Le Petit Bijou… A Village House In Saint Remy de Provence… Part 2

January 27, 2013

It’s happening… finally I see progress with our little house in the village.

We bought Le Petit Bijou two and a half years ago… a small village house in the centre of the most historic part of Saint Remy de Provence to renovate and eventually rent out to fellow Francophiles who would enjoy a taste of French life as they travel around the area.

Le Petit Bijou (that’s the name we have called it… I am not even sure it makes sense in French, but to me it was always a ‘little jewel’ and the name has stuck) is taking longer and is more complicated than I imagined…  One thing I have learned when it comes to renovation, is that it is far better to do what needs to be done well and in the beginning… if something isn’t right or doesn’t please.. it never will. This renovation has meant fixing and moving everything you could imagine… it seems that all that is left of the original house are the stone walls. Gaining space has been my goal.. making a second bedroom and configuring the living area to be more generous was my main objective… I have had to make compromises.. because Le Petit Bijou it is in the historical centre, the planning permissions were difficult and close proximity to neighbours meant their interests took first priority.

Now that I can see the new layout… the wait has been worth it… The walls have been demolished and the new ones built in place. We have two bedrooms upstairs, a generous bathroom and a baby terrace… with views back towards the Musée des Alpilles and the Hôtel de Sade. On Wednesday, I spent a very chilly morning working out where I should place the beds to take the best advantage of the view… I imagined laying in bed and gazing out over the rooftops of Saint Rémy de Provence… I had to decide what goes where in the bathroom… The bath is a priority… long lazy bathing after a massive day of sightseeing would be essential… Don’t you think? And a good shower.. for those who don’t like to soak… So many ideas were swirling around in my head… they still are… and as much as I enjoy the architectural planning, it’s the making pretty that I am really looking forward to.

The ceiling heights are all different… the joys of an old house  …which means wall lights and lamps will be the most practical form of lighting… I have my work cut out finding these… as you know by now I love all things vintage and a little shabby chic… so the hunt will be on next month… I shall be searching every flea market I can find… the electricians won’t be happy with all that re-wiring… but if I can find them, it will create so much ambience.. Downstairs I have a generous ceiling height… so one simple chandelier, above the dining room table… is on my list… Now the bed, bath and lighting thoughts are under control… I am deliberating about the flooring… Stone, wood or terracotta… so many options but all determined by availability… Thoughts of the months ahead and all the legwork involved is making my head spin… My trouble is that I am a perfectionist… I know what I like and I search high and low until I find it… but deadlines are deadlines… and I need to get my skates on.. if Le Petit Bijou will ever be ready.

I don’t know if you have read the series of books from Lady Winifred Fortescue, who moved to Provence in the 1930’s…her books tell the tale of her love for Provence and the ups and downs as she created her home … Most of the books are out of print now, so the copies available are second hand and a little worn… but her writing style is so endearing… her love and passion for Provence, totally infectious… Her words have inspired me… and on those days when Le Petit Bijou seems more about problems than joy… because it can… the challenges of a foreign language, our cultural differences and the inevitable time delays… I will re-read her passages and be reminded that the end goal is not a race… Provence runs to it’s own beat and ultimately the rewards will come… Patience is everything… xv

The Lady Fortescue Series

Perfume from Provence … here

Sunset House… here

There’s Rosemary, There’s Rue… here

Trampled Lilies… here

Mountain Madness… here

Beauty for Ashes… here

Laughter in Provence… here

 

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67 Comments

  • Karen in CT says:

    .. love renovation … do you think Lady F is an early Peter Mayle? In what ways are her books different? Looking for something new to read. Thanks for the update. I’m sure Bijou will be beautiful.

    • Vicki says:

      Yes she was in her way… They were written in the 30’s and from her point of view.. a privileged Englishwoman married to the King’s Archivist and famous historian of the British army… I found her fascinating… a woman ahed of her times…

      • Pamela says:

        Dear Vicki
        Found “Perfume from Provence” and “There’s Rosemary..” some years ago at a fete bookstall and loved them both. She paints a delightful and charming picture of her life in Provence and her occasional battles with French bureaucracy etc. She was such a character, so brave and such fortitude and a wonderful delicate sense of humour. Especially as her husband was so much older and she had to be chauffeur, garden designer, supervisor of what was intially a building site and ultimately his carer. She did it all with such grace, kindness and humour.

        Great to see there is progress with Le Petit Bijou. It will be just beautiful. We were intrigued by the exterior (and knew it was yours from the building sign) when we were in St Remy in early June last year. We walked past it every day on our way into the centre from our hotel, often having a drink or a snack in the lovely little square nearby. Best wishes, Pamela

  • Anita Rivera says:

    OH DEAR…you are living the dream I always had!!!!!!!!!!

    However, we made our dream here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where believe it or not, there is a huge French influence in architecture and culture. But there is nothing like being THERE, in Provence itself.

    Vicki, this is so exciting. The process is just as important and thrilling as the outcome, the hunt as fascinating as the gathering.

    BRAVO, WELL DONE and thank you for this inspiring view into your dreams! Anita

    • Vicki says:

      I agree Anita… I do love the planning and building… watching it take shape… And as for the shopping part… that isn’t too bad either…:)

  • Oh hooray! I was wondering what the progress report was! Sounds like things are looking good and how fantastic to be entering “the fun phase”. Speaking of, depending on where you are, it could be worthwhile to go to the next deballages—Avignon is Feb. 18th and Montpellier (my favorite) is the 19th. I even know of someone who would be willing to go along to keep you company… ;)

  • What an exciting project Vicki. I can tell it’s a labour of love for you…can’t wait to see how it comes out! With your attention to detail, I’m sure it will be beautiful.

    regards from New York
    Emily @ Upstate Country House

    • Vicki says:

      It is a labour of love, Emily… It’s sometimes difficult to see when you are so close to the project… but it is the sweetest little house… and we have a a great architect and builder… so it should be fine….:)

  • How exciting to see your renovation project advancing – Felicitations!

  • Karen says:

    Just ordered one of them, should they be read in order? I have fallen in love with Amazon books for under a $1.00. Plus shipping. My bookshelves are groaning!!! LOL!!
    Karen

  • From these photos and your description, I’m guessing it has been and will be well worth the wait, Vicki! And you are so right about doing things right the first time rather than settling for things that will never be right.

    You have given me intense wanderlust! I think I need a trip to Provence. I will have to start by reading these marvelous books by Lady Winifred Fortescue. xo Gigi

  • Susan E. in Georgia says:

    Thanks for the book suggestions. I quick bought 2, love tales like this….should be a perfect winter read. Visited St. Remy & Grasse several years ago on my one, so far, treasured trip to Provence. Looking forward to more photos on your in-town project.

  • From the bottom of my heart thank you for sharing this fascinating journey with us.

    I have pinned this page for two reasons. The first, my dear cousin will turn 60 in 2014 and wants to travel to Provence. The second, these books sound like very much my cup of tea.

    • Vicki says:

      The books are lovely… gentle, old fashioned and easy… and they give such a wonderful window into Provence way back then…

  • david terry says:

    Oh, how lovely, Vickie….

    Oddly enough?….I know EXACTLY where “Le Petit Bijou” is; I have a photograph of Herve standing in that exact-same archway. About ten feet behind that bicyclist is the spot where, as I pushed my glasses futher up my nose with my index-finger, some tiny screw on the temple came loose. We spent an extremely futile fifteen minutes looking for the screw among the cobblestones before I reached into my camera-bag, pulled out one of those ready-sew kits hotels provide, and sat on someone’s steps (yours perhaps?) to simply sew the temple back on my glasses.

    As for places/houses/joints that are given “French” names that might not make much sense to an actual Frenchman?…..

    As you may recall, I (and my entire family) are from a very small town in the Northeastern Tennessee mountains (Dolly Parton was born forty miles south of us, which renders her background comparitively sophisticated and wordly). Back in my rowdy days (when I was still in my twenties), whenever I visited my parents, I’d drive, late at night, with a couple of friends to a “lounge” that sits (notice that I use present-tense…it’s still there)on the county line. The squat, garage-looking building (which sits only a couple of miles from the interstate highway and all those travelling truckers) was made of cinder-blocks and decorated, year-round, on the outside with a few blinking strands of garishly colored christmas-lights. A neon sign above the door read (reads, I suppose) “Too La Fay Lounge! GIRLS, GIRLS, GIRLS!!!”

    Once you got inside?…it was all gratifyingly predictable…..a jukebox playing R&B, a bunch of redneck truckers (all white, of course), and six or so obvious (it’s a small county, where you pretty much know what everyone does) prostitutes with daisy-duke shorts and way-high, garishly-dyed hair. A remarkably seedy, 1960’s motel (called “La Residence”) stood across the gravel road. I kid you not.

    The entire “complex” had been built by a WW2 veteran who’d come back home and decided, in his late sixties, to give Washington County a taste of “Gay Pah-ree!”. Suffice it to say that the entire scene was VERY “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”. Truckers loved that joint, and it turned a good (if not exactly legal, from several standpoints) profit. My friends and I also loved it.

    My favorite Saturday night was when a visiting friend (who’d recently graduated from Columbia and had never “been south” before) asked the henna-haired woman who took your money at the door “What does ‘Too La Fay’ mean?”.

    The woman (who had a pistol strapped to her hip….ours is a rough county in some parts, and this could be a tough bar on some nights) leaned over the counter, looked him up and down, grinned, and said “Aww, Honey? That’s just French for ‘Everybody DOES it!’…..the owner came up with it all on his own!”.

    My friend made the mistake of replying “Do you mean “tout la fait”?….that’s STILL not right, you know….”

    I told him to shut up VERY quickly, or we’d be in a fight.

    In any case, I wouldn’t spend toooo much time worrying over the “correctness” of “Le Petit Bijou”. Bigger mistakes have been made in this world, and that is indeed a lovely little house.

    Level Best as Ever,

    david terry
    http://www.davidterryart.com

    • Vicki says:

      This is fabulous David… ‘Too La Fay’… such a great tale…. I am afraid that ‘the little jewel’ will be far less of an exciting destination…;)

      • david terry says:

        You do recall, Vicki….that wonderful scene from “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert”?…..when the VERY ROUGH & Formidable Aussie woman who owns the bar (somewhere in the far, far outback) decides to take-on drag-queen Terence Stamp in a drink-you-under-the-table contest?

        Our outings at the “Too La Fay” were very much like that at times. I never worried at all when we went there….everyone was, for one reason or another, concerned with his/her way-of-making-a-living & therefore following some set of rules, since no one wanted to get arrested….particularly since you could, on any given Saturdy night, find at least two off-duty, married (with wedding rings removed) local cops there. It’s always embarassing, in a small, rural county, when a bar gets raided and the police find themselves arresting several of their own, who also happen to be on the vestry of the local town’s biggest Baptist church.

        “Honor among thieves”, indeed……and thank you for nudging that memory back for me. I hadn’t thought of the joint in years until I read of your misgivings concerning the name “Le Petit Bijou”.

        Admiringly as ever,

        David Terry
        http://www.davidterryart.com

  • Now just remember…………if you need help running around flea markets I can be there in a flash. I am an excellent assistant and (I need to lose 10 lbs. before May and you know how that always happens when I travel to France) think you should take me up on my offer, only because it would be too much fun. Much love xx
    PS. I get the first rental.

  • Al says:

    Lovely post! What a fantastic piece of architecture. You are so lucky to call this home. Your renovation is surely a labor of love. Enjoy! -Al

    • Vicki says:

      It is adorable and I think I will truly be in love when I have finished… and even though I won’t be living there… it is wonderful to know that we have restored and safe guarded a little piece of Saint Remy de Provence…

  • Sally says:

    Vicki,
    I am so looking forward to hearing and seeing more about this project! My library has Perfume from Provence so I immediately put it on hold and look forward to reading it. By the way, have you ever read Mary Roblee Henry’s book about restoring a house in Provence? I read it several years ago and really enjoyed it. The house is in Vaison-La-Romaine and I could swear that Patricia Wells and her husband Walter now own it, but I’m not 100% positive. Anyway, it is a delightful read. Here is some info:

  • Manon says:

    Je passe souvent devant ton petit bijou et je dois avouer qu’il porte bien son nom.

    Belle journée

    Manon

  • Reese says:

    I will be keeping an eye on this renovation with plans to inhabit this charming little abode sometime myself. I love Saint Remy, and I prefer to rent vacation houses right in the center of the action rather than out in the country. This looks as though it will be perfect!

  • Liz Thomas says:

    Anxiously awaiting the finished product for rental information! How very exciting!

  • Hallie says:

    This is so exciting and we all will be thrilled to see the pictures. Knowing it is provence means that there won’t be any dreary being on the walls. Even if there was there will be vibrant color. I’m doing my living room, the walls are Benjamin Moore pink damask which sounds pinky but is a neutral with a hint of glow. I plan on vibrant pattern and texture from the pillows and accessories, but leaving the upholstery rather neutral.
    And then a day later I want to paint it periwinkle!
    Have fun. You have a lot to do but no doubt you’ll do it. Look at all you’ve accomplished.

  • Hallie says:

    P.S. Vicky I love the sound of the planning, a large bath and a view from the bed. Perfection.

  • How exciting Vicki to be at the fun part of the restoration.
    No doubt Le petit Bijou will be a spectacular retreat.

    x

  • Vicki says:

    You will enjoy them I think…:)

  • jeanette says:

    looking fwd to reading more about this charming project, and would love to visit one day.
    and thx for the info on Lady Winifred! I just ordered the Perfume from Provence book and look fwd to checking it out….
    Your architect is equally adorable as the village :)!

    Always enjoy your articles….

  • Debbie says:

    How fun! I have been wondering about the renovation and hoping to see photos and hear news of the progress. I rent in Eygalieres every summer and am always on the look out for a little rental in St. Remy from time time, particularly when it’s just me without a large group of friends and family. Thrilled to know you will be renting this little gem when it’s ready. I know that exact spot and it is truly the perfect location! More photos please when you start to add the pretties!

  • c woodyard says:

    Oh good! I was hoping your little house in St. Remy was going to be for us to enjoy! It will be exquisite with you in charge! X, Cynthia

  • Jacqueline says:

    Oh Vicki……. i’s gorgeous and we are after Sande !!!!! ….. you even have a mini bridge of Sighs!!!! It must be so exciting renovating that beautiful French home and I can’t wait to see the interior when you have finished….. I know that it will be so beautiful. XXXX

  • Ruth says:

    How sweet!!! I’m sure it will be marvelous. Maybe one day I’ll take my first trip and if I can afford to, maybe I’ll rent it ;) I have not read those books but will look out for them…I have read Karen Wheeler’s series on renovating a bill age house in the Poitou-Charentes. You might check them out, they’re a treat to read! Just like your blog! Happy weekend Vicki!

  • Jill says:

    Hi Vicki, I was so excited when you mentioned in a post (quite awhile ago!) that you had bought a property in the historical area of town. I truly hoped that you were going to do it up as a rental for us lucky franchophiles…and voila! Hubby and I will be there in September for a week and renting a charming old stone house in Rue du Petit Puits..just realised how close it is to your Bijou! I have a feeling it will be hard to book your jewel…everyone will want to stay there! I for one will certainly be looking to snavel it up for a holiday one day :) All the very best with the furnishing, if anyone can do it YOU can!

  • You have such wonderful taste + can’t wait to see the finished product + get those books! Thanks xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

  • Leslie in Little Rock says:

    I am so excited to hear more of La Petite Bijou!! I am sure it will be as gorgeous as you make everything you do!I am Reading a little Peter Mayle, but, Lady Winifred will be my next !

  • Can’t wait to see the finished product…or better yet to come stay…I am sure it will be finished with all the style we are accustomed to seeing!

  • Linenqueen says:

    In 2001 I bought a small house to remodel and with $800,000 and a little luck the final product ended up on the front page of the Washington Post Sunday Edition. I was quite puffed up about that. And quite pleased with the final look.

    A year and a half ago I began construction of a log cabin using the logs and stone from the property along with $500,000 that project is about done. And so am I. At the rather ripe age of 77 I’m tired of the stress of construction. Now I want peace and quiet and to let someone else go through the hassels.

    I do hope you will publish pictures during your decorating phase they are always so interesting. And I wish you great gobs of good lucking finding the elements that you will be using. Ann

  • Sandra says:

    Wonderful to see your part of the world.
    Enjoy the renovation it is hard work but the end result is always a blessing.
    Lots of Love from Sunny South Africa
    Sandra

  • Trish Murphy says:

    Hello Vickie It will be wonderful to follow the renovation I look forward to the interior photos I am sure that it will be just beautiful. I would love to visit St Remy one day and rent La Petite Bijou! X Trish

  • Catherine says:

    My husband and I went to look at properties just yesterday, with the idea of fixing up a vacatin rental. We are in the “other” south of France, in the Minervois. We were sorely disappointed by what we found. We want something small, say two bedrooms and arou d 60-80 sq meters. We saw a sad mess, with a rdc that was completely unusable, being far too tiny for a living room or kithen/dining room (maybe just a kitchen, but you would have to put the table upstairs. The seller wanted €50k, and it would have required that much or more in renovations. Another place had an incredible stone staircase out front, ona little impasse, but a neighbor had a car parked in front (like in what would pass for a courtyard), there were piles of dog droppings all over (clearly bad neighbors), and the inside needed to be gutted. The impasse was reached by an arch, like in your photo, but lower, and my husband said that it would be impossible to renovate because you could never get machinery, like a lift, under that arch, and it was unthinkable to tear out the inside of the house (which was stuffed with junk and furniture) by carrying it all up and down those charming, wobbly stone stairs. The price: €30k, with at least twice that for renovations. Out of our budget.

  • Karene says:

    I love the name of your house! And I’m looking forward to seeing your process of renovation. Perhaps when it is complete, my family will have saved up enough money to rent it from you!

  • miss b says:

    This is such an exciting project for you and reading about your plans for the interior makes me want to see more! A cute name for an adorable little house!

  • Hi Vicki, I’m currently living in Les Arcs sur Argens in the Parage Village at the top. I love to go to the Brocante in Port Grimaud on Sunday mornings..Its full of everything! Come over and visit and we can head down early Sunday morning. Come for supper and stay the night. (I have an extra room in this “castle”) Here for 6 months translating and writing a cookbook with a chef here in the village. What kind of heat is the new abode offering? Maybe I would be interested next winter….It’s usually nice here but still need some heat each night. I’m just of the A8 at exit 36.
    Karen

    • Vicki says:

      Sounds fun… I shall be in touch… and we should have plenty of heat and air con in Le Petit Bijou… hopefully…:)

  • Vicki,
    I like the “making pretty” part the best too! The site looks charming, I hope you’ll share more about your “little jewel”.
    Karen

  • Amy Kortuem says:

    What a lovely little place! How kind of you to provide such a jewel for people to rent in France!

  • I absolutely love Saint Remy and know exactly where your little jewel is located. We have a photo of that archway from our trip in July of 2011. Can’t wait to see more of this renovation. Perfect!!
    Cheers, Heather

  • Kim Grey says:

    What an amazing project, Vicki! Like you, “making pretty” is my favourite part of decorating, and I’m a perfectionist, too. (I drive my partner a bit mad, I’m afraid!)

    I’m sure your elegant sense of style will create beauty in every room. I look forward to seeing photos of this home, when it is finished.

    P.S. Thank you for dropping by and commenting on my blog yesterday. :)

  • Kaaren says:

    Finally catching up on your blogs aftera crazy January. I am so looking forward to following your project.

  • Georgette says:

    Bonjour Vicki…..I am also anxiously awaiting updates and pics of your progress…..I want to get on your list so I can stay there as soon as it is ready…..I’m heading your way in April for a month and will definitely try to happen by and catch you at work….you are living my dream life too…so far I’m only able to spend 3 months a year in beautiful France, but residing in Paris most of the time with trips to Provence…as soon as your lovely Little Jewel is complete, I will very happily spend more time in Provence…..merci for sharing your journey…take good care…Georgette

  • Mary says:

    Hi Vicki,
    Love love love your books and your new project “Le petit bijou!” If there is a ‘list’ for rental…please put my name on it for the future!! I look forward to seeing all the details of your progress and the final reveal! You are living the life I long for!! Thanks for your wonderful sharing! Cheers, Mary

    • Alexandra Lansdown says:

      Dear Vicky,

      We, my husband Peter and I, are planning to be in France late September 2013. Is Le Petit Bijou available for rent?

      Kind regards,

      Alexandra (Australia)

      • Vicki says:

        Once it is finished it will be… but I am not sure when… I hope it will be for September… I will let you now as son as I do…

  • Suzanna says:

    Hi Vicki, I have watched you create Le Petit Bijou (the little jewel is right!) since this time, yet was quiet…..I love this French blue and wish I knew the color…..oh how I wish I lived there, little job, joy, surrounded by people that know and wish to love ~ I love your heart so much and taste to boot ~ may the universe bring me there & the joy to meet you ~ merci ~ XO

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