Progress on tomettes

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 09:49

Living room looking towards sofa nook

I’ve continued restoring the original tomettes, traditional southern French terracotta tiles I discovered (and uncovered) in December. As a reminder, this is what the living room looked like before, while this photo shows the tile adhesive I had to remove.

The photo above, tomettes now clean, shows how the sofa nook looks now, and here’s the other half of the living room. Last Sunday I decided to test my theory about a heavy-duty cleaner (décapant in French) that I had used before and that didn’t work so well. Instead of diluting it as recommended, I added only half the amount of water prescribed, making it more concentrated. This worked nicely, and I was able to scrape off tile adhesive residue very quickly. About two-thirds of the living room still needed adhesive scoured off — I finished it all that same day!

What most surprises me is that the floor is in such good shape. The apartment building dates from 1953, so the tomettes are 56 years old, and yet only one of them has serious damage. The rest were so well cared-for that even after being tiled over, then having that tile removed, and being scoured, scraped and treated with a chemical cleaner, they still shine! My apartment has only had two owners before me, with the previous owners having bought four years ago and putting in the tile when they arrived, so it would seem that the original owner truly cared for the terracotta floor.

Some thin spots of residue still need to be scrubbed off with a regular scouring pad, but that should go quickly. After that, all that remains is to seal and wax the floor. Easier said than done since with the furniture, I’ll only be able to do half at a time. And will need to keep kitties from exploring the floor while it’s worked on. They behaved surprisingly well with the ammonia-based cleaner, never once touching it — I’m assuming because it smelled bad.

The joys of home ownership

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 21:29

Entry, before

In a change of pace from floor photographs, here’s the ceiling in my entry. The previous owners — them again! — had put up a false ceiling with three spotlights. Considering their track record of wiring an extension cord for kitchen outlets and putting in a walk-in shower with no waterproofing, I wanted to check this and redo it if needed.

I took this photograph after removing the dozen screws that held the false ceiling to the walls, looking “behind” it and standing in the shock of disbelief for a few seconds. Behind the large pipe (the one that’s dripping dark fluid), there’s an outlet wired to the ceiling. Plugged into that outlet is a transformer (the black box), which is sitting directly on the false ceiling, which is made of wood. All the white debris is plaster; there were some large chunks on it and who knows why or how they got there. The false ceiling, I kid you not, was simply leftover parquet that the previous owners had painted white. In addition to the transformer sitting on it, the ceiling was touching the three central heating pipes that carry heat to the radiators throughout the building. (As a side note, my apartment is very toasty since, in addition to my two radiators, all the heating pipes that supply the building go through it.) That pipe that’s dripping? Is dripping because a layer of its paint is melting. I guess they didn’t waterproof the shower so that when there was a fire caused by their home “improvement”, the walls would be too damp to burn?!

In the entry, I cleaned up everything, removed the outlet from the ceiling wires, and put in a new light fixture. I chose a simple one that echoes the industrial feel that the pipes give the entry, and it now looks rather nice. While I did prefer the cleaner look of the false ceiling, I’ll take a few visible pipes over death by incineration any day. In other news, I’m still removing tile as part of my tomette restoration project, and have finished about a quarter of the living room. So far I’ve only encountered two damaged tomettes, both of which will be covered (and were probably originally damaged) by furniture.

Work in progress

Posted in Home improvement, La France, Nice at 17:54

Uncovering the living room

This is how I’m spending my Christmas and New Year’s holiday! All of this is the result of “just” three hours of work today. I’m glad that these went much quicker — I should be able to finish a good part of the living room by the end of next week. These are the tools and protection I’m using. Always use face protection when removing tile; I can’t insist enough. No matter how careful you are, the tiles break in unpredictable ways and pieces go flying everywhere. My eye protection and face mask have been hit by flying pieces of tile very often. Along those lines, if you have a pet, either don’t let them near the work area at all, or stop working when they’re nearby. Kanoko rests on his cat tree perch to oversee my work, so he’s been fine. I only worked for three hours because that’s all my arms and legs could take. It’s best to kneel (I used a folded-up blanket as a knee pad), which takes its toll, and it’s tiring to pound and lift all the time.

The thick gray line just above Kanoko’s head is not due to broken tile — that’s originally where the living room wall was. The previous owners took it out and put it further back to create the sofa nook. This is both good and bad: the good part is the tomettes aren’t broken; the bad part is there are no tomettes along that line at all!

While I consider tomettes to be a treasure because of their beauty and soft, silky feel, they are also a treasure in the material sense of the word: since tomettes are no longer made, you can only find vintage ones, and hexagonal tomettes cost from 50 to 70 euros per square meter. My living room and bedroom are 35 square meters in all, multiplied by 60 euros makes for 2,100 euros, or about 3,000 US dollars at the current exchange rate (I use’s currency converter). In comparison, decent-quality modern tiles cost about 20 euros per square meter, or one third of the tomettes’ worth. In short, for 3-4 weeks of tile removal work, I’ll be tripling the value of my floors! (Why did the previous owners tile over these tomettes? Well, since they are “vintage”, there are some French people who don’t like them. I’m assuming that’s what happened, since the previous owners were a young French couple.)

Buried treasure

Posted in Cats, Home improvement, Journal, La France, Nice at 20:45

Bedroom with parquet removed

This afternoon Kanoko was swatting around a broken piece of ceramic. It was dark red and reminded me very much of traditional Provençal terra cotta tiles, called tomettes. My curiosity was piqued — every so often, you’ll hear a story of someone buying an apartment, pulling up the old floor and discovering tomettes beneath. It even happened to my former landlords, whose floor was gorgeous. Since the parquet in my bedroom was badly laid and I thought I needed to replace it due to the water damage from the adjacent bathroom, I pulled on a corner that was already sticking out.

This is what I found. I jumped; I squealed with joy; I bounded into the kitchen to put on eye protection and returned to the bedroom to pull out as much parquet as I could. It hadn’t been glued, merely laid onto a protective sheet covering the floor. The tomettes are in perfect condition. There’s only one exception: the previous owners broke some tomettes to run… a TV cable. Ugh. (By any chance, do any readers have a few tomettes laying around that I could use to repair this? They’re hard to find. Mine are 11.5cm from point to point; 10cm from side to side.)

Pulling up the parquet brought something else into evidence: the tile elsewhere in my apartment is on top of yet more tomettes!!! Tomorrow I’m going to pull up tile in an out-of-the way corner of my living room to see what’s been done and if it’s recoverable — I certainly hope so. I’m delighted since I had in fact dreamt of redoing my bedroom floor in tomettes, but had to set aside the idea since they’re very expensive. Then today I find that it was already done 60 years ago!

Mystery uncovered

Posted in Home improvement, Journal at 14:38

After removing more plaster

As shown here, my deconstructivist bathroom is coming along nicely. This approach brings to the fore images that evoke universal truths: beneath the persona (paint) and ego (plaster) lie hidden yet vital depths of unconscious communications (pipes) and shadow elements (dark hole in the wall). Cleansing and healing elements also come into play (shower). While modern society would have us believe that humans are two-dimensional, able to be classified and “targeted”, we are reminded of the multitudinous facets in every individual, impossible to contemplate in their whole; impossible to reduce to mere words.

Because my bathroom wall needs to dry before it can be repaired, I decided to tackle paint removal in it today. (I had an extra vacation day that needed to be used, so took today off.) The mold damage before, bubbles after putting on paint remover that made me rather nervous since no such bubbles formed on the same paint when I used the remover in the WC, and the wall after removing the paint but before taking on the plaster.

The photo above shows the bathroom as it is now, with a hole in the corner so that air can get back there and help things dry out.

New drape and fixed kitten

Posted in Cats, Home improvement at 14:52

Drape covering storage

Kanoko turned 6 months old two weeks ago, and is at the veterinarian today, getting neutered and being given an ID tattoo in his ear. (Why you should spay or neuter your pet, et en français, pourquoi faire stériliser son animal.) I weighed him while at the vet’s: 4.5 kilos/10 pounds! That’s a healthy weight for a fully adult cat — normal-sized kittens weigh 3kg/6.5 pounds at 6 months old.

I took the opportunity of a mischief-free apartment to put up the curtain wire over my bedroom storage nook and hang a drape (“before” photo here). The difficulty of this nook is that it’s 2 meters wide, while none of the stores I checked had drapes/curtains wider than 1m60. So I hung a drape sideways! It’s not ideal, but with the tall bed frame bringing things together visually, it works well enough. It will probably look much better once I’ve repainted my bedroom a darkish grey. After considering several color ideas over the last few months, I realized that every time I’d seen a grey room, I’d utterly loved it. It won’t be done for a few months though, since budget priority goes to repairing my bathroom, which will be expensive. It is nice to no longer see the boxes and suitcases, in any case.

Fun with water

Posted in Home improvement, Journal at 17:21

Beneath shower, November

This is a new style of postmodern deconstructivism, which I’m sure will be all the rage soon. It’s my walk-in shower, which was put in by the previous owners. When I visited the apartment in February, just before signing, there was no sign of water damage in the bathroom. I asked about the shower, though, since it looked “homemade”. I was told that it had been built correctly and waterproofed.

When I moved in at the start of June, my bathroom wall was covered in mold, and the walls in the WC were soaked. I called my insurance agent. After much going in circles (the syndic, building management, had to be notified as well), no clear cause could be found. The plumber decided to check beneath the shower, just in case, and last week the plumber finally got the OK from everyone involved to partially demolish the walls.

There’s no waterproof membrane beneath the shower floor. What happened is that the grout began to break down, and water seeped onto the floor and into the walls. As for the visible damage, there are two possibilities: it was so new in February that no mold had grown to visible proportions, or the previous owners had painted over existing mold so it wasn’t visible. To make a long story short, I took on a real estate lawyer and met with her last week. Appropriate action has been taken and we’ll see how things go. In any case, I’m happy to have found a great plumber, and hopefully will soon have “after” photos of a new shower installation to post here.

With the water damage cause finally determined, this weekend I had fun with some small DIY projects, making my WC a bit more civilized. I put in a corner shelf and, finally, a toilet roll holder. Kanoko again performed quality control, checking the shelf frame. This photo shows my full WC once finished. In France it’s quite common to have a separate toilet room, and they’re usually small. A closer (and cleaner-looking) view of the shelves. They sit on fittings and are held to them with socket screws, so they’re easy to take off and put back on, which means it will be a snap to repaint my WC walls as soon as all the water damage is repaired.

French telephony DIY

Posted in Home improvement, La France at 18:50

Connecting the wires

The previous owners of my apartment had set up the phone line oddly, putting it in a cupboard near the window onto the terrace. I had put my PC in the corner against the wall by the cupboard until today, when I cut the phone cable to reinstall the phone jack near the sofa nook. (Those photos are from April, before I moved in, since it’s easier to see. The rest of the photos are from today.) I don’t have a television (purposefully), but I do like to watch DVDs, and plan to set up my sofa nook so that I can both surf the ‘net and watch movies from it.

After cutting the wire, I took apart the phone jack, noting which wires had been connected. As I suspected, they were rather loose; a couple even fell out — I’ve had intermittent problems with my ADSL connection. Here are what the connectors on a French phone jack look like. I had found this wiring diagram to use for reference, and set about rewiring the jack in its new location.

Sure enough, the phone cable in my place wasn’t standard, and different colors had to be wired. Once that was figured out and done, it worked! On Wednesday the furniture I plan to use for the PC setup in the nook will arrive, and then I’ll show what it looks like — right now it’s somewhat unsightly, although functional.

Hidden… treasure

Posted in Cats, Home improvement, Journal at 14:08

More hidden potatoes

Questions you may be asking about this photo:
– Are those potatoes?
– What’s that black thing behind them?
– How did they get there?
– Did you cut that hole yourself?

Answers: Yes, those are potatoes. Ever since Kanoko arrived, I’ve been mysteriously losing potatoes. Since it was only one or two at a time, I figured that I was just miscounting them and had forgotten how many I’d actually eaten. But then, a few days ago, five went missing all at once, and I noticed a rank stench coming from the corner in my kitchen where I’d kept the potatoes. The familiar smell of… rotting potatoes. Looking behind the kitchen, which had been set up amateurishly by the previous owners (the main reason I got my apartment for such a low price), I noticed two things:
1. There is a space behind the lower cupboards that’s just big enough for a kitten to get through from the open area beneath them.
2. There is also a space beneath the particle-board bottoms, just high enough for kitten paws and… potatoes.
The two spaces were not big enough for me to be able to fish around with a pole for the potatoes.

Since the kitchen is indeed mediocre, and I plan to replace it eventually, I started to attempt ripping out the particle board bottom. True to inexperienced builder form, however, it had been put together so chaotically that there was no way I could pull it out cleanly and easily. And so I started to saw. I stopped after an hour, realizing it was going to take more than a couple cuts, and decided to wait until this weekend.

Today I finally managed to hack my way through the particle board and create a hand-sized hole, having to make several cuts due to the nearly-impracticable angle in the small space available. The first potato was visible as soon as I finished ripping out the last chunk of particle board. Ten more potatoes — for a total of eleven in all — were nearby. That black thing behind them? A rotting wooden spatula, shown here in a larger view of the area beneath the cupboards, so you can see what I was dealing with.

Anna the Handywoman

Posted in Cats, Home improvement at 13:37

Cat tree (1)

As just another Joe(anna) who had her own business (but which was actually mine, and I know enough about finances to know the difference between “earnings” and “profit”), I spent some of my hard-earned euros on a big arbre à chats — cat tree. This meant a bit of DIY. For anyone else interested in putting together a cat tree/scratching post:

1. Identify all the parts and organize them so you’ll know which is which more quickly. For instance, this tree has different-length posts, so I laid them out from longest to shortest.
2. Start with the base.
3. Build up gradually. The perch attached to the cat house/box on my tree had a bracket on it that was supposed to bolt to the box, but its screws had ripped out. Luckily I’m Anna the Handywoman! and have a wide variety of screws around, so was able to reattach it, though slightly off from its original position (the original holes were useless).
4. At this point, since you have a cat, you will probably have to take into account the unpredictable addition of extra weight onto various parts of the tree, in the form of a pouncing, rapidly-moving furball. Keep a strong hold of the tree during this delicate period. Finish with the top perch.
5. All done, kitten included!

I found this particular cat tree in several places, but got it from ZooPlus since it was cheapest. (Good-quality cat trees and scratching posts are expensive…!) It’s called Alicante, and is part of the tall models on their French site. On their US site, here’s the Alicante, where it’s among their medium cat trees. I liked this one since it seemed stable (which it is indeed), was tall but slim enough for my smaller-sized apartment, had several platforms, and came in a decent color. It was hard to choose though, there are so many neat-looking cat trees!