6 years ago by

Photos Kate Berry

I’m at that point in “home renovation” where you start wondering why you ever thought it would be a good idea to change anything about the interior.

Typically, it goes like this:

You visualize. You dream. You find the perfect person to dream with you. You make plans. You do 3D simulations. You show them to everybody. You set them as the home screen photo on your phone. You can’t wait for your perfect life in your perfect house to begin. You see yourself cooking up cute meals on the stove (even though you never cook – Chris does everything) while still staying thin and gorgeous (even though Chris’s favorite food is lasagna) and wearing heels, just like the photos in interior design magazines.
You even go to the point of seeing yourself in a fancy dress, picking carrots in the garden.

Then the boxes start arriving, they start piling up, and the budget starts to pile up a bit too. You go into a few cold sweats but congratulate yourself for choosing Sarah who, unlike one famous decorator I met when I first started looking who told me “Well, let’s start by changing out all the windows in the house!” (mega cold sweats, hair standing on end, pulse at 180) – Sarah is realistic, grounded, and knows how to work with a budget.


Then you start meeting the construction foremen and the cold sweats come back all over again. There’s the guy who arrives four hours late (yep, apparently in construction projects, arriving four hours late is considered normal) (sometimes they’re two days late with just “sorry, I’m really busy” as an excuse) and they basically tell you nothing you want to do is even possible.

Then there’s the guy who shows up and tells me frankly, your house is ugly, so I guess you’ll have to reconsider some of your plans (yes, he seriously said that, I swear!)

And there’s the guy who shows up and says the whole project is nothing, and it’ll all be finished in two weeks. He’s a nice guy, too. And he seems like he knows what he’s doing.

All of these people were recommended by someone as being the best (or at least not as bad as the worst) and I’m starting to understand why.

So you go with the one who says it’s beautiful and easy and it will be done well and quickly – only to end up learning it’s going to take three months minimum. Between two weeks and three months, who knows what happened. This isn’t the kind of thing a foreman explains, I assure you.

So the boxes just keep coming and the house looks like the inside of a U-Haul, and we still don’t have anyone to do the work.

And we totally know the hardest part is still to come. The work itself. The delays, the
Airbnbs while we wait, the things that go over-budget, all the things no one talks about, that are still part of it. My neighbor Patty told me “Oooooh, with construction, you should always plan on twice the time and money.”





So, to help me get through it all, fortunately there’s tequila Sarah. Sarah and her team and my team and their experience and all the beautiful things they’ve already done.

It’s a good thing there are so many good moments, like when Sarah and I went to choose a slab of marble for my bathroom, which is going to be sublime, and I can’t wait to show you (I hope to be able to show you the renderings very soon!)

The moments when Sarah suggests new things I’d never thought about before.

The moments when we find new things for the kitchen that are so drop-dead gorgeous I’m probably really going to have to start cooking in an evening gown.

All those moments of creativity, beauty and camaraderie.

The moments when you think about how much of a pain it is, but how magical it is at the same time to become an adult and to be able to make a real home for yourself, one that reflects you and really fits your life.

So that’s where I’m at with the whole “home renovation”. What about you, have you ever renovated your home?


Translated by Andrea Perdue



Add yours
  • It’s so satisfying to make a space really your own.
    We renovated three properties. Our house, which was previously a business and which needed house-type things like walls, bathrooms, a kitchen. It was about 50 years old, very solid. We did the big stuff (putting up walls, plumbing) fast, then did the rest slowly, as budgets allowed, and that was good because we changed our minds about many plans once we were actually living there. It’s now a real gem, worth many times what we paid for it.
    We also renovated two 17th century apartments in the middle of Carcassonne for vacation rentals–that involved the Bâtiments de France and lots of inspections to keep all the historical details while also modernizing the wiring and plumbing. With both our house and the apartments, there were some bad surprises, but overall the contractors were very professional. It helped that my husband built his previous house with his own two hands and knows how things work and all the jargon. It sounds like you have found your expert for dealing with the contractors. That is so important. I look forward to seeing how it turns out. I hope you took lots of “before” shots!!

  • Jorge Alexandre Teixeira October, 5 2018, 10:40 / Reply

    I love your writing,your sense of humour,your stories,your Style,your Work i mean…
    Your Brilliant,Garance!!! God Bless You!!!

  • Mariateresa October, 5 2018, 11:58 / Reply

    My room not my home is in the chaos!!!

  • Trop bien ! Moi je fais la rénovation moi-même et petit à petit mais c’est quand même stressant. Rien que de choisir une couleur ça me fait stressser parce que une suis très sensible et mon œil voit très bien toutes les nuances. Pour dire ça fait 6 mois qu’il n’y a pas de peinture sur les murs de ma chambre. Ils sont restés brut mais comme j’aime beaucoup la lumière que ça donne je n’ai pas du tout envie de la recouvrir par un truc que j’aimerais même un tout petit peu moins. Alors j’attends d’etre sûre. Au moi s tant que je ne fais rien je ne me stresse pas et je trouve ça joli ainsi. Sinc’etaot Moche je me serai bougé ?

  • Heather MacLeod October, 5 2018, 3:11 / Reply

    Oh boy, Garance yes it’s always a shock for the uninitiated to get a peek behind the curtains into the real world of design and construction! Warm welcome, and don’t worry- although it seems like barely controlled chaos (especially during the construction phase); it’ll all turn out beautifully!

    Some things will shift a little as you go forward (might be out of stock, discontinued, or will just take foreeeeever to arrive from the manufacturer, or -surprise- behind the drywall we found something unexpected we need to throw $ at) but just consider that part of the organic nature of each custom project. Par for the course I’m afraid! But if you have a designer you can trust they will keep the trades honest (sometimes their charges can be a bit ‘extra’ if you know what I mean), and trust me; the designers are working their hardest for you at every turn. They’re just as invested in your beautiful home and vision as you are, I promise.

    And as your no doubt discovering, there are about 85,000 billion moving parts that we need to juggle and assess, and build to code, and ensure they are realistic and will actually work and fit. I think if people actually knew what we made happen in the office from minute to minute they’d be amazed- good designers are champions! :) Most of us run purely on adrenaline, espresso and often don’t get paid for all the hours we put in, and cut into our profit, purely because of the nature of the beast.

    You’re in great hands I’m sure with Sarah and her team, and hey- if you really want to see how smoothly yours is going (compared to the experience American chef David Lebowitz had renovating his Paris apartment), pick up his wildly entertaining book “l’appart”. I nearly died on his behalf several times while reading. After that I can only say be thankful you’re not renovating in France! Hahaha. Blessings; Heather. x

  • Oh and add the fun of Los Angeles inspectors who delay the project and add unnecessary changes just to charge more fees. I deal with contractors and clients on the end of the projects so I hear all the ups and downs. I’ve only found one contractor that I would recommend. Not a great track record for the most part.
    Good luck and keep your sense of humor. I know it will be beautiful once it is done.

  • Violaine October, 5 2018, 4:46 / Reply

    Coucou Garance c’est toujours aussi bien de te lire =) et c’est super cet update, on suit les avancées avec toi (je traîne toujours sur pour rêver de ma future maison), bon courage avec ces travaux !!

    Est ce possible d’avoir les références des tenues que porte Sarah ? Elles sont juste sublimes !

    Merci et bisous

  • Ann in Missouri October, 5 2018, 5:21 / Reply

    Oh, my dear … your home improvement project may be a mess right now, but you did a perfect job of describing what it’s like to build, remodel, redecorate, update a home. It’s hell. When we built our home (15 years ago) I came down with a stress-caused case of shingles. And learned that making myself crazy over others’ incompetence punishes me far more than the incompetents.

    I’m currently doing some outside home maintenance. Repairs that were supposed to be finished by the end of July will … I hope, I hope, I hope! … be finished in time for Halloween. ;) This time, I’m much more chill about it all. The main thing is that it be done right and I’ll be pleased when it’s over.

    And then the maintenance projects inside the project will begin. I think I’ll be traveling a lot this winter. ;)

    Hang in there. You’re lucky to have Sarah.

    Ann in Missouri

  • We literally JUST (like the paint is still drying) finished renovating our kitchen, putting in all new electrical wiring, new roof, new HVAC and assorted other insanity. It’s not for the faint of heart and there are a dizzying number of decisions but the payoff at the end of having a house that feels like your refuge, that you’re proud to invite people into, that is your little corner of the world-it honestly is so worth all of the exhausting months and overblown budgets :)

  • You are describing construction in Los Angeles — I’ve done that twice. AAAAAaaarrrgh! Oddly enough we also did a big-ish apartment in New York…and Let me tell you – you wish you were doing it in NYC where everyone understands that time IS money. Everything in NY was on time unless I made it late by changing my mind.

    You’ll get through this – picking the stone and the tile (I LOVED TILE!) are the most fun. Embrace choosing the things you are truly interested in and let the decorator guide you through the rest. Learn that you (as was my case) love rugs and lighting but, could care less about coffee tables! We look forward to hearing about the things you decide you love. best – and good luck1

  • I loved choosing tile, too! I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it, especially since 70% of the tile I chose was white. But it was so much fun. I have a friend who will start her renovations soon and she was so weirded out by how excited I was at the concept of her picking out her tiles. Haha.

  • Hello G
    I can’t wait to see your home. Renovating is always stressful whether you do it yourself or have contractors in. Patience required.
    I’m renovating in Italy and I decided to do it all on my own. Something about a foreigner you pay 10 times the price. My budget is humble.
    I may start a blog in fact. However I’m loving the journey as I’ve taught myself so many new skills. Look forward to more home posts. Baci

  • Bérénice October, 6 2018, 5:06 / Reply

    I know this feeling but Iam luck enough to have the best handy man my husband John as we completely redone my grand parents old barn close to Toulouse in a modern jndustrial recycling all materials we found there with a restricted budget. But it nearly took two years of his time and we were lucky to be still leaving in sans place, if you need idea or picture could send you some as the result is fantastic. And my husband can do anything as he is very good with wood and the place became a very cosy modern and elegant place. Any tips ask us??bises

  • Me and my timber-framing husband BUILT our house. Mostly ourselves with some subs. Twice the adventure. I did most of the designing for the better part of 2 years, and most of the sourcing of materials. (And a lot of sanding and painting) Our tiling did not get done until 4 years later because I could not make ONE MORE DECISION. I’m sure your Sarah will help you avoid that.

    It was all completely worth it. From my experience I would say try to be clear about what is most important to you to spend money on. We certainly did not have unlimited funds, so there was a lot of juggling. Know who you are: I like patina and I wanted soapstone counters, so we bought a slab and worked it ourselves. The dings and scratches over time don’t bother me; they would drive some people utterly crazy. I’m very tactile and I knew I wanted the things I touch a thousand times a day to be good solid pieces: consequently we spent a little more on kitchen pulls and door handles and that was a good decision.

    It’s not all about the visual–think about how you LIVE. And bonne chance Garance! In the end you will sink into your new home with deep joy and it will be your happy place.

  • Yes, twice the time and money usually ends up being true. And pro tip, never believe a contractor that tells you it will be done quickly—they are overly optimistic at best. But!! Once it’s done you are going to be SO happy. I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the place, as they say. Bonne chance!!

  • Dear Garance,

    I love your writing style. Your openness and your ability to connect with your audience.
    I am impressed with your ability to move on. Your last post I read was about depression, now you move on with passion, ambition and creativity.
    I am sure your house will end up looking amazingly fresh and welcoming!
    Best of luck with the technicalities!

  • Teresa Mas Santacreu October, 6 2018, 5:33 / Reply

    When you live in a house, renovating is a neverending thing! There are allways things to be done!!! Good Luck!

  • Hi Garance
    I’m in the work up to my neck right now too!
    Except that it’s a house bought on a big crush, on Holbox Island in Mexico.
    A tiny island in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from Tulum, on which I had only spent a week’s holiday in 2017.
    Love at first sight, change of life, we buy this beautiful house by the sea, with my lover and we decide to create a very small hotel, very intimate, on the beach.
    Bye bye Bordeaux (France), hello Holbox (Mexico)
    It was without imagining the hazards of life in Mexico and especially life on an island!
    Already, I have to manage the work in Spanish, and I am not fluent at all! (Well, I’m starting to get used to construction vocabulary) are days when it feels like it’s moving super fast and days when it seems like everything is stopped!
    And what about the lead times here, where everything arrives by boat.
    Finally, what a joy to see that it is taking shape and that we are going to offer this little paradise to our guests!
    Well, we’re on schedule and our hotel, Casa Cat Ba, will open its doors on December 15th, yippee!
    I am sure you will be very happy in your new house, the pictures are very nice and Sarah is a very good interior designer.

  • I have not, but I think we have to…. (picture my shoulders creeping up as I write this). We inherited my childhood home and it’s kind of falling apart. The good news is some of the family is very handy. *Some*. The good news is we are all artists and landscape designers. The not so good news is lack of actual experience doing this, but you make me feel like we are all in the same boat. It will work out somehow… riiiight? ;) Anyway, your sense of humor always brightens my attempt to be “grown up”. Thank you! And good luck. It will All be beautiful in the end, as your home is a representation of your soul.

  • It’s something I’m experiencing now- and it’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. All my life I rejected having furniture (save for my own bed and my sofa) because I wanted to feel like I can up sticks any time time I want to, take my laptop and disappear. My husband and I have just moved to France and for the first time I feel like a want a real home. We are not really renovating, rather decorating a gorgeous, light filled flat (in which we are rattling around and which, after our central London apartment feels like a castle:)). I found it a real pleasure to think up a dream interior and then look for pieces to fill our home.

  • Je voulais refaire les peintures du salon et surtout faire de l enduit sur des parties du mur abîmés …. j ai commencé à lessive, puis à gratter les plaques de peintures qui tombaient . Et puis j ai eu la bonne idée d essayer de dessiner une jungle sur mon mur en me disant que ce serait un essai …. et maintenant … Je n ai plus envie de peindre pour effacer ce mural …. Ah ah !

  • Yep. Last year. I mean, we started 2 years ago and finished last year. We did not have a talented yet practical Sarah – we had a talented Princess, who was offended when something was simply out of our budget (meaning: extravagantly expensive and not very practical), turned out not to know a scratch about technical side of the design (you know, not so expensive, yet very practical pipes, dimensions of about everything etc.) and managed to be univocally hated by all contractors. Our discussions concerning kitchen and the number of cabinets, the dimensions of the pantry ended up with scathing remarks by Her Highness “So what – are you opening a restaurant or something?”. So, after yet another “mistake”, which added another sum to our budget (who cares where the plumbing goes, as long as you buy this beautiful designer book case that will hold about 3 cherry-picked books and maybe a vase, don’t worry – you’ll fit the rest of your books in a cellar or something), we said “farewell, Princess” and continued with the team of contractors on our own. Luckily they were efficient, honest and dilligent, so we ended up with just a 4-month delay :) I am crossing my fingers for your rennovation!

  • Eh bien pour le moment, juste des travaux déco dans la maison que mon homme a acheté au début de notre relation, et dans laquelle je suis venue m’installer il y a 1 an et demi.
    En revanche, j’ai récemment discuté avec ma grand-mère qui souhaiterait me léguer (de son vivant) un bâtiment ancien dans le fond de son jardin, où mon grand-père travaillait. C’est attaché à un vieux pigeonnier, ainsi qu’à une dépendance. TOUT est à refaire, on ne garde que la structure donc c’est à la fois hyper flippant mais terriblement exaltant !
    Pour le moment, j’attends une réponse pour un boulot salarié qui me permettra d’avoir plus de chance que mon statut d’indépendante pour obtenir un prêt. Mais je rêve, je fais des simulations, je prends les idées déco autant que la paperasse qu’il va y avoir à faire.
    Mes parents ont toujours rénové les 2 maisons qu’ils ont habité, ça ne me fait pas peur. Mais je sais que par moment, j’aurais la sueur au front et le poil dressé ah ah ^^

    Bon courage !


  • I completely re-did the condo I purchased last year, and it is exactly as stressful, overwhelming, fun, and exhilarating as you describe. You have to worry about things you didn’t realize you needed to worry about (like if your current light switches and electrical sockets have been discontinued or have to be ordered overseas), but you’ll also have fun doing things you never would have thought were fun (like picking out tile!). You’ll also have to have some things re-done, some of them multiple times; but you’ll also learn to let some less-than-perfect things go.

    But when it’s all said and done, you’ll have a home that’s truly yours and that you’ll be proud of. It will be worth it, even if it means that you’ll have to travel and shop a little less the year after all of it. Haha.

  • Nous avons acheté avec mon compagnon une vieille maison il y a 7ans déjà et les travaux ne sont toujours pas terminés! Et oui comme faire faire coute trop cher, c’est mon homme qui fait tout et nous sommes encore plus fier du projet accompli! Bon courage Garance et hâte de voir tout ça!

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