Friday, July 26, 2013

Tales of renovation woes

I am going completely crazy with the renovations.  I’m beginning to think that I just don’t have the patience necessary to put up with long-term renovations.  When we first got here in May and realized the true extent of the work that needed to be done in this house, I felt overwhelmed.  Very, extremely overwhelmed in fact.  But at the same time I was ready to jump in head first and tackle the job, excited to see the results of our hard work.

I knew that we had months of work ahead of us but I figured I would feel better about the whole thing as we progressed and finished some of the most essential rooms (i.e. living/dining room, our bedroom, the kitchen and the bathroom).  I thought we would work really hard to get those rooms done first as they were the most important and then afterwards we could tackle things like the entryway, the hallway, the stairwell, the water closet (because do you really need nice walls to take a shit?), the guest bedroom and my office (because I didn’t need the walls and baseboards to be painted in order to be able to work in there).  Boy was I wrong on how this would go.  And now, 2.5 months into the renovations, we literally still do not have a single room that is entirely completed.  And it is really starting to wear on me and stress me out.

The stairwell
The guest bedroom

The upstairs hallway

You see, I am very organized by nature.  I like to sit down, make a detailed plan, make a to-do list, and then follow it as closely as possible.  I like to have an idea of when something is going to happen, how it will happen and who is going to do it.  I don’t like to jump in head first without having a decent plan.  I also am very independent by nature and like to have control over my own life.  Suffice it to say that these renovations are far from organized (in fact, disorganized doesn’t even begin to describe this whole chaotic mess) and they have entirely stripped me of my independence and control.  I am less than happy with the whole situation but unfortunately there is very little I can say or do about it because, well, first of all, we don’t own the house and we don’t have the means or desire to buy this house right now.  Since this is my in-laws house (or at least it eventually will be once they sell another house they own and buy up the rest of the parts of this house from the family), they are in control.  They are the ones paying for the majority of the renovations because if we ever decided we didn’t want to live in Bordeaux or Lionel is unable to find a job here, it would still be their house and they would rent it out.  They are the ones who want to buy it because my father-in-law grew up in this house.  So they are the ones who have to put the money into fixing walls, building a kitchen, remodeling the bathroom, etc.  Which literally means that I have absolutely no control over anything that is happening in the house in which I am forced to live.  There are only two bright sides - they do not expect us to pay them any rent until the work is completed and my French renovation vocabulary has expanded ten-fold.

Now, seeing as I am going insane and can’t take it anymore, it would be easy to say that we should just go rent an apartment for a year until the work is completed.  Except that right now, there is no way anyone would rent us an apartment.  My company is still not set up and even then I question whether an auto-entrepreneur status is secure enough to get us a lease.  Not to mention the fact that Lionel doesn’t have a job yet.  So we are basically stuck in renovation hell with no plan and no end in sight.

But anyway, back to the renovations.  Now I don’t want it to sound like I don’t like my in-laws because that is far from the truth.  But they are driving me crazy right now.  My father-in-law absolutely refuses to sit down together and make a plan of action.  He just ignores everyone else’s advice or criticism and he won’t work as a team.  It’s his way or the highway and he wants to be the only one to do the work.  So, instead of having a well thought out course of action and all working together as a team to get this done as quickly as possible, he shows up every weekend and starts working on whatever he feels like working on that day with no rhyme or reason.  It really seems to depend on which way the wind is blowing at any given moment and he jumps from room to room doing a little bit here and a little bit there but never actually completing a single space.  He also won’t give anyone else any direction and sometimes tries to keep us from even being able to help out with anything (like when he takes all the tools we need home with him so we can’t do anything during the week).  Between all of that and the fact that half of what he does is just illogical and on a whim, I am pretty much ready to explode from the frustration of it all.

A few examples of the most annoying moments of the renovations:

  • The day he decided that he would rent a sander and sand down all of the hardwood floors in the house, stopping all other renovation work and making a ton of noise on a weekday when I was trying to work and call clients on the phone.  We hadn’t even been talking about redoing floors anytime soon and now all the floors are sanded, but not refinished.  We still have plaster to sand and painting to do which is all getting stuck on the sanded floors (because my father-in-law basically refuses to protect anything before working) meaning we will have to sand them again before they can be refinished.
  • The day he decided to paint the ceiling in the kitchen but not protect anything.  By the time we found out what he was up to all the appliances, dishes, silverware, table, fruits and veggies, etc were covered in paint splatter (because we currently don’t have any kitchen cabinets to store anything in so it’s just a mess anyway).  So when he finished we spent hours trying to scrub everything down and get the paint off the food and dishes.  Would have been much faster to just move everything out of the kitchen or cover it all in plastic.
  • The entire weekend (two eight-hour days, people) he spent sanding two exposed and painted pipes in the kitchen to the point that now all of the original copper is exposed.  Great, I knew we needed to sand the exposed pipes so that when we repaint them the paint sticks, but we didn’t need to sand through 3 layers of old paint, down to the copper.  It just needed to be roughed up a bit.  Not to mention the fact that we lost an entire weekend on two pipes.
  • The fact that he has spent at least three full weekends working on the walls in the tiny water closet.  Ok, yes, it needed to be done eventually, but I would much rather have a kitchen first.  And three full weekends on such a tiny space…
  • When I almost lost it a few weekends ago I decided that I needed a project to keep my mind off this disaster, so I decided to start filling holes, sanding walls and painting my office.  The walls were in pretty good shape, so getting them ready for paint wasn’t supposed to be a big issue and it was something I could easily manage on my own.  At least I wouldn’t have to just sit there and watch the renovation nightmare downstairs.  So I worked my butt off getting my office done as quickly as possible and then last weekend, when we went to the beach, my in-laws were going to take the heater down from the wall so we could paint behind it.  When we got back Sunday night I thought I would just have to throw some paint up in that small space and the everything but the baseboards and hardwood floors would be done.  Instead, my father-in-law decided to literally destroy all of my hard work, filling imaginary holes all over the room and making a mess of the walls that I had already painted.  So this week, I’ve spent all of my time after work sanding down his absolute disaster and repainting everything I had already painted.  And trust me, Lionel and I both agree it was better before his dad touched it.  One step forward, two giant leaps back.
Well, that’s just a few examples, and trust me there are many, many more.  Lionel has all but stopped working on the house because he is so frustrated with the lack of organization and logic and I’m slowly going insane and broke down in tears last night from the stress and frustration of it all. 

My office, right after I started working on it

 The water closet

I knew it was going to be a long process, but I really wish we could just sit down and all talk about it and make a plan for moving forward.  I would really, really like to focus on the kitchen and bathroom because I would love to be able to store my food in the kitchen rather than in the garage (I’ve already found spiders crawling on it and it’s just dirty!).  Not to mention the fact that I have boxes of kitchen stuff sitting on the floor in my bedroom because I have no where to unpack it all and I don’t want to keep it in rooms that we still have to do a lot of work in.  And I’ve missed all the good deals during the soldes for various kitchen appliances because I have no where to put it.

I would also love to be able to store all of my stuff in the bathroom, but at the moment there isn’t enough space because my in-laws have toiletries here and we don’t have any real bathroom furniture.  My in-laws don’t want to put any furniture in there until my father-in-law tiles the rest of the bathroom, all the way up to the ceiling.  Plus, I would really love to have a sink with a normal faucet rather than one faucet for hot water and one for cold water that never mix together.  But I guess for now warm water is just a dream!  A shower head that is high enough on the wall for Lionel and I to fit under would be delightful as well!  Not to mention somewhere to hang our towels…

The shower

 The bathroom

Another thing that just makes this hard is they keep getting my hopes up only to dash them.  A month ago we rushed over to Brico Depot as soon as I got off of work to go look at kitchens, decide what we wanted, and start pricing it.  My father-in-law was also talking about painting the kitchen that weekend.  We spent all of Friday night looking at kitchens, planning the layout and pricing the different elements.  So naturally, I thought that that weekend we would paint the kitchen and get it ready so that the following weekend we could pick up the elements and start installing.  But since then, over a month later, nothing has happened except sanding the pipes.  Not another word has even been spoken about finishing the kitchen.  

Same thing with the bathroom.  Two weeks ago I was dragged out of the house on a Saturday morning to rush over to Brico Depot so we could buy the new furniture and tiles for the walls and shower.  We ended up walking out of the store with two boxes of tiles, just enough to complete the shower (because the shower tiles are a different size than the rest of the tiles in the bathroom).  The store was out of the tiles we needed for the rest of the bathroom, but the store in Biganos, near my in-laws house, had plenty in stock.  So they were supposed to pick them up last week and bring them here to tile the bathroom last weekend.  I had my hopes up that if I didn’t have a kitchen, I would at least have the bathroom by now.  But no, nothing has been said about it since, no other tiles have been purchased, and the tiles for the shower are still sitting in their boxes in the garage.  I’m seriously considering watching a how-to video online and trying to tile myself.  I wonder how that would turn out.

Now, I don’t want to sound like a spoiled brat or anything.  I do understand that we are very luck to have a house to live in and that we don’t currently have to pay any rent.  We are also lucky that we don’t have to pay for all these renovations.  But I can’t help but feel like we would be much further along, especially with the essentials, if we had just made a plan first.  I desperately want to have a kitchen installed and I would happily pay for it (not a cuisine intégrée of course because I would want to be able to bring the cabinets with me if we ever moved) but my in-laws insist on putting in a cuisine intégrée, though they won’t actually just do it or give a timeline, so I guess I have to hope to have a kitchen before the end of 2013?  And it’s not like it’s going to be that expensive because we were going to buy the kitchen elements from Brico Depot and build and install it ourselves.  If it means I can have a kitchen next week I’ll happily pay for most of the elements they were planning to buy, I’m just not going to buy and install a four encastrable, des plaques encastrables et une lave-vaiselle encastrable because then I would never be able to take the elements to another place and I don’t want to spend all of that money when we have a perfectly good cuisinière and the lave-vaiselle can wait another few months.  Though who knows, in another few weeks I might just break down and go and buy all of it so I can have a kitchen already.

But anyway, in hopes of not sounding like a completely ungrateful little bitch, I think I’m going to stop there.  Plus this post is getting ridiculously long and ranty.  I desperately needed to get some of that off my chest, and since talking to my parents and friends about it hasn’t made me feel better, I was really hoping writing about it would.  Though clearly I was wrong because I can feel my blood pressure rising as I type and all of my frustrations are threatening to explode once again either into an angry fit of screaming or uncontrollable tears of stress.  At this point I just feel completely not in control, entirely dependent on others, extremely frustrated and just plain stuck, trapped.  But there is nothing for me to do but swallow my pride, keep my mouth shut, continue finding projects that I can do without any help and hope for the best.  One thing is for sure though, I never again in my life want to live through such extensive DIY renovations!


  1. Holy hell, girl! Let it out... don't be afraid of sounding ranty -- that's what we are here for.

    Personally, I like DIY. I like it because I'm like you -- have a plan, pick things out, do a project, check, check, check. What you are describing is not DIY -- that's just torture. I am so sorry you are having to deal with such a mess! I often complain too because we haven't made as much progress in the house as I would have liked to either, but at least I'm the one calling the shots. Having people taking up my space, telling me what to do and forcing me to live with their lack of decision-making is just inconsiderate. I get that it's generous and whatnot for them to have you living there, but at the same time they really ought to be a bit more understanding about the situation. You guys just moved back -- it's time to get settled, get your lives back on track, and not adding more stress to the mix!

    Maybe it's time for a come to Jesus meeting where you explain calmly what happened in your office was unacceptable, and you make a list of priorities & see if everybody agrees and can maybe set some deadlines (and if not, the understanding that you'll do it yourself?) I think you're within your rights to voice a little bit of discontent at this point.

    Good luck & I sincerely hope things improve soon!!

    1. Thanks Amber for the words of support. I do imagine that the entire DIY process would be much different (and much more organized) if I were the one in control. Unfortunately, as much as I would love to be able to just sit down and calmly talk about it, make a plan, set some deadlines, etc, I know that is not an option. We have already tried multiple times and it just results in my father-in-law either retreating into himself and not expressing a single thought or getting very defensive and angry which ultimately leads to a screaming match between Lionel and his father.

      At this point I just don't know how to handle the situation anymore and I'm trying my hardest to not get too stressed out and to be a little more laid back about the things I cannot control. But I have to admit that some days it is easier than others...

      As much as I would love to be able to get more settled in this house, I'm trying to accept the fact that in reality I probably won't be able to really be settled for months, maybe even a year.

  2. Yes, please don't apologize for ranting! I know how helpful it can be!

    Seriously, I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown when my parents-in-law were here for only 6 days and helped us with renos -- I honestly cannot imagine the stress you've been under since MAY! I got stressed out for you just reading your post. I am totally like you (organized, detail orientated, a planner...) and it sounds like this situation is everything but how you wanted it.

    I think at some point you will have to sit down with your PILs to talk about all of this. You have to tell that you are currently living in this house, and all of the rénovations and lack of communication is stressing you out (not to mention you work from home...). At this point, you've got nothing to lose.

    Thinking of you and sending positive vibes. Hang in there, girl!

    1. Thanks Crystal for always reading my rants and offering digital support!

      It is true that at this point I really did think we would be a little further along in the renovations than we are and the fact that I not only have to live in the middle of all this chaos, but also work in the middle of it, definitely makes the situation even more stressful. I never get an escape!

      I had hoped that my in-laws would be a little more understanding of our situation and what to progress a bit faster than this, but clearly it's not the case. And since all attempts at family meetings to discuss the matter have been utter failures, I am trying to go more with the flow (though this is clearly not my specialty).

      But here's hoping that I will have happier news to report soon...

  3. That sounds terrible and I am so sorry you have to live like this. Don't worry about ranting; it is therapeutic and we are here to listen anyway!

    I agree with the others, I think you need to sit them down and tell them that while you are very thankful for all they have done, you can't live without a fully-installed kitchen. How are managing to cook your meals at the moment? How close are they with your husband? Maybe you should try and guilt trip them into action (say that you can't cook for Lionel as you don't have a fully-working kitchen or something like that).

    I know what it's like working at home - people think that you are not really working, that they can call on you to do this and that and it is hard to make then understand that you are actually trying to make a living.

    My father-in-law has similar problems. He wants to do everything by himself and doesn't want to hire anybody or have his wife doing the work. He works in Asia so he is not in France very often so if my mother-in-law didn't take control of the repairs by doing them herself or hiring somebody, the house would fall down. Whenever he is at home he just wants to relax in the garden and he just doesn't see that he doesn't have the time to renovate the house.

    1. Thanks so much! I do realized that sitting down to discuss it would be the best way to handle the situation and to try to move forward in a more productive manner, but this never seems to help and just ends up creating more tension and more problems. Plus we end up getting guilt put on us, as if it was our decision for them to buy this house. It's just a mess right now.

      As for the kitchen at the moment we have a cuisiniere, a sink, our old microwave, a table and an old cabinet that my in-laws had sitting around in their garage to store a few dishes in. Everything else is either in the garage or in my bedroom. So we are able to cook, but as my mother-in-law put it when we first arrived, it's a lot like camping. I just thought that, since she realized that it was far from ideal, she at least would have been pushing for getting the kitchen done as soon as possible. But now I'm realizing that my kitchen might be even further off than I would have ever thought because Lionel thinks they will probably want to install a new floor as well before installing a kitchen. Though, since there are no plans, I don't know that for certain.

      I really appreciate their help and generosity, but I just wish it could be a little more focused. But for now I guess I'm just going to have to deal with it and continue trying to hope for the best.

  4. I saw pictures of the storm on the net. Is everything alright with you in Bordeaux? The neighbours have already told us that the caves are flooded. We are not looking forward to spending our first few days back cleaning out the cave.

    1. We are doing fine here. We have two branches down in the garden from the storm, but that is about all the damage we have here. Though we also discovered how desperately our house needs a new roof as we had leaks everywhere from the torrential downpour...the kitchen, the stairwell, the guest bedroom, the garage. Another project my father-in-law is planning to do himself, at some point...

  5. Eek, renovations aren't much fun, mix in "helpful" in-laws, and well... ! But a word of advice, take it or leave it, go with the kitchen that you build in & leave. It's done more & more these days. I wouldn't even consider buying a house without one, and that was in 2007, most apartments & houses up here in the north were already leaving their kitchens. Good luck with the renovations!

    1. Thanks! I have a feeling we are going to end up with a built in kitchen which is fine as long as it gets done ASAP!

  6. I always love DIY projects, but I guess it's not fun at all times particularly with renovations. Renovation can really be a pain the neck. I tried doing it once and I ended up calling a contractor to finish it because I couldn't manage to calm down whenever I was faced with a reno problem. But everything has a brighter side. I'm sure once you're done with the renovation, it hard work will be paid off. Good luck!

    Terence Watthens @

    1. Ugh, I wish we could just call a contractor and get this renovation over with ASAP. But unfortunately it is not my decision and I know it will never happen so I had better get used to the idea of living in the midst of renovations for a very long time! I'm sure in the end it will pay off, but in the meantime it is just going to be a constant source of stress for me.

  7. Hi Michele,

    I thought you may be interested in getting involved in the television show I produce, 'House Hunters International: Renovation'.

    House Hunters International is a half-hour TV show currently airing on the Home and Garden Television Network (HGTV) in America. The series is designed to de-mystify the international home-buying / renting process, by going behind the scenes of a house hunt where expats and their real estate agents tour 3 homes. At its core, House Hunters International is a travel show concentrating on the idiosyncrasies of the locales and what makes them special and different.

    Here are some examples of the show that you can watch on Youtube: - Barcelona from LA - Vienna from California - Panama from Pennsylvania

    We are working on an exciting new spin-off show called House Hunters International: Renovation and we are looking for expats who have recently bought fabulous properties and are about to embark on some imminent renovations. Ideally they should be outgoing and fun and have bought a property within the last few years. We are looking for people throughout Europe and I thought perhaps you might fit the bill!

    We are looking for the renovation projects to complete by the beginning of December so perhaps a new kitchen, a small extension, an entire style makeover etc. We have some budget that would go towards finishing the project which makes it a little more interesting!

    Please do get in touch if you may be interested in the show.

    Best wishes,


    Michelle James
    1-3 St Peter's Street, London N1 8JD - +44 20 7704 3300