July 2001 – first impressions
The attic… what a space! The floor of the attic is, curiously, concrete, and as the roof was entirely replaced in the 1980s after the fire, there’s no trace of rot or deathwatch beetle up here. The beams are held together with wooden pins hammered through drill holes, and you can see the underside of each slate rooftile held rather precariously by its single nail. There’s a small window at each end, and if you open the street-side one the sounds of the street filter up from below. It’ll be a great studio one day.
The white level
The white level is so called because when the building was repaired after the fire, the walls were re-rendered with bright white plaster. The fire, which started from a fireplace in the dark room now blocked up in the repairs, destroyed most of the flooring but the two front rooms boast their original wide chestnut floorboards. These two rooms each have a wide window with a curved top and rusty steel shutters to block out the summer sunsets.
If you throw open the window and lean out, you can see down rue Mazé to the Guémené library, which has the dubious honour of hosting the town clocktower. After a week or two of sleeping in one of the two front rooms you get used to the tinny, off-key chiming, but it’s possible you’d never get used to the blast of the WWII air-raid siren that also sits atop the library. It’s used to summon the volunteer fire brigade and is tested each weekend.
The ground floor
From rue Mazé, you enter No.4 through the shop door, which leads straight off the street and is flanked by two shop windows, notable because of their huge glass panels that curve in at each side of the recessed door. The electric shop bell still works a treat! The shop though, was very worse-for-wear on first inspection, as firefighters had hacked into the ceiling to douse the flames, and there was a lot of associated water damage. Before cleaning, the whole floor was covered in fine sawdust sent down by 20 years of borer in the floor and beams above.
The rest of the shop level is still a bit of a health hazard. The old kitchen is empty because of the quirky French habit of taking everything with you when you move house, including the kitchen. Yes, that includes the bench, sink… everything! In fact most French homeowners take all the doors too, so in that regard No.4 was better equipped than it could have been!
The backroom had a lovely parquetry floor unfortunately destroyed by 20 years of a leaky roof, and as for the bathroom… well, we were just glad the toilet flushed!