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This Time the Cracks Will Not Come Back!

Volume XX, Issue 35

The courtyard in Adrian Leeds 17t century apartment building in Paris

My building’s architect paid me a visit this week to discuss the structural study and the work that will ensue in my apartment to shore up the beams in the ceiling. The first words out of his mouth were, “The bad news is that you will need to move out of your apartment for six months and move EVERYTHING.”

To get you up to speed, I live in a building from the 17th-century. That means it’s about 350 years old, give or take a few years. (My street was created in 1626!) There’s almost nothing in the U.S. as old as this. It’s always been of great pride to me that my building and the neighborhood have such a long history. Henri IV had formed the project of building in the Marais a large square which would be called “Place de France” on which several streets were to end, each bearing the name of a province. That never quite happened in the way he envisioned it, but this is how this street bears the name of the province of Saintonge. The street was opened for traffic in 1626. It then bore the names of “rue de Touraine-au-Marais” between rue du Perche and rue de Poitou, “rue la Marche” between rue de Poitou and rue de Bretagne and already “rue de Saintonge” between rue de Bretagne and Boulevard du Temple—my portion of the street. This last name was extended to the other sections in 1851.

Old print of the corner of rue de Saintonge and rue Normandie

Modern day rue de Saintonge in Paris

Modern day rue de Saintonge in Paris

It’s a wood frame building and that means that it’s moving…all the time. And that means that the walls crack. And no matter how many times they have been repaired, the cracks keep coming back. I’ve gotten used to them as part of the charm and never worried too much, chalking it up to the age, the structure, and life. I’d been watching the ceiling in the living room seriously crack for several years, to my utter annoyance, and resulting contemplation to expose the 17th-century beams so that I’d never have to bother with the cracks again. It’s such a massive project—to take down the ceiling, and the beams, insulate in between them…not to mention the expense—that I’ve been putting it off, and putting it off, and putting it off. Now, I’m glad I did.

In the summer of 2021, I returned from having been gone for about two weeks to discover that one door frame in the apartment, the one leading to the bathroom, had become cracked and unhinged. Specs of plaster were on the floor. That was a whole lot more alarming than the cracks in the living room ceiling, so I put out an “APB” to the building’s Syndic (managing company) to alert them to what I thought could be structural issues in the building. They responded very quickly and sent the building’s architect to inspect.

The cracks in the wall and bathrom door frame in Adrian Leeds' apartment in Paris

Monsieur L., a small-framed white-haired gentleman who spoke good English, came with a tall good-looking young man and closely studied the cracks all over the apartment. He came to the worrisome conclusion that it’s possible there might be either a leak from above and/or some structural issues and warned me that he would order up a viable professional study—this was important for the entire building. He also warned me that in order to do so, they’d have to make holes in the ceiling to look at the beams. It would be a bit of a mess (however, they would be very careful to minimize that) and the good news was that the building insurance would pay for it.

About now I’m thinking it’s a good thing I contacted them. I might have renovated the entire apartment at my own cost only to discover it fruitless if the structural issues were acute. But, two weeks prior to the date we set—Tuesday, June 1st, 2021—I had an anxiety attack thinking this was more than I could handle, with my daughter scheduled to arrive from the U.S. the next day, friends of hers visiting and heading off for the summer to Nice. I had visions of chaos in my apartment…furniture out of place, dust everywhere, holes in the ceiling, etc…a kind of a nightmare at just the wrong moment.

I wrote Monsieur L. and begged him to postpone the date till the fall. He refused, explaining how important it was to do the study NOW. There was nothing I could do about it, so I sucked it up, became as zen as possible, and took the attitude of “it is what it is.”

It went better than I expected, but I was left with big gaping holes all over the ceiling of the apartment, covered with a kind of white plasticized fabric, secured by tape, and stapled to keep it secure. I learned to live with it along with the noise coming from the apartments above mine that were no longer insulated by the ceiling. When it rains, there is one part open to the roof that is metal, so it makes its own kind of…music.

Adrian Leeds' apartment living room tented in plastic to examine the cracks in the ceiling

Holes in Adrian Leeds' Paris apartment from examinining the ceiling beams

The conclusion of the study was that the original structure of the building, a “hôtel particulier” or aristocratic townhouse, couldn’t handle the two levels that were added to my level. My apartment is on the third floor (European), and at the time the building was built, it was the last floor, where the servants were housed. (My apartment is made up of many small rooms that were combined.) A century or so later, the additional two floors were added, but the beams, now 350 years old, are sadly feeling the weight…more than they should.

The Holes covered with white plastic in Adrian Leeds' Paris apartment from examinining the ceiling beams

Only my apartment was affected, as I’m the only owner in the building to have complained. I’m not sure if this is good or bad (!). It doesn’t mean the issues don’t exist elsewhere, but the copropriété (homeowner association) was not looking for more trouble and expense than this.

A year went by and a special meeting was held by the copropriété to discuss the problem. My daughter attended with me to ensure that I’d understand it all…which of course, I didn’t, but the gist of it is that the repair would be very expensive and that the copropriété would pay for it.

The other owners were not at all happy. This is a huge expense for them, but they all realize the importance of it. Monsieur L. was clearly on my side, advocating for the work to be done. At one point in the meeting, my daughter leaned over to me close and whispered, “Monsieur L. is a good guy. He will protect you.”

Everything takes time and summer vacations got in the way. This is why it took a few months before Monsieur L. could pay me a visit to discuss the project. And that was the news he landed in my lap:

“The bad news is that you will need to move out of your apartment for six months and move EVERYTHING.”

And when said “everything,” he meant it—even the clothing, because the dust will permeate every crevice of every closet, of every drawer, of every everything!

Fortunately, there is time to prepare for this. We set a timeline: by the end of November I am to have the estimates to make the move out, rent a place to live and then move back in. There will be another special assembly for another firm vote. Once that happens, the plan is to move out next September, start the work in October and move back in sometime in March or April. If I think too long or hard about it, it might give me heart failure. So, Eckhart Tolle’s philosophy of “living in the present moment” must kick in so that I just take each step as it comes to me without needing too many doses of Xanax!

I’ve got the team in motion: Martine di Mattéo, our illustrious Interior Designer, will help coordinate the work so that we can take advantage of the opportunity to update the kitchen and a few other things I’d been wanting to do; two of our concierges have been recruited to project manage the organization of the estimates and I’m already looking for a place to rent that is in the immediate proximity of the apartment so that I don’t have to move too far afield.

Ultimately, the good news is that I will have a brand new 17th-century apartment that will have been largely paid for by the homeowner association (except for my share of that as one of the owners, and whatever special work I have done). So, I suppose I must count my blessings. I may be paying the price for that pride I have in living in such an old Paris building, but that’s what comes with the territory. If I had wanted something perfect, without all those cracks, I suppose I’d have bought something a lot newer…but guess what?

I’m not prepared to do that, cracks or no cracks.

A bientôt,

Adrian Leeds wearing a checkered coat in the courtyard of her apartment building in ParisAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group

The logo/meme for the Adrian Leeds Group Living & Investing in France conference 2022P.S. Tomorrow is the first day of our Living & Investing in France Conference. The team is starting to land in Nice and get ready for our big three days. If by chance you wish to join us at the last minute, contact Opportunity Travel IMMEDIATELY! By phone at +1 561-243-6276 or +1 800-926-6575 or by email.

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