The (Re)Renovation

©Lisa Anselmo My (Part-time) Paris Life

Well, here we go again. And a mere four years after what was supposed to be the one and only. But a leak in my neighbor’s shower—a leak he refused to fix for nearly two years—had other ideas, wiping out what was new. So, what’s a girl to do but make it new, again?

My place packed up and ready for the re-renovation. Everything I'd been through finally hit me as I packed up, and I admit I had a mini-breakdown. In June of this year, I will not have lived in my place for three out of the four years since I've owned it.

My place packed up and ready for the re-renovation. Everything I’d been through finally hit me as I packed up, and I admit I had a mini-breakdown. In June of this year, I will not have lived in my place for three out of the four years since I’ve owned it.

When I can actually begin the re-renovation is still a question mark; I’m waiting for the court case to be concluded in order to have the funds to repair the damage. But in an act of faith, my contractor, Andrew, and I have begun the planning—and I have begun the shopping: new tiles for the currently gutted bathroom, and fresh parquet to replace the waterlogged version. And since we have to pull out my current kitchen to remove that old parquet, I’ve decided to invest a little extra funds of my own and finally update my kitchen.

If you’ve read how my story started, or have seen a certain episode of House Hunters International, you know that I mused that the blue IKEA kitchen was a “sign” that the apartment may have been hand-picked by my recently departed mother, who had always painted her kitchen blue (though after three years of battling a leak, I’m not quite sure about that now).

"My mother always had a blue kitchen," I said. "Maybe it's a sign."

“My mother always had a blue kitchen,” I said, on House Hunters International. “Maybe it’s a sign.” Courtesy of HGTV.

But even when I bought the apartment, I knew the kitchen, however significant in its blue hue, was inadequate. For one thing, it didn’t have an oven. And there was zero counter space. For someone who entertained as much as I did, this was something I couldn’t abide. So I hired my architect, Daniela Busarello, who’d overseen my first renovation, to draw me up a dream kitchen.

My architect Daniela Busarello's drawings were the most gorgeous and precious watercolor dreams. I asked her if I could have this framed.

My architect Daniela Busarello’s drawings were the most gorgeous and precious watercolor dreams. I asked her if I could have this framed. ©Daniela Busarello

This was my architect's first design from 2013. Shiny white cabinets and a yellow glass counter with mirrored backsplash. This whole thing was €22,000. We had to winnow down from here, sadly.

This was my architect’s first design from 2013. Shiny white cabinets and a yellow glass counter with mirrored backsplash. With a snazzy induction stovetop and built-in appliances, this version cost €22,000. We had to winnow down from here, sadly. ©Daniela Busarello

The first dream had a €22,000 price tag, but we got the design down to something more affordable, and I was all set to build this kitchen when the euro went from €1=$1.21 to €1=$1.35. Even with the fat salary I was making back then, I couldn’t justify the cost for a second home. So we shelved the project. Sad, too, because it was a stunner.

This was the original design from 2013. An uber-chic, L-shaped version with a full fridge and plenty of storage/counter space. But the pricetag? €12,000.

This was the final design from 2013. An uber-chic, L-shaped version with a full fridge and plenty of storage/counter space, and same high-end appliances. But at €12,000, it was still too high when I factored in the rising exchange rate.

Now, here I am two years later, and that fat salary is long gone. But I still want the new kitchen, so I revisited the Darty expert, and asked him to design me a more affordable dream. This is what we came up with:

Design version 2, a cool €5000 cheaper than the original. I like having the refrigerator off the floor, but not crazy about the sink near the curtains, or the loss of counter space. Plenty of storage, though.

Design version 2, a cool €5200 cheaper than the original, with similar appliances, including induction stovetop and a Bosch oven. I like having the refrigerator off the floor, but not crazy about the sink near the curtains, nor the loss of counter space. Plenty of storage, though.

I was truly crazy about this design for several reasons: the amount of low storage, which for a tiny woman is key, and though the refrigerator is not much larger than my current under-counter version, it’s placed up high—no bending down to put things inside. The cost of this version was only around €6800 compared to the €12,000 of the first design. Add to that the new exchange rate of $1.08 to €1—nearly at par—and I was in heaven! When I factored in the exchange rate, my new simpler kitchen meant instead of paying $16,200, I would only have to invest $7500 for something nearly as chic. I moved the money over and began to plan.

Then I hit a snag in November. That is, my court case did. Because of humidity levels in my apartment, which had not reduced sufficiently after the leak was repaired in July, the court expert would not conclude the case, putting final fault with the owner of the apartment above me. Suddenly, it seemed possible the case might not go my way even after I’d invested €26,000 in good faith that it would. So, should I scrap the new kitchen?

No. Insanely, and against my better judgment, I went back to Darty and said, “Make me a new, and cheaper dream.” Corners were cut. Extras were foregone. The result? A not terrible, and quite (still) chic new design for under €5000. Only in Paris. This same kitchen in NYC, would cost three times this price. (More on that, here.)

Design version 3, is what you can get for around €5000. Lots of counter space, but not too much storage under the counter, so I'll be climbing on a stool a lot. The other downside? A very tiny dorm-size fridge.

Design version 3 is what you can get for around €5000. Lots of counter space, but not too much storage under the counter, so I’ll be climbing on a stool a lot. A deal-breaker? Not for this price.

That’s under €5000 fully installed including appliances. And I’m talking Bosch appliances. What’s not to love? Sure, it’s not anything close to the original design. The materials are not as luxe, the counter is standard composite versus glass or granite—but come on, it’s perfect for the home I have.

Okay, well not totally perfect. Here is the same sketch with the appliances revealed. Notice the refrigerator.

Hidden appliances look great, but oh, that tiny fridge! There's nothing I can fit in there. Like wine. Where does the wine go? Not sure I can live with that. Could you?

Hidden appliances look great, but oh, that tiny fridge! There’s nothing I can fit in there. Like wine. Where does the wine go? Not sure I can live with that. Could you?

Yeah, it’s that tiny thing under the counter. That tiny, dorm-sized icebox to the right of the image. This:

TINY FRIGO-My (Part-time) Paris Life

Oh, I know. It’s sad. It’s worse than sad; it’s…a nightmare. That little hole in the bottom of the unit is where I am supposed to put my vegetables. And to access it, I have to lift that shelf above, as if I’d never have anything on that shelf. But I would…I so would! I’ve lived in an apartment with this fridge, and trust me, it’s pretty painful for long-term living. But the real issue? Where in hell do I put my bottles of wine and champagne—er, when I am entertaining? Do I really want to accept this itty-bitty chill bucket as my refrigerator simply to have a chic, streamlined kitchen with hidden appliances?

Maybe not. Another option is a simple under-the-counter version, or frigo sous plan, which I currently have, vs. a built-in model.

If I want the sleek look of a hidden refrigerator, or frigo encastrable, (right), vs. a standard under-counter model (sous plan), I sacrifice a lot of storage.

If I want the sleek look of a hidden refrigerator, or frigo encastrable, (right), vs. a standard under-counter model (sous plan), I sacrifice a lot of storage.

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.07.15 AMNot a giant difference, but when you’re dealing in centimeters, which is life in Europe, you’ll take it. Paris is all about compromise. Most Parisians have tiny refrigerators because they often eat out or buy fresh as they need, but me, I like to plan and cook and have people over. So I need to consider what matters. Or I could just buy one of those sexy Smeg retro free-standing models. Hot, right?

Can you tell I’m having fun?

Well, yes, finally, my apartment is fun again. Even if it’s only in theory. But I’d lived in theory before, planning the first renovation of my Paris place before I’d even closed the sale. It was when my sister and I were emptying our mother’s house. That act of hope got me through the emotional and exhausting weeks as I said goodbye to the last tangible connection to my parents. As I was breaking down one home, I was building another. And in a way, I’m doing that again, but this time with the same home. Even as it is in ruins, I’m planning its rise. I am the Phoenix rising above hopelessness once again.

Here, some other renovation window shopping I’ve been up to.

Tiny Electrolux dishwasher for 12 couverts, or place settings. Not worth it perhaps but dang cute.

Tiny Electrolux dishwasher for 12 couverts, or place settings. Not worth it perhaps but dang cute.

My feets reflected in a combo oven-dishwasher. The kind of space-saving ingenuity you find in Europe. About €1200. Not sure I'll splurge.

My feets reflected in a combo oven-dishwasher. Yes, I said oven and dishwasher. The kind of space-saving ingenuity you find in Europe. About €1200. Not sure I’ll splurge.

I'm leaning toward a darker, warmer parquet to match the original wood flooring in the hallways of my 1870s building.

I’m leaning toward a darker, warmer parquet to match the original wood flooring in the hallways of my 1870s building.

Carrelages du Marais is famous for reproducing some original ceramic tile designs from the 19th century. Expensive but my bathroom is tiny enough to keep the total price down. Too crazy, or is it chic?

Carrelages du Marais is famous for reproducing some original ceramic tile designs from the 19th century. Expensive, but my bathroom is tiny enough to keep the total price down. Too crazy, or is it chic?

A very bold option for my bathroom floor. It's all the rage to reproduce old 19th century looks, and I'm all for it.

A very bold option for my bathroom floor. It’s all the rage to reproduce old 19th century looks, and I’m all for it.

Reproductions of 19th century tiles, which are all the rage in Paris at the moment. I love it for my bathroom floor but worried it will get old fast.

More reproductions of 19th century tiles. I love it for my bathroom floor but worried it will get old fast.

A safe but elegant choice for my new bathroom floor. (That's my contractor's hand pointing to it.) It's a kind of warm gray (though it looks brown here) made in Italy. Scrumptious, but is it dull?

A safe but elegant choice for my new bathroom floor. (That’s my contractor’s hand pointing.) It’s a kind of warm gray (though it looks brown here) made in Italy. Scrumptious, if a bit plain. But sometimes less is more.

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29 responses to “The (Re)Renovation

  1. Lovely kitchen and at such a great price! I’d heard kitchens were not nearly as expensive in Paris as in US. I think I’d splurge on the fridge and forget the dishwasher. Just my 2 cents.

  2. That was fun, imagining the various design scenarios! I’d opt for an almost American size refrigerator and eliminate one of the cabinets. You can always get one of those small Islands on wheels (which lock) and use the top for counter space and the body for the lost storage. My friends in Paris (well 2 of them; the others have big kitchens, unusual) have tiny tiny kitchens and how they do it I have no idea but they even have family dinners like le Reveillon! I look forward to the continuing saga! Bon courage!

    • I may opt for a larger fridge and forego some counter space. My apartment is a tiny 258-square-foot studio, so a big American fridge isn’t practical. (I actually don’t even have a big fridge in my tiny NYC kitchen. What a luxury it would be!) Glad you enjoyed the read!

  3. Once the kitchen and apartment are done, you may not want to sell! A

    > My (Parttime) Paris Life > February 1, 2016 at 10:56 AM > Lisa Anselmo posted: ” Well, here we go again. And a mere four years > after what was supposed to be the one and only. But a leak in my > neighbor’s shower—a leak he refused to fix for nearly two years—had > other ideas, wiping out what was new. So, what’s a girl to do but make i” >

  4. You go girl! I’m really sorry that it’s been such a long and painful task for you but I know that you will make it look wonderful.

    • Yeah, Ma always had one blue room for St. Mary. My apartment is a tiny studio of just 258 sq ft (24M2), so wanting a color scheme that is consistent throughout. Another reason I’m going white. But I imagine I will keep one blue thing in honor of Ma.

  5. Hi Lisa…fun to see all the options…on the wine front…would it be crazy just to get a wine fridge? You could stick it anywhere in the apartment with a cloth over it and it would be a side table or something…I know how tight space is over there but it’s a thought.

    Glad you are seeing some progress…..take care.

  6. Lisa, It sounds like you are having fun. I’m happy for you! What a road you have traveled. Have you thought of assisting foreign buyers with the ins and outs of remodeling, professionally? I think you should be a consultant! I can’t help but think you are learning a ton. I hope to buy a place in Paris in the next few years and I know my budget will likely focus me on a fixer upper! I’ll be looking for all the advice and help I can garner : )

    Best regards,
    Gretchen

  7. As I am in the midst of an extensive home renovation myself, I am so sympathetic to your pain. And pain, it is. My first apartment in NY (on the UES) had a teeny fridge with the stove and oven cantilevered over it. Now, that was an experience.

    I know your (re)renovated apartment will be just lovely. Once you finally settle your court case and can get down to it.

    Until then, chin up.

  8. Lisa, they have those small antique French enamel bathtubs on metal stands. You can store your wine selection in it and when you have a party fill it with ice!! Or use it to store whatever needs to be stored but for parties they work great for keeping drinks cold. I’m really loving the posts! Can’t wait to keep reading.

    • Wait—I don’t know what you mean. Send me a link! How small are we talking? Because my apartment is all of 258 square feet. So glad you’re loving the blog! Stay tuned for more!

  9. Wow – what a trek it has been but an education none the less. I would go for the better kitchen & larger fridge. Not the giant corner model but the wall one with the bigger kitchen. Better for a sale down the road and better for enjoyment at the moment. The exchange rate won’t stay like this forever – use it to your best advantage. This is your life – enjoy!
    We all LOVE your blog – go for it.

  10. Hello Lisa,
    So glad you did not choose a yellow bench top, gorgeous colour but you will tire of it v quick! I’ve lived with yellow in the kitchen.
    You’ve done very well, mono colour means you can bring in whatever colour you need for the year/ season.
    An interesting blog on Paris cooking/ feno is David Lebovitz- you may have heard of him, have a look. All he really wanted was a big sink! He did a lot of cooking/ entertaining at home.
    I’m going through a pink stage at the moment!
    Good luck
    Best – Kim 🎀

    • Hi Kim. No, the yellow was never my thing. It was my architect’s first stab at things. My place is tiny so everything ties in with the same color scheme: white, taupe, black and hits of red. I do know David, thanks! Yeah, a big sink is key. I will have a good one in this new design. How’s that pink stage working for you? Are you into pink like Lisa Vanderpump? I confess, I still like pink now and again. And sparkly things. There is an 8-year-old girl inside wants out. 😉

  11. You have really had a time of it Lisa! I love your attitude about it all. I feel your pain with your water issues as we had the same issues after purchasing our first new home. We had to gut the brand new finished basement to fix it and insurance would not cover the cost calling it an existing maintenance issue. Still in the process of figuring out how I want to finish it. But like you I am trying to stay positive. I really enjoy your blog and your facebook posts. Looking forward to future posts…

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  13. That was fun, seeing the process / decisions in line with you space, budget etc. Think the neutrals are a great idea. Would love to see photos of the Reno. Really enjoy your tales of Paris.

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