Friday, August 22, 2008

The Country House

Buying property in France takes ages.
First you sign an agreement to buy, which sets the wheels in motion for the bureaucracy machine to regurgitate an avalanche of paperwork. This then takes several months to get in order. It takes time to get things in motion with the bank, meetings and discussions, the legal waiting periods, the required inspections, research by the notaire, and all of the little glitches along the way. When we bought the apartment here in Lyon, we signed the papers with our intention to buy in the month of June, and it wasn't until mid October that we finally had our meeting with the notaire. At this meeting, the entire history of the property is read aloud, everyone is satisfied that things are correct, and we sign the papers. They ceremoniously hand over the keys. It's a great moment! Immediately, you rush to the apartment and pop a bottle of champagne! Walking into our place in Lyon, empty and echoey, sunshine streaming in, was like a dream. It was one of those moments I'll remember forever.

Our visit with Francois and Philippe to their chalet last spring planted a seed that sprouted quickly in my mind. I was developing the idea of a little cottage in the golden hills near Lyon, definitely sticking with the idea of something in the Lyonnais region. Maybe something in the Bugey or among the ponds of the Dombes near Brest. Weekend poule au pot, mud boots, and an herb garden tucked between the grape vines came to mind. We don't really need much. A little square of land to get our hands in the mud, a place to walk and collect leaves in the autumn, a place to get away from the city.

After we had been searching for awhile, Loic was feeling lucky and turned his attention to the Alps. At first, the only places that seemed even close to our budget were either at very high altitudes, with no water or electricity and not accessible in winter (what's the point?), or were actually just ruins that needed complete rebuilds. But he was sure we'd find something. He did a lot of research on the regions. He got serious about one area, and we went there to look at one property that was within our budget. "It's probably got something seriously wrong with it", was how he began, but the more we looked, and the more we saw, the more we realized that this one particular place was exactly what we had been looking for.

Hiking nearby.

This one little converted stable, the first place we'd seen, kept calling our name, in its little hamlet tucked away in the Savoie, just north of the mountain range called the Belledonne. Before we even realized how perfect this little house was, we found ourselves tromping around the area every weekend. It is a part of the Alps that is close enough to Lyon for spontaneous trips, but in keeping with the quiet ways of the country. Hiking, taking picnics, checking out the commerce, trying out the cafes in the little towns, inspecting the the ski stations, considering the historic Roman baths of the area, looking at one house and then the next, even considering apartments, we just kept going back. We fell in love with the area's humble beauty and variety.

The area around one cute Alpine town with its butcher, baker, cobblestone, clock and church is central to a cluster of small neighboring hamlets. Fifteen minutes by car into the hills and it is as if you are stepping back in time. They still have their lavoirs (a place like a central running fountain where people wash their clothes) and spring fed water supply. The little hamlet where this house is located features lots of hobby gardeners, honey bee keepers, a cow, sheep and horse farm, and is a mix of year round and seasonal residents. There is a friendly sense of community. Best of all this little hamlet is not on the winding thoroughfare that connects the ski stations. Very little traffic aside from residents, but close to everything.

The house is old and stone, originally a stable, stacked up on three levels, and each floor is a room. The top two floors have the alpine ski lodge type wood work, installed at the original conversion in the 1980s. There's a big old wood stove in the kitchen, and this is the room where I am going to have the most fun, I think. The best thing is that the kitchen door opens up to big open pasture land. When I open the door and look outside, the expanse of nature, mountains and rolling grass covered hills - it's just breathtaking.

I am going to have a lot of fun with this room.

The realization that this is actually happening was like getting hit on the head with a huge happiness mallet. Things move so slowly and carefully that you can't really say from one moment to the next that you are really becoming the owners.

My search for decor inspiration for this little Alpine getaway took me in a few different directions, but one theme stood out very clearly in my mind, and I was always drawn back to it. I'm not the kind of person to do this kind of thing all at once. Collecting tidbits and undertaking projects always has to be done carefully and with restraint. So over time you'll be able to see the details as they unfold.

We'll be closing on the house in a week or two, and I am very excited to roll up my sleeves and get started! People in France often give a name to their secondary residence, but we don't have one. We're just calling it "the country house" for now.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Lucy, congratulations!! We just did the same thing, but with a little old farmhouse in the Hudson Valley. Maybe in a few years we can swap for a few weeks ;-) Good luck withe the closing, the waiting is really the hardest part!

2:31 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger Tracey said...

Oh my gosh, it looks amazing!!! Congratulations and have fun decorating!

3:08 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger La Tartine Gourmande said...

Wonderful Lucy! That's such a happy piece of news. I am very happy for you both. I love this part of France too. Many amazing memories in places like you describe, no water and electricity, washing our hair in the fontaine du village in freezng cold water. Loved those times! Good luck with the renovations.

3:27 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Ann, wow your place looks great! Cool! Let's definitely keep in touch about that.

Tracy, thanks for stopping by!

Bea, dear, the amazing feature in this house is that we have water and electricity! No washing my hair in that lavoir, that's for sure! LOL!

3:57 PM, August 22, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How wonderful!I can't wait to hear what you'll be creating in your new kitchen.

4:43 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger Kitt said...

"hit on the head with a huge happiness mallet" ... wow, I'll say! Congratulations!

4:57 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger Wendy said...

Oh my! It is beautiful. Just beautiful. You are going to have SO much fun!

5:51 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger Amanda said...

Glorious! In Ontario, we all seek cottages on lakes to which we drive, in a frenzy of traffic, each weekend. Somehow, the French city-escape seems so much more civilised!

7:05 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Nice to see you Kitt, Alice, and Amanda. You know, Amanda, my summer respite (and the place I call my old home now) growing up was on the stateside of the lake (Chaumont Bay) and we cherished every moment of it. Just knowing you're on the lake Ontario comforts me.

9:24 PM, August 22, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks gorgeous Lucy! We hope one day to by a similar cottage in the Italian country side. Congrats.

11:22 PM, August 22, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Nice to see you Eli! Hopefully your cottage won't be far from ours!

10:14 AM, August 23, 2008  
Blogger alisonmilissa said...

How far in advance do we have to make our booking?!?! I think next year, instead of going stateside we should take a little drive down and take a week to visit all these new properties in france :) Can't wait to see you - I'll come armed with goat prints!

6:38 PM, August 23, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

One hour's notice, for you, Mrs. Gardiner. What a wonderful idea, a tour.

I am looking for goats from all nations! Keep an eye out!

8:08 PM, August 23, 2008  
Blogger Don McNulty said...

I am sitting here in Vancouver BC Canada entranced by your wonderfully written adventure. My wife and I were in the south of France, Collobrieres, for this past May and came home via Lyon. Wonderful trip. So I love reading about France. Thanks so much for sharing.

8:55 PM, August 23, 2008  
Blogger Marija said...

Oh, Lucy! This is heaven on earth!

11:16 PM, August 23, 2008  
Blogger Tace said...

Oh wow!!! Super congratulations!!! I especially love the slanty roof room with all the wood work, it looks cozy! I bet you any food you have when you're there is gonna taste extra gourmet because of the's seriously beautiful!!!!!

12:59 AM, August 24, 2008  
Blogger glamah16 said...

Congrats. My boyfriend just recently bought a summer cottage in Sweden. We are dealing with the same issues,but its so fun. I cant wait to spens more time there. Enjoy!

4:44 AM, August 24, 2008  
Blogger Jennifer said...

I left a message yesterday but it looks like it didn't get through...
here it is again.
So great to finally see some photos of your "nid douillet". I look forward to seeing its transformation.
Congratulations on your country house!

9:03 AM, August 24, 2008  
Blogger L Vanel said...

Thanks for stopping by Don, Marija, Tace, Coco, and Jen! I will definitely keep you updated.

Coco I loved reading about your place in Sweden, I remember laughing about the Swedish word for partner! Talk about a getaway!!! It looks like a beautiful house.

9:19 AM, August 24, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are living my dream! Please post photos of your country house once you've gotten in there and completed your projects. Have fun!

Eileen (passions to pastry)

5:24 PM, August 24, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the great news. Your pictures are so artistic, I can't wait to see what you do with the place and the food!!!!!!!. Looks like a beautiful area and many wonderful memories to come.

10:29 PM, August 25, 2008  
Blogger Design Scouting said...

This is amazing!!!

6:12 AM, August 26, 2008  
Blogger Katie Zeller said...

How I envy those views and walks! The only thing I miss about Andorra (and I miss it lots) are the mountains and the walks!
We sold our house the first of May and are closing the 1st of October... Yes, I do understand.
And your new kitchen has more in it than my new kitchen....
What a fun project you'll have as you maison secondaire!

9:59 PM, August 26, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

How wonderful, Lucy! I am glad I was able to visit you here today! This is such good news. I look forward to reading more.

We are excited to be spending some time very soon in the Lot. So for two weeks we will pretend we own the old convent that turns its back on a hilltop village and faces acres of vineyards, where owls sing at night and roosters wake us in the morning...


4:44 AM, August 29, 2008  
Blogger Laura in Paris said...

Congratulations! Worth waiting all that time! The pictures of your new place look great - it seems there's plenty of "bricolage" to be done to keep you busy for quite a while.

4:20 PM, August 29, 2008  
Blogger Here, There, Elsewhere... and more said...

What a wonderful exciting project!
Bon courage..:)

1:43 PM, August 30, 2008  
Blogger jasmine said...


It looks absolutely heavenly. I hope you have many, many happy days there.


5:19 AM, August 31, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on the wonderful find! It looks wonderful.

I also feel quite lucky myself right now, as to have stumbled across your Kitchen Notebook. It is a beautiful site. I can't wait to come back!


7:56 PM, September 01, 2008  
Blogger Slippery Rock said...

Lucy - Wow! Talk about abundance! Congrats to you and Loic! Any more news on the addition to the family? Love you, Clare

5:02 AM, September 04, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The very best thing for someone like me who can only wonder about having a place like this is to be able to read about someone else's experience. What a beautiful region, and how nice that all your waiting is nearly over!

10:10 PM, September 09, 2008  

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