A classic French pied-�-terre

Melanie Balatincz tells how she transformed her tired flat in southern France into a stylish mansion block apartment

Having fallen in love with France during my first visit in 2003, and missing the sunshine and blue skies of my Australian homeland, I decided to purchase an investment property, fulfilling a dream that I have had for many years.

he matter of choosing the type and size of property, plus the most important consideration of location, led me to attend a French Property Exhibition in 2010 so that I could better understand the legalities of the buying process. It was there that I first picked up French Property News and I have been an avid reader since!

RENOVATION RENOVATION

What immediately attracted me to the apartment was its generous size, central location, period features in both the apartment and the building itself and its potential to become a truly stunning home.

Aside from the refreshing of the d�cor, I transformed the living areas by knocking down a wall between the rather small living space and the original front bedroom to create a large open-plan kitchen and living area. This generous space is complemented by the intimate formal dining room on the other side of the fireplace.

The narrow galley kitchen and single toilet were at the back of the building and by moving the kitchen to the front, I created space for the master bedroom at the back. This also allowed me to build an en-suite bathroom, and to better use the wasted space in the large hallway.

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The benefit of doing this is that all the bedrooms are now located at the quiet back section of the building, overlooking a courtyard. The front of the apartment is now entirely the living area, taking full advantage of the sun streaming in through the four sets of French doors, and integrates well with the al fresco dining area on the balcony.

The apartment originally only had one bathroom (with a huge corner bath but no shower), and with some clever manoeuvring by my builder I now have an en-suite as well as a family bathroom.

FACING THE CHALLENGES

One of the biggest issues was the language barrier. Although I had studied French for four years during high school (a very long time ago), I only know some basic French words. I made good use of online translation tools, and use the Google Chrome web-browser which can translate foreign websites into English. I’ve found this to be a very handy feature when you’re trying to buy a washing machine online in France!

More crucially, a big challenge I had was my bad experience with a dodgy builder who walked off the site after a month, taking my money and leaving the apartment looking like a demolition zone. Despite the rigour I put into the selection process, and all of the checks I made (including obtaining references), there is always the risk of ending up with an unethical builder. My second builder realised my vision for the apartment and, although he took longer to complete the job than I expected, did an amazing job and I ended up having exactly what I wanted.

I also found the responses of French businesses (including the notaire) very slow.The face-to-face approach preferred by the French is not always possible if you live in another country.

Aside from the building work, one of the biggest successes of the project was the interiors and the furniture. I sourced almost everything while I was in the UK, mostly buying online via eBay. In some cases I even bought antiques online from French vendors who said it was cheaper to ship items to the UK and then back to France!

I had it all delivered to my removal company’s warehouse in the UK where they stored it before shipping it to Nice on the date I specified. I arranged with the maire to have the road blocked off outside the apartment for the day to allow access for the lorry. That, at least, went smoothly!

Melanie’s apartment on the Rue de Paris in Nice is available for holiday rental per night and bookings can be arranged via www.mabellemaisonnice.com