Take a look here at Richard Hamilton’s iconic 1956 work whose title I’ve taken for this post. You’ll see it wasn’t our home he had in mind.
We love our house. No architect ever had a hand in its creation. Rather, it’s evolved as the needs of its various owners changed.
Oddly, the top of the house shows clear evidence of being over 200 years old, with its ‘colombages’ (lath and plaster) construction, whereas other parts lower down are clearly more recent.
Walls sometimes up to sixteen inches thick break drills and the will-power of anyone who tries to get through them. No wall is perpendicular, no door standard size, and when we once tried to draw a ground plan of the house, we realised we were creating a work of fiction.
On and off, we’ve been ‘doing’ the bathroom for months.
The tiles were solidly concreted on maybe in the mid 20th century, and nearly reduced us to despair when we tried to remove them. But now we’re doing 21st century tiling. The walls aren’t straight in any direction. There’s no such thing as a right angle. Even erecting plaster board walls within the bathroom can’t compensate for the room’s wilful disregard for symmetry. Construct a wall that is truly vertical from top to bottom, and you loose several inches of space at floor level. Even measuring up, or drawing lines that are both horizontal AND parallel with the floor are almost impossible tasks.
In a despairing moment last week, I found myself observing that never had buying a house on a lotissement seemed more appealing.
I don’t mean it. Not for one second.
Lotissements are the French answer to the housing estate. Areas of land, usually at the edges of villages or towns are divided into plots that are sold for development. You buy your plot. You choose a house off plan, and you get it built. Or you build it yourself. Or, as is more likely, you go for a mixture of the two. You’d be a fool not to. Deposits are lower on new build homes, as are legal costs. You plan your home according to your budget, and once it’s completed, there you are with your modern, low-maintenance home. There are thousands of them, all over France, and they all look much the same. Only the roof-pitch flattens out the further south you come.
Whereas we who buy old houses tend to buy problems: the roof that leaks, the wallpaper that shrieks ‘France, 1960!’ at you, the impractical kitchen (so-called American kitchens have arrived late in France), and the bathroom which, like ours, requires re-modelling.
Why on earth do we do it? Perhaps because we like being part of the town community. Perhaps because the house, for all its disadvantages, has charmed its way into our hearts. We recognise the character it’s acquired over the years, and enjoy the stories we hear from other who knew the house once-upon-a-time.
We look askance at the concrete boxes surrounded by grass and chain-link fencing. We resent it that when land is sold off for housing, we lose open countryside, farmland and much-loved landscapes in exchange for sprawling village ‘suburbs’ with no community features: no shop, school, church or bar. But in every village and town centre there are increasing numbers of empty and hard-to-sell houses, many with long years of useful service left in them. We wonder why it’s made so easy and cost-effective for those who choose to buy new, and made so difficult for those of us who decide to renovate, restore and give new life to old houses.
…and then it’s payback time in the summer, when we get to relax in our wonderfully hidden back yard.