Thursday, January 22, 2015

We're at it again

So the reason for the radio silence over guessed it...the Freeze family once again has started major renovations and our house is turned upside-down and we have plaster dust and cement and sawdust all over the house.

Just as we were wrapping up the mezzanine & new shower in our bedroom, Eric decided to make a big push to get the other bathroom redone. That meant hiring someone to open up the wall between the bathroom and adjoining bedroom in order to get the new bathtub inside. (Remember that it was too big to fit through the bathroom door?)

Opening up a wall in a 500-600 year old building in France is different than opening up a wall in North America. I'm used to the simple logic of studs + drywall or, in an older house, studs + plaster & lath. Here, interior walls are composed of a complex sandwich of plaster, cement, random pieces of wood in no logical pattern, and earth. Yes, earth as in dirt. It's a mess when you start taking it apart.

So the new craziness began one week before we had guests arriving. We had to get the wall opened up, the old tile taken out, the plumbing redone, and the new tub installed--all in the week before our guests arrived.

To top it off, we had never met our guests before. I was really stressed trying to prepare the house for people I didn't know.

Why were we inviting virtual strangers into our house?

Because we discovered HelpX ( It's a work exchange service that connects hosts with people who are willing to work in exchange for food and lodging. Helpers might lend a hand with the wine harvest, help build a garage or a shed, repaint a house, serve meals at a B&B...really, it could be anything the host is looking for.

Thanks to HelpX, we connected with a lovely couple from Bretagne (Brittany) who were eager to come to Nice and help work on our projects. He (let's call him Jean) is recently retired and is highly skilled with anything related to home renovations. She (we'll call her Hala) a fantastic cook and seamstress, born in Tunisia and living in France since her teens.

We squeaked by and got the tub in and running the day they arrived. Here are some photos of the devastation--thanks to lots of help from two sets of Mormon missionaries. They had a blast wielding hammers and chisels and destroying stuff.

Here's the hole in the wall that has since become a doorway into the bedroom

This is where the sink & bathtub were

Once we saw the state of the old plumbing, we agreed that it needed to be redone. Off Eric went to the plumbing didn't take too long, except we discovered leaks in a few fittings that had to be replaced the next day.

Our guests arrived on Monday and stayed in the (mostly finished) master bedroom. I was up late on Sunday putting on the final coat of paint on the mezzanine, scrubbing plaster dust off the floors, and stripping paint off the door frame to get the door to close properly. I feel a bit sheepish that we didn't have a sink installed; we are all sharing the kitchen sink for toothbrushing. We pulled out one of our old pedestal sinks this evening and will hook it up temporarily in their bedroom until we find a new one.

Anyway, we are super impressed with HelpX and with our guests. We just hope they aren't too disturbed living amidst renovations and four energetic children! We've shared lots of delicious meals, showed each other pictures of our houses, talked politics and social policy, and of course worked together.

Eric says the guy knows his stuff. In just 3 1/2 days of working half-days, he and Eric have secured the new plumbing in place; cut channels in the walls and ceilings and rewired the bathroom to have a ceiling light, a ventilation fan, a heated towel rack, and a few extra outlets; hooked up the bathtub drain (it's where all the Freezes bathe and shower, so it has to be functional during all of the renovations!); applied plaster board to the two big walls that will be retiled, and plastered over all of the wiring. Tomorrow they lay the tile! It's amazing progress.

While Eric and Jean were working in the bathroom, Hala and I have been cooking and sewing. She's helping me sew a mountain of decorative cushions for our couch, daybed, and for most of the bedrooms.

We're lending our guests our car tomorrow afternoon and evening so they can visit friends in Cannes. Jean lived in Nice for 6 years in the 1990s and has friends and family in the area. They leave in one week from now, and I am excited to imagine all the things we'll get done in the next 6 days.

It's definitely been an adventure at our house. 


  1. Rixa knowing only old euro walls, can you imagine our surprise when we had to deal with our first US wall? ("studs, what are studs, how do i know where they are??? lol)
    thanks for the helpX net, i had been looking for help with my kids when i attend midwifery classes, sounds perfect!!

  2. Wait, so did you buy your place? I thought you were renting? I'm excited for you, but a little confused. :-) If you're renting, do you get some sort of credit from the owners for fixing up the place?

    I can't wait to see it done; you know I live for good design! :-)

  3. Desiree, they bought their place in France. Rixa, I keep checking back excitedly, for updated photos/the finished result. You guys are endlessly impressive.

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