes in the Champagne, Normandy, Ardennes, Somme, Picardy, and Pas de Calais areas. I have always felt that the last area, Pas de Calais, is suffering from the fact that people know it from the boring roads to either the tunnel or the ferry ports. However, the capital, Arras, alone is well worth the visit to this underestimated part of France. The countryside is equally surprising as these pictures show.

Pas de Calais
Pas de Calais

The first site I am giving a try is called Green-acres.com. That sounds like they might understand our needs.

I look for houses anywhere in the Northern departements within a price bracket of 0 to 100.000 euro, minimum of 2 bedrooms and a garden. The site comes back with many houses, a lot of them town houses, horrible flats in Metz or terraced suburban houses. But one house between the first couple of hits strikes me as a charmer.

It’s in Bourbonne les Bains which is about an hour from Nancy.
The property is a huge U shaped building with lots of space of which 190m2 is currently inhabitable. The french standard for inhabitable differs from ours, as the pictures reveal, but still. The roof was recently done up, and it has a huge garden in the back. All this for a small 43.000 euro!

The place needs a bit of cleaning maybe?
The place needs a bit of cleaning maybe?

There must be a catch… But the website doesn’t mention anything apart from the need of renovation. To be fair, that is always more than one anticipates, but we are talking holiday home here. If there’s a kitchen with running water and a stove, a shower and toilet and a roof, I call it home.  Besides, it might be fun to go there for a few weeks and get real sweaty and do bits myself. It looks like a bucket, soap, broom, vacuum cleaner and lots and lots of bin liners will make for a great start.

But let’s see what else is on offer here.

Near the same town, also about 6 hours driving from Amsterdam is this house in the town of Melay. It’s location is not as rural, and the price is a bit higher, but it looks immaculate. It just needs a bit of paint maybe. The garden in the back looks big enough for entertaining and a barbecue.

The doll on the bed will have to go. To 'come play with me' for me!
The doll on the bed will have to go. To ‘come play with me’ for me!

Imagine that fence and those shutters in off white, pale blue or maybe even dark blue or black. Then put some ivy on the fence in the backyard to obstruct the neighbours from watching in. Put up a wrought iron lantern or two and voila, instant Paradise! This house is for sale for 93.000 euro.

Again in the same area (is this a nuclear test site maybe?) a more modern type property for 68.000. It’s all done up and ready to be moved in to but just doesn’t really offer that French charm we are looking for. So let’s explore other, greener acres and leave green-acres.com for now.

The next site is called French-property.com. It immediately lives up to it’s name as it opens with a page full of offers and also a small article about housing prices in Nord Pas de Calais. Apparently the Brits have already discovered the convenient closeness to their home country so prices have gone up, to over the roof in some parts. I decide to look in the entire North of France again. I enter the same search details as before.

The very first hit is a barn that has yet to be converted. Again, this property is located near Bourbonne les Bains. I guess this is where one can still find cheap real estate. In this case it requires extensive restoration and conversion. Mind you, the barn only costs 16.500 euro’s so that should leave plenty of financial room for a great job in those departments. The structure itself looks rather shaky here and there. But it looks solid in most parts. Hopefully filling up the The roof is in obvious need of work, and there is no way to live there yet.  But with patience, love, some cash and determination this barn could be reshaped into a true gem of a holiday home. The orchard that comes with the property make it worth a closer look.

Barn to be restored
Barn to be restored

I will see if I can find any examples of converted French barns to show.

As you can see just a quick scan of the options already made for three wonderful prospect holiday homes. With a bit more knowledge of the different areas, patience and time, one should be able to find a lovely house for well under 100.000 euro within a half day drive of Amsterdam. I wish we could already start looking for ours, but let’s see if we need cash to get that balcony in first.

New Kitchen in French summer home.


My aunt and uncle are the lucky owners of a little bit of paradise in the French countryside. It’s a semi-detached house that is part of a small estate. Their property once was part of the stables with possibly living space for staff or farmers. When they bought it, the furniture of the previous owner, and old lady, was still partially there. Many pieces of these left behinds were wonderful and now look fantastic between m aunt and uncle’s antiques and vintage pieces. 

My uncle built the new mantle of the fireplace himself out of large sand stone bricks. It’s an elegant work of art and fits the house like it is the original fireplace. The next time I am there I will take pictures of it and post it on here too. 

The latest project was the kitchen. It looked cosy enough as it was but just needed a bit of attention. Instead of fixing the odd screw or door here and there they decided to rip the old kitchen out, and replace it with a new one. Obviosuly keeping with the decor and mood of the house. 

Below a collage of the before, in between and after shots. It looks absolutely great! 

Kitchen before

Kitchen before

 

All but the sink have been removed

All but the sink have been removed

 

The tiles had to go too

The tiles had to go too

 

The old sink had to be drilled out!

The old sink had to be drilled out!

 

The new cabinets and stove are put in

The new cabinets and stove are put in

 

New backdrop and making sure it's all water tight

New backdrop and making sure it's all water tight

 

Final result!

Final result!

 

Love the eclectic clutter! Check the Franch vintage jars!

Love the eclectic clutter! Check the French vintage jars!