Friday, November 11, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans - Chapter 5

1994 Called.  They Want Their Décor Back.

Well, they can have it.  We bought the chalet from the original owners, a lovely British couple who built the house in 1994 and lived there year-round.  Obviously, they picked out everything from the tile to the layout of the rooms to the carpet in 1994 and were completely content to let it stay that way. . . forever.

People, if it wasn’t breathing, it got stenciled.  There were flower-y and mountain-y paintings everywhere:  going up the banisters, on the bathtub surrounds, on the door jambs, you name it.  And this wasn’t some tacky, do-it-yourself attempt at home décor.  It had obviously been done by a professional and it probably cost a lot of money.  It was all free-hand and accurate down to the minutest detail.  For example, if you look at the alfresco painting above one of the sitting rooms, it depicts a mountain scene with cows, a wood-carver with a miniscule chain saw, some teeny goats, and, if you look very, very closely, two tiny parapenters floating down the sides of the slopes.  (That’s the only painting I’ve kept.  The other adornments have all succumbed to 40-grit sandpaper.  Au revoir, edelweiss.  Hasta la vista, wild strawberry vines.)

Acrylic paint a la 1994 is easily annihilated.  Piece of cake.  But the actual floor plan?  That’s a little more difficult to change.  Remember, in 1994, not many people had “great rooms” or “open floor plans”.  Well, OK, maybe Californians had them because they are ubercool, but regular people?  No.  They had separate EVERYTHING.  Separate living room.  Separate dining room.  Separate kitchen, etc.   And so does our chalet.

Now, when a person from 2011 walks into a house from 1994, they are going to feel cramped.  It’s natural.  How will I entertain?  Where will everybody go?  They’re all going to try to cram into the kitchen and the kitchen is only as big as a shoebox!  Where am I going to fit my sectional sofa and my cool, industrial coffee table that is approximately the size of Utah?  Huh?  Where?

So walls were coming down.  That was a given.  But which walls to choose from among so many?  Which walls can come down and not make the house fall onto our heads?  Normally, in a regular house constructed of 2 x 4’s and sheetrock, Mr. Big can find the load-bearing walls and plan accordingly.  Here, not so much.  This house was constructed “en madrier”, which means no framing, no sheetrock, no nothing.  Just logs.  Logs that have been specially planed at the sawmill to fit one on top of the other EXACTLY LIKE LINCOLN LOGS, only squared off, not round.  So, to build a wall, you stack.  And, at the junction where two walls meet, you interlace.  Tres, tres, tres complique.

We found a construction expert who spoke English.  His name was Music.  Yes.  You heard me.  Music.  I asked him to spell it because I didn’t believe him.  I thought it was possibly some weird French name that I had not yet been acquainted with.  No.  He was Irish and I guess his mother was partaking of recreational pharmaceuticals back in the day, but whatever.  As long as he knew about building with Lincoln Logs, what the heck did I care what his name was?   Music was not a bringer of glad tidings.  Apparently, because our renovation plans involved ripping out the fireplace wall and the fireplace, we would not be able to start until after Christmas.  (Remember, it was October 2nd, three days after we moved in.)

Really, Music?  And why the delay, pray tell?  Well, because “the fireplace guy” is busy until after Christmas.  THE fireplace guy?  What?  There is only one guy in all of France who builds fireplaces?  Surely not, Music.  France is a pretty big country, after all.  I mean, compared to IRELAND, or something.  It turns out there is only one fireplace guy IN THE VALLEY, who speaks English and whom Music trusts.  OK.  I can accept that explanation.  Mr. Big, however, is really feeling cramped.  When Mr. Big is feeling cramped, he starts to feel itchy, which leads directly to claustrophobic, which leads directly to the Land of Power Tools.

Y’all.  It took about 3 hours after Music left with his sad notes, before Mr. Big was muttering around and measuring various things.   You have to realize that he and I have a motto.  “If someone with no teeth can do it, we can do it.”  This motto has served us well in the past and saved us multiple thousands of dollars.  I’m not saying Music had no teeth, (he had a full set, as far as I could see), but you get what we are saying.  We ain’t skerrt, as we say in the south.

You saw in the previous blog post that he started practicing on the powder room.  That one wall involved at least 8 trips to the hardware store (which is 20 minutes each way up and down the mountain into Switzerland).  I now know every word for every kind of saw in French, because I had to buy every bloody one of them.  And then, I had to return every bloody one of them because the engines burned up.  BECAUSE THEY DON’T CUT THROUGH FRIGGIN’ MADRIER.  Apparently, it’s like trying to cut down a pine tree with a pair of pinking shears.  You need a chain saw.

Please tell me you can picture in your mind’s eye, Mr. Big, INSIDE THE HOUSE, cutting down walls with a chain saw.  Yes.  Picture me rushing around like a madwoman trying to protect what few pieces of furniture I have purchased from flying DEBRIS that’s coming out of the back of his saw like ordinance.  Please try to picture this scenario.  I finally resorted to staple-gunning bed sheets DIRECTLY TO THE WALLS in a semi-circle around him.  Truly, it was like the Texas Chain-Saw Massacre inside my house, except with projectile pine shrapnel instead of brain matter.  Oh la la, indeed.

It is now one month later of being “weekend warriors” and the fireplace wall is gone.  The fireplace, itself, is a story for another day.  The additional, 6th bedroom, that we don’t need, has now been incorporated into the “great room”.  This is a slow process but soon Mr. Big will be able to retire from The Company and just become an expert “en madrier” renovation and fireplace construction.  I hear there is a real shortage in the area.  I can see his little placard now, “Have Chain Saw, Will Work”.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Chalet Shenanigans, Chapter 4

Renovation Rules

Once we finished with the notaire and officially owned the house, (which is called Chalet Ruisselet, or Chalet Near a Little Stream), we drove directly up the drive with plans to start immediate demolition.  This is how we roll.  We are crazy people.  Ahh, see, none of you really know THE REAL US because I’ve only been writing this blog since we moved to Switzerland.  Because we RENT an apartment in Lausanne and our landlords live directly below us, I think they might notice if we started ripping out walls and jackhammering through the floor even though we really want to and we have to restrain ourselves on a daily basis.  I don’t think we are even allowed to paint, if you want to know the truth.  I’m not sure because I haven’t been brave enough to try.

But, now that we OWN something, we are off like hounds to the scent.  Happily for us, Mr. Big and I each have our own different paths that we follow when a renovating a house or a commercial building.  This time will prove to be no different.  We pull up in the driveway and say to each other,  “Off we go then.  Ta ta, luv, see you next Wednesday!  Come find me if you do anything really spectacular!”

Here’s the key to a happy marriage and a happy project:  don’t try to do anything together.  Ever.  It will end in disaster.  Trust me.  In fact, the more square footage you can put in between you and your spousal unit, the better.  If he is working in the upstairs bedroom, you should be working in the basement.  Get it?  Meet for dinner and compare notes.  Works every time.

Our General Rules For Renovation Projects work so well because he and I operate in two completely different solar systems .  I tend to gravitate to the THING THAT IS BUGGING ME THE MOST AT THAT PARTICULAR MOMENT, get rid of it, fix it and make it pretty.  That’s my modus operandi in a nutshell.  Mr. Big, however, just wants to wreck stuff.  He finds the biggest project that involves the most power tools and the most demolition and the most dust and he is as happy as a pig in slop.

For example, take Day One.  Day One, I just wanted to set up the air mattress so we would have some place to sleep, go to the grocery store so we would have some wine and cheese and make sure the fireplace was working so we could light a fire.  Mr. Big wanted to take four doors off of their hinges and dismantle the jambs because they were giving him claustrophobia and making the hallways “too squishy”.  So he did and I sat in front of the fire and had some wine and cheese.

At dawn, though, on Day Two, I was up and at ‘em, Atom Ant.  I had decided that the thing that had to go first was the pink and purple kitchen.  Oh, let me be more specific.  The pink and purple kitchen with the orange terra cotta tile floor and the red painted stenciled flowers on the cabinets.  Yeah.

So, I was up with cows tearing out the backsplash, taking the tiles off the floor, pulling the oven and hood out onto the patio and generally having a heck of a good time.

Mr. Big wakes up groggy, stumbles into the kitchen and says, “Um, what happened to the oven?”

I glance up, way up, actually, because I am sitting on a tiny footstool dislodging floor tile with a hammer and chisel.  I nod in the general direction of the kitchen door and say, “It’s on the patio.  Why?  Did you need to bake something?”

“Er, no, just wondering.  And the microwave?  And, um, the countertops?”

“Already in the dumpster with the range hood and the backsplash.”

He knows he is in violation of The Renovation Rules just by virtue of asking me these questions, but I am in a forgiving mood because it is not even 8 o’clock in the morning.  Technically, he should not even be stepping foot into the room where I am working, but I will let him slide because I know that all he is really concerned about is if I have thrown away the coffee machine or not.

“Um, honey”, he ventures tentatively, “will there be any coffee available this morning?  Or should I look elsewhere?”

Snookums!  Good Christ, of course there is coffee!  What do you think this is?  Guantanamo Bay?   Look, there’s the Barbie fridge, still intact, and, directly on top of it, voila!, the coffee machine.  OK, now, only in Europe is the fridge the size of an under-the-counter appliance upon which one can put things.  In America, if one put something on top of the fridge, only Yao Ming could reach it.

Off he went, coffee warming his little fist, to do whatever he wanted to accomplish on Day Two.  Which, apparently, involved a Sawz-All because the house shook when he fired it up.  I didn’t even have to leave the kitchen because I knew that he was attacking the bathroom-slash-powder room.

Here’s the deal.  Europeans don’t get the concept of the powder room.  I don’t know if it is because they don’t have guests or entertain, or what, but they just don’t get it.  They are trying, bless their little Froggy hearts, but they are not there, yet.  Consequently, you wind up with the most bizarre bathroom configurations imaginable.  The most common attempt is to put a separate toilet, by itself, somewhere near the living room.  No sink.  No, no.  The sink AND A RANDOM SHOWER/BATH is in another room by itself, somewhere in the general vicinity.

So, say I am having a party and a friend wants to “freshen up”.  Do they go in the room with the sink?  What if they have to pee?  Do they go in the room with the toidy and then go into the room with the sink?

  And, why is there a shower in the first place?  Do we need this extra shower?  It is adjacent to the living room.  It’s bizarre, I tell you.  And don’t even get me started if there is a bidet involved in the equation because it just makes my little head spin.

Anyway, I know what Mr. Big is up to.  He has a plan to turn the two weird bathroom configurations into one room.  Picture this:  there is one skinny, little coffin of a room with just a toilet sitting in one end of it.  (I wouldn’t even pee in it.  I felt like Patty Hearst.  It gave me the creeps.  The outside of my calves touched the walls when I was sitting.)  Then, directly adjacent, there is another long, skinny room with a sink at the end and a random shower.  You know what’s coming don’t you?  Mr. Big was taking out the wall in between so we could have one normal sized bathroom with A SINK AND A TOILET IN THE SAME ROOM.  No so much to ask, right?

However, it was not going well.  Major curse words were coming out of the two bathrooms.  Why?  Ah, well, that is a story for another day.  Let me just say this.  We are not dealing with sheetrock and framing here, folks.  This chalet was built “en madrier”.  And there I will leave you until next time when you will learn that “en madrier” are big boys’ Lincoln Logs and why French children within one half of a kilometer radius of our house now know multiple swear words in English including, my favorite, Rat Bastard.