Category Archives: Building and Construction

UPDATES on the Ad Lib Artisans website

Interesting how quickly time slides away — and we’re a bit shocked to realise that we are leaving the house that Mark has been working on since November in TWO WEEKS!

We’re headed over to the other side of Normandy for another reno — but it also looks like we’ll be leaving France in mid-June to have some adventures in other countries. Sooooo — it was time to update Mark’s online work portfolio with a LOT of pictures.

Gallery 1 has the images from here in Normandy over the last 5 months. And Gallery 2 is full of the pictures from that huge renovation he did on the Mid Century ranch house in Australia in 2014 through mid-2016.

Want a peek? Then go to Ad Lib Artisans to see what I’m talking about. DOZENS of photos showing the range of the work that Mark does.

Mark inside the Calvados house from the 1400s.

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The Medieval Abbey of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives in Normandy

There is no way to miss this impressive abbey from anywhere within the small town of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives. And it is easily visible as you drive across the Calvados countryside, too. It’s quite wonderful to be living a mere ten minutes away from a place like this.

Founded in 1011 by Countess Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror — the abbey has undergone a variety of extensions and renovations over the subsequent centuries and those renovations continue right into the present day. Here’s a small photo essay of this truly gorgeous abbey.

A glimpse of the medieval abbey towers of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives can be seen all throughout the town and from several miles/kilometres away as you drive across the landscape of Calvados in Normandy, France. Founded in 1011 by Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror, the abbey has been enlarged, rebuilt, or renovated several times over the following centuries.

A glimpse of the medieval abbey towers of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives can be seen all throughout the town and from several miles/kilometres away as you drive across the landscape of Calvados in Normandy, France. Founded in 1011 by Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror, the abbey has been enlarged, rebuilt, or renovated several times over the following centuries.

Exterior view of stained glass-filled chapels at the Abbey in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Exterior view of stained glass-filled chapels at the Abbey in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Chapel containing the grave of Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror and founder of the abbey in 1011.

Chapel containing the grave of Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror and founder of the abbey in 1011.

The gravestone of Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror and founder of the abbey in 1011.

The gravestone of Lesceline, the aunt of William the Conqueror and founder of the abbey in 1011.

The main altar area of the abbey.

The main altar area of the abbey.

A side aisle in the abbey.

A side aisle in the abbey.

A rather curious set of stairs to nowhere.

A rather curious set of stairs to nowhere.

Abbey interior.

Abbey interior.

Lovely angles and arches.

Lovely angles and arches.

A drawing of the original layout -- much of which on the outer perimeter facing the gardens is being restored at present.

A drawing of the original layout — much of which on the outer perimeter facing the gardens is being restored at present.

These are the buildings along the outer part of the Abbey complex -- the ones that are facing the gardens in the illustration above. The French government sold these buildings off after the Revolution and they have gradually been repurchased. Some of them are in perilous condition and are being properly renovated now.

These are the buildings along the outer part of the Abbey complex — the ones that are facing the gardens in the illustration above. The French government sold these buildings off after the Revolution and they have gradually been repurchased. Some of them are in perilous condition and are being properly renovated now.

Simple chairs against a lovely metalwork enclosure near the main altar.

Simple chairs against a lovely metalwork enclosure near the main altar.

The ever-present candles.

The ever-present candles.

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From AU to the UK to the EU in 5 weeks!

I’m tired just thinking about it — but we have gone from Australia to the UK to France in the very short space of 5 weeks. Seriously — whew!

We don’t bounce back energy-wise as fast as we did 20+ years ago — so we were well into Week 2 in England at Mark’s parents’ house before we started to shed SOME of the jet-lag. But even when we first arrived in France in the 3rd week of November, we were still exhausted.

Once we had the shopping and car insurance and ferry reservations and so forth sorted out, we drove in the wind and rain to Portsmouth to take the night ferry to Caen. I had booked a cabin so we could get some sleep, but the staff hadn’t finished cleaning the rooms when we arrived, so we ended up getting very few hours of shut-eye.

Waiting in a long and very slow line to board the ferry.

Waiting in a long and very slow line to board the ferry.

Waiting for our cabin to be cleaned in the blue-light disco.

Waiting for our cabin to be cleaned in the blue-light disco.

Arriving in France, we drove through persistent rain towards Caen and then south to the town of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives and onward to the nearby village where we will be living for the next several months as Mark does a large renovation project.

The house was built over several centuries — but the oldest section is from the 1400s. And the part we are living in — the red brick section — is from the 1800s. We even have a resident mouser named (badly!) Caramel who SHOULD be named Rocky because he’s such a sturdy bruiser of a cat. However (ahem!) — he has now adopted Mark and he follows him around like a puppy. So much for the cat’s stand-offish reputation!

The Normandy renovation project.

The Normandy renovation project.

Mark inside the renovation project.

Mark inside the renovation project.

Mark's new playmate -- the cat in residence.

Mark’s new playmate — the cat in residence.

The town of Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives is quite stunning and given the fact that they were occupied by the German army during World War II — a remarkable amount of truly old and lovely buildings are intact.

Every Monday morning, there is a large local market that takes place both inside the medieval market hall (another post about that coming soon!) and in the nearby street and huge parking lot. The range of fresh produce, cheese, wine, meat, seafood, and more was a wonderful surprise.

The packed Monday market in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

The packed Monday market in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Inside the historic medieval market hall at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Inside the historic medieval market hall at Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Rooflines show the overlapping time periods of the town.

Rooflines show the overlapping time periods of the town.

Leaning against a wall of the cloister, a statue awaits restoration of the abbey in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

Leaning against a wall of the cloister, a statue awaits restoration of the abbey in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives.

And finally — a hello from our next door neighbours on ALL sides — the lovely cows of Normandy. I’ll be back with more slices of life-in-France in the next few days. Enjoy!

The pretty cows in the fields next door.

The pretty cows in the fields next door.

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And So It Begins

 
And so it begins — the gathering up process prior to construction.

We’re serial renovators since every single house that we have ever owned has been a project. So that probably explains why Mark was not keen for us to buy a brand new house. And truthfully, I don’t mind the idea of taking a run-down property and completely transforming it. We’ve worked together for years running a restoration business both in Australia and on the road in Europe, so none of this is a drama.

We paid a visit to a tile warehouse the other day to pick up the tiles that I had purchased online for the kitchen backsplash. Here’s the vast space below and a sheet of the lovely glass mosaics we’ll be using. I particularly like the way the light will bounce off of them since every little rectangle has been imprinted with the texture of a hessian sack fabric in all sorts of different angles.

 

Tile warehouse

Tile warehouse


 
Sheet of glass mosaic tiles

Sheet of glass mosaic tiles


 

Once we got them back to our current (for a few more months only!) residence, Mark placed them on a vintage table that we have sitting beneath a window. I put the paint charts next to them (yes — that’s our ‘old friend’ the Dulux dog on that chart) and right behind it sits the new vintage themed Bush radio that I got for my birthday. That radio is going to be sitting on the kitchen counter and it certainly does go nicely with the colour scheme we’ve chosen.

 

The new kitchen colour scheme.

The new kitchen colour scheme.


 
The new retro Bush radio will fit right into our kitchen colour scheme!

The new retro Bush radio will fit right into our kitchen colour scheme!


 

Bye for now!

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©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Settling In, Settling Down, But Not Settling For

It was bound to happen after several years of travelling from country to country over a 3 year period. We were going to want to settle down, buy a house again, and settle in. That doesn’t mean that travel and travel writing or photography is off the radar, but it does mean that we’ll have a stable base to work from. And neither of us feels like we are settling for less than something wonderful!

We thought we had found home in the South of France, but as you have read in past posts, we were unwilling to commit ourselves to a country that wanted 60 percent (and climbing!) of our income in taxes and which would never provide a pension when we retired no matter how many years we had paid into the tax system in France.

Ah well — back to Australia we came after several years away and we landed in Melbourne 7 and 1/2 months ago. But no matter how much we love this city, it really isn’t quite what we are looking for long term. It’s bigger, busier, and noisier than what suits us — so we’ve been looking further afield. And we found it!

In exactly 7 weeks, we”ll be taking possession of our new house in the completely charming regional city of Ballarat — a little over an hour northwest of Melbourne. May I just say that working through the stacks of paperwork for a new mortgage were not my happiest moments, but I had a light-hearted attitude throughout the process because I was working towards our long-term goal. We got the pre-approval and then went looking for a house and what we found is a 1950 ranch house with 3 bedrooms and a huge lot that needs a LOT OF WORK in the months and years ahead. But what fun we are going to have as we transform it.

 

Front of our 1950 ranch house.

Front of our 1950 ranch house.


 

I’m putting this in print so that we can ALL remind Mark that he said this. I showed him a pristine and brand new house that he wouldn’t have needed to do a thing to other than fit out the garage with his racks of tools. But did he want that? No! He said that was too boring and he would prefer a fixer-upper that we could put our own stamp on. There you go — it has been documented!

There will be lots of posts in the coming months of various stages of renovation. And amidst all of those, I will sprinkle more travel posts and photo essays from Melbourne and regional Victoria and even some from Europe. If you plan to come to Australia, you mustn’t just stop at Sydney and forget about Melbourne or Victoria. It’s simply stunning over here.

Now you know why I’ve been posting rather sparsely lately. I’ve been slammed with paperwork and planning and house hunting. But we’re completely thrilled even with the prospect of years of work ahead to make it our ‘forever house.’

Bye for now!

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A Peek Inside At Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia

Following on from yesterday’s photo essay on the exterior of Federation Square — soaring spaces, modern lines, lovely light — all of these are elements that add to your enjoyment of a visit to the buildings of Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia. Here’s a peek inside!

 

The multi-story high atrium at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia

The multi-story high atrium at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia


 
The descent from street level down into the atrium and toward the National Gallery of Victoria's Ian Potter Gallery at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia

The descent from street level down into the atrium and toward the National Gallery of Victoria’s Ian Potter Gallery at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia


 
The lobby of the Ian Potter Gallery inside Federation Square

The lobby of the Ian Potter Gallery inside Federation Square


 

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Fabulously Fractured Facades in Metro Melbourne, Australia

We had just moved back to Melbourne, Australia in 2002 and this contentious and expensive cluster of buildings and paved courtyards were completed that same year. I remember the first time I saw Federation Square (now generally known by the shortened title of Fed Square) and it seemed raw, unfinished looking, and very windy at the time. But over the years it has grown on me and I now find it ‘interesting’ if not beautiful.

Housing the NGV Ian Potter art museum, ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), SBS Television and Radio Broadcasting Centre, and a range of cafes, bars, shops, and other cultural offices, Fed Square continues to provoke a love-hate response from both tourists and the citizens of Melbourne. Click on the first link in the article to read about some of the controversial decisions, negative reviews, and blow-out costs that surrounded this project.

 

The fractured and fragmented facades of the modern buildings at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia are a sharp contrast to the more traditional structures all around it.

The fractured and fragmented facades of the modern buildings at Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia are a sharp contrast to the more traditional structures all around it.


 
The buildings of Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia contain a cluster of arts organisations, a television and radio broadcasting centre, and several cafes and restaurants.

The buildings of Federation Square in Melbourne, Australia contain a cluster of arts organisations, a television and radio broadcasting centre, and several cafes and restaurants..


 
Another corner of Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne, Australia

Another corner of Federation Square in the heart of Melbourne, Australia


 

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©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
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