Two years ago, the work was underway at Tiny House. We had moved into a rental apartment close by and were trying to live a semi-normal life. As the demolition and renovation got started, and immense slag heap (love that word, slag) grew just outside what would become our main doorway. It stayed there for more than 6 months after we moved in. The photo below does not really do it justice - it was taller than me and almost 5 meters long. It was, eventually removed to make fill in for the new driveway. What was left was a dead space, just grey dirt in between two olive trees. Below houses the septic tank. So while we didn't have the ugliness anymore there didn't seem to be many options.
Here they are, the "official" photos of TIny House! I guess there won't be much more to say until we add some of our own decoration (thanks to our interior designer and prop stylist for much that you see here). We have entered into the next phase - a garage to studio conversion but it's slow-going and messy and I've lost some of the enthusiasm for picture taking. Maybe when we thaw out and things get moving in the spring.
In the meantime, here is Tiny House.
The key to living in a Tiny House is to two-fold:
1) Get rid of all non-essential items. Be ruthless. Karin: you do NOT need all that stuff from Boston you never unpacked (9 years). We cleared out an entire attic, and I was ruthless about selling/donating even large furniture that we knew would just need to be stored indefinitely. E: you do NOT need 6 pairs of running shoes.
2) For the stuff that remains, think about the available space and storage. Consider the built-in. (We considered, and did).
Our house, largely in thanks to our interior designer, is very well-laid out for storage. I love that stuff has a place to go!
Here are a few of my favorites
The finished closet under the stairs. See the IKEA kitchen rack for the brooms, etc? I love having all that stuff off the floor and they are in easy reach when I need them. In the small space under the stairs is our luggage and cat hang-out.
The Laundry/Coat closet
It's our catch-all just inside the entry-door. We have a long rod for coats, a rack for shoes as well as high shelves for cleaning supplies. The bulk of the 7x4 closet is taken up by our hot water heater and stacked washer/dryer.
Why I love this space: There is a place for all of us hang coats. Even living in a tiny space, I avoided the kitchen washing machine (common in Europe). Now I can do laundry, close the door and not hear it while I'm watching TV only a few feet away.
I love pretty much everything about the kitchen. But there are some cool storage bits. Like the bread basket (it is France, afterall!)
Finally, our big splurge in this house were the oak built-ins in the living room and bedrooms. Downstairs, we have double-deep drawers that serve as a toy box for the kids. Genius! It a perfect everybody-is-happy arrangement.
Yippee!! My mom is coming for a pre-Christmas visit. YIKES! We really need to get our &*(* together and finish up this house. So the race is on. The garden will still be a disaster (fair warning, Mom, if you're reading!) but we aim to get the house ship-shape. So we're busy bees for the next few weeks.
Earlier in this project (and for the years of dreaming leading up to it) I spent my time on design blogs and hoarding home design magazines. I was obsessed with how our house would feel and how the design would support and enhance the way we live. Meanwhile, E was staying up late reading books on insulation, "green" building techniques and energy efficient ways of heating and cooling. One of his big wishes was to have a wood burning stove in place of a traditional chimney. With this house it was an easy choice - we had a chimney already but removed the gas burning fireplace.
Last week we had the new one installed. I like to call it the firebox. Because that's what it is; a fire in a box in the corner of our living room. We were able to buy a small firebox (average 6kw output) since our space is small and so well insulated. Once installed we had to wait a couple of days to light it (not that we need it - it's still in the mid-60s here during the day) to let all the evil chemicals related to the installation completely evaporate. E was so excited - like a kid on Christmas Eve - and chomping at the bit to light it. Once we'd past the 48 hours mark he went for it...and filled our house with smoke and turned the glass windows on the stove completely black.
He was impatient. Of course he thought something was wrong with the stove! Ha. After 1/2 hour the flames started roaring and he was happy. Meanwhile, I spent 45 minutes the following morning cleaning the glass with oven cleaner - not so fun.
We have had a couple of good fires since then but then last night he came home and wanted a fire RIGHT NOW. So he lit it and...filled the house with smoke. At dinner time. *sigh*. He got it working, that is burning without a lot of smoke, but then I had to clean it again. He asked me today to try to light one and see how it went - were there any leaks on the 2nd floor of the house where the chimney passes (in our bedroom!)? Any further leaks coming from the stove itself?
So I made my effort and tried to remember my Girl Scout years. I did not succeed on the first try - smoky fire, same as E. Then I did a little Google help and experimentation and here's what I learned:
Now that I have the hang of making the fire, I'm really excited - it's so cozy!
I haven't written much about Tiny House lately because it is discouraging. It's been 3 months since we officially moved in and the house feels about 90% done but that last bit is detailed and difficult to complete. However, each time a bit gets finished, we are so happy! And we have a moment of satisfaction in seeing things come together - a little bit more of the dream realized.
We definitely had that with the insulation. While the inside feels mostly finished (minus some paint, light fixtures, closets and toilet), the outside is still clearly under renovation. There is scaffolding on the walls and piles of construction materials and debris surrounding the house and in the driveway. It's a bit discouraging coming home from work and having to make my way through the muck to get to the door. So on the day they completed the first plaster and our house looked more like a house I felt a little bit of relief - could the end be in sight?
The insulation was expensive and difficult but we are really pleased with the result. It hasn't been too cold yet here on the Riviera but it's cold enough and we haven't needed any heat. Our home, even at night and during the awful rain, is staying in the mid-60s. Unlike insulation installed on interior walls, the exterior insulation required several discrete steps - gluing the insulation to the existing wall (directly on the old plaster) [photo 1 and 2], covering the insulation in a fiberglass net [photo 3] and at the same time bolting the net and insulation to the concrete wall below to insure it doesn't move over time, and covering the entire surface with a plaster-like glue to seal it in [photo 4]. The final step will be to plaster - yet to be done.
Our Indian Summer continues and I'm holding my breath a little because October usually means torrential rains. We're in a race to if our exterior will be finished before the first big storm comes that finally turns summer into fall.
Last week the insulation was delivered - 6 weeks after we moved in. This was only slightly late and right away they started installing it. Early on in the demolition we discovered that the insulation would have to be redone completely both in the roof and the walls. Since our house is tiny, we decided to take the bad news as an opportunity and insulate from the outside using cork insulation - all natural, renewable and no toxic fumes. The only downside is that it's almost 5 inches thick. Which would have made it a no-go if we had to put it on the inside. As it turns out, by ripping out the old insulation and wall board we gained a lot of space inside by just plastering the walls.
Lesson learned though - no interior insulation (except in the floors) means lousy acoustics. Our tiny house echoes with noisy kids. I'm shopping for rugs and other soft furnishing to eat some of the noise.
Once they finish glueing the cork to the existing walls, they will put a wire frame - I imagine it like chicken wire - then plaster stucco on top. The roof insulation is made of wood fiber and looks like the usual pink wooly insulation except that its wood colored.
My bed has been in storage since April 29th. Since then I have slept in 6 places, none of them really well. Almost all of those nights I go to sleep thinking about that day's progress and setbacks.
People ask us, "When will it be finished?" To which we reply, "It depends on what you mean by 'finished'."
We move in on Friday. When I was there over the weekend there was only a bathtub but no sink, toilets, faucets or hot water heater (though they are all sitting around in boxes). There is no flooring upstairs. There are no light fixtures or outlets. The tile on the stairs is halfway done. My sleepless nights, I think, are due to the fact that there's nothing I can do now but wait a few more days. Our team (including E, who is painting, painting painting) is working very hard.
Once we move, it will be a bit like posh camping. Dusty. With a lot of work still going on, both inside and outside where they will begin to insulate, re-roof, install skylights and air conditioning. It will be busy.
In the meantime, the most complete thing is the kitchen. I'm so excited and for this alone I can't wait to move in. We are still waiting for the worktop but we have a temporary one in place so the kitchen is ready to go when we arrive. We worked hard designing it and it really turned out just as I wanted and imagined it. My favorite features are the hidden appliances (fridge, dishwasher and microwave) and the pull out storage to the left of the oven.
We meet with the entire team tomorrow to plan the next two months' work. The interior should start coming together with the flooring in place, finalizing the interior walls and installing doors, floors, etc. In the meantime, I captured some photos of how our new home is right now:
The garden. This is the part we can really enjoy right now and we eat at least one dinner a week under the trees enjoying our little slice of the Mediterranean. Did I mention we have a sea view? It's hard to tell in the picture below because it's just a sliver and the sea blends with they sky.
Stories, inspiration and practical tips for new expats and visitors to France brought to you by Karin Dodson Gignoux, a 10+ year resident of the French Riviera.
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