A House In Provence Chapter 4

Selecting A Builder

Chapter 4

We went to a huge development near Aix-en-Provence where over fifty model homes had been built so prospective clients could see the finished products of many French home builders. We finally settled on a well known builder in Provence, thinking this would keep us safe from a possible bankruptcy, which seems to be par for the course with any building project I have ever been involved in. We liked the model we had seen-it seemed to be good quality and wasn’t at an excessive price.
A few weeks later we met with an architect and he made changes to a standard plan that they already had. I had pictured a home with a wide long porch over-looking the great view we had. I pictured big wide sliding glass doors leading out to the porch making the porch a part of the living room. I found out that this wasn’t a possibility in the Luberon, the section of Provence where we would be living. Our house had to look like the typical bastide there with small shuttered windows, stucco exterior and tile roof (and no rain gutters). We were able to have some sliding glass doors but we learned that the heat can be so oppressive and the mistral winds so strong that small windows with shutters are a way of life here, a proven way to deal with mother nature. We would be able to have a small porch and Maurice and I decided we could extend it after the house was built with a patio. I even thought of screening in the porch but was told that the mistral would blow the screen right out. I wanted to spend time on the porch eating meals and enjoying the view but knew that something would have to be done for fly protection. Of course, this being France, no screens would be provided for any windows. They hadn’t had them for centuries, why start now? There is a small company starting to make screens for windows and doors and I think once people here find out how great it is not to have flies and mosquitoes invade their homes, that the business will take off.
We made a special trip to Provence to meet with the man who would be our building supervisor, Stephane. In one day we had to decide where we wanted every electrical plug, light fixture, placement of windows, bath tub, and much more. Then, at the end of this exhausting day, we had to pick out our bathroom tiles, floor tiles and exterior color. This was when I found out that the kitchen counters and cabinets were not included. I think this is fairly standard in France because when we moved into our apartment in Paris, the owner had us buy the kitchen cabinets and appliances separately. If we hadn’t, she would have taken them with her. We were to find out that a lot of other things wouldn’t be included in the price of our house, but this wouldn’t happen until months later.
Finally the time came for the ground to be broken. Again, we made a special trip down to Provence and drove out to our land. Indeed, there was a hole dug in the shape of the house but as we stood there looking at it Maurice said, “ Do you remember the house being this close to the road?” He was right. There was a ten foot difference between what we saw on our house plan and what, I guess, the man doing the digging had on his plan. This did not inspire confidence in our builder. The very first thing they do, and it is wrong? I was a little worried. A few days later a team came out and remeasured everything and we were told that it would be redug in the correct place.
Then we got a call from Stephane saying that they had found many more rocks than they had anticipated and we would have to pay extra. We figured this was something, being builders for years in the area of Provence, they should have anticipated and refused to pay extra for this.
With the problems we were seeing in just the beginning stages of building our house, Maurice thought maybe he should rent a room at a gite so he could be on site as work was being done. This might have been a really good idea if the area hadn’t had the wettest autumn in years. It poured everyday and they were unable to to start building the foundation. Of course, if the digging had been started in the correct place, the foundation would have been done well before the rain had started.
Before we ever started buiding, I had told my optimistic husband that building a house had never been a fun experience for me. People who tell you that their building experience was wonderful are the same as those married couples who tell you that they have never had an argument. And the fun was just starting.