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”.

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