The Big Fireplace Operation and a Delinquent Seller

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The Big Fireplace Operation is obviously taking longer than expected, but that is no surprise. Renovations always take longer than expected. First, Relationnel underestimated the size of the fireplace itself. Second, it turns out that someone along the way used it incorrectly resulting in a thing called bistre which is a brownish substance made of burnt soot and tar and can burn your house down if not removed.

Fireplace with bistre

Bistre is removed by tapping away with a pickaxe. You may remember that I moved down to Blois temporarily to escape the renovations on my balcony in Paris. Well, it’s the same sort of noise. My office is just next door. I do not, however, have to listen to a radio blasting away and workmen shouting at each other. And there are no pneumatic drills.

Triangle after chipping off facing, showing metal bar

Before removing the bistre, Relationnel also chipped off the facing of the upper part of the fireplace, above the mantel, revealing a triangular-shaped hole. He had previously propped up the sunken mantle which had been erroneously reinforced with a horizontal bar by someone who obviously didn’t realize (I’m sure I would have …) that the metal would expand when the fire was lit and push the sides of the fireplace further, causing the mantle to sink even further.

Mason’s trestles being installed to hold up mantle

At this juncture, a visit to BricoDepot was needed to buy some bright orange mason’s trestles. I must have been really desperate to get out the house to go on that excursion! First, you identify what you want in a catalogue, then you pay for it. You get one of those little raffle tickets that you give to the warehouseman when it’s your turn. He takes you to the storage area and unloads your purchases onto a large trolley. Then you get his mate to stamp your raffle ticket. You can tell why it’s the cheapest DIY place around.

After removing the keystone

The mason’s trestles are needed so that Relationnel can remove the mantle, which consists of several large stones with plaster holding them together, in preparation of the next phase. The sides of the fireplace also needed to be sanded down to remove various layers of paint. That also produced a somewhat unnerving noise.

Keystone with a piece of plaster fallen off

In the meantime, we got a call from Mr Previous Owner whom we had told about the Big Fireplace Operation. You know that big, square jagged hole above the mantle? Mr PO told us it happened when the crest stone with the construction date of the house – 1584 – was removed for renovation. The stone was damaged beyond repair. I always thought that was a bit strange because none of the fireplaces are in working order. Anyway, he had a new crest stone made by a stone cutter’s school  somewhere along the way using a photo of the original and gave it to us when we got the keys to the house.

Fireplace with mantle removed

Well, it turns out to be a little more complicated. It seems that Mr Previous Previous Owner had to sell the house because of his divorce and wanted a keepsake – SO HE REMOVED THE CREST STONE. Can you imagine that anyone who loved historical buildings enough to buy Closerie Falaiseau and undertake its entire renovation would destroy its very soul? The man is delinquant.

Fireplace with hole where the crest stone was removed

Mr PO, who has remained in contact with Mr PPO for some reason, phoned him and asked him if he would return the crest stone to us since we’re renovating the fireplace . Mr PO believed he was going to do so, but when Relationnel spoke to Mr PPO on the phone, he said he wasn’t ready yet and would have to check we were restoring the fireplace correctly! What utter cheek !

New crest stone with 1584 just visible

We also learnt that Mr PO was able to have the new stone made from a plaster cast of the old one which turned up in the house next door, owned by Mr PPO’s brother who no longer owns his house either.Mr PPO was supposed to come by today but he obviously didn’t. Relationnel says there is no way he is going to set foot in the door without the stone. I agree of course. So we’re going ahead and using the new stone as planned.

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19 thoughts on “The Big Fireplace Operation and a Delinquent Seller”

  1. What an outrageous story! At least you have been able to track the sequence of events, which is more than most people get to do in these architectural mysteries.

    Do you know who MB was? One day you will have to trace your building’s history in the archives — a project for when you are retired I think.

    1. We may get the crest yet – we heard from Mr Previous Owner that he’s working on it! We don’t know who MB was. The previous owners tried to track it down without success but when I’m retired – which is not for the next 6 or 7 years for me, I’m afraid – I’ll definitely search the archives.

      1. I’ve got the booklet from the notaires explaining how you follow the document trail through the archival references and clues. I’ve heard from people that have done it that the archivists are super helpful and absolutely delighted when some member of the public turns up to brighten their day with a request. The old hand written documents can be quite hard to read though. We know the history of our place back to the mid-19th C from what is on the deed, but beyond that is just guessing. There is a very interesting theory about why our place exists, so one day we will have to take ourselves off and do the serious research.

  2. Oh Lordy!! This looks like dangerous work! Please be careful, relationnel!! …and keep the noise down as well ;). The ppo is obviously a nutter! …Looking forward to seeing the end result.

    1. I was a bit worried initially as well, but he seems to have it all under control. I’m hoping to post the end result by the end of the week …

  3. Really sorry to hear about your problems. That is so disappointing and complete vandalism to do that to a 600 year old building. Hope decency prevails and the keystone is returned.

  4. How amazing to think that somebody put that horizontal bar in. I wonder how long ago that was?

    Very funny story. Hope you get your fireplaces sorted soon. Christmas is coming and you need a nice big roaring fire to sit around.


    1. Yes, you never know what you’ll find! Unfortunately Relationnel is working at Christmas so we’ll be in Paris, but I am hoping to see in the New Year sipping champagne and eating foie gras in front of a blazing fire in our renovated fireplace. I think it’s keeping Relationnel motivated!

      1. Ahem…I do hope you mean sparkling Vouvray or crémant de Loire. Champagne in the Loire — tsk– so over-priced and trading on it’s name at the expense of quality. Support your local vignerons ! :-))

        1. I’m afraid there is no way that I could consider drink sparkling vouvray or crémant de Loire on a festive occasion such as New Year. I am a true champagne lover and have my own not over-priced source of vintage champagne that I have been enjoying for fifteen years. I am happy to support local vignerons for their other wines though but I have a very eclectic cellar and like different wines from different regions for different occasions and different foods. All our wines come from the cellar door and over the years we have developed friendships with wine growers all over France and even Italy.

  5. Looks like a scary undertaking. I hope you get the crest back! PPO does sound nuts!
    I hope you do get your lovely New Year’s fire 🙂

    1. Thank you! Relationnel is very convincing when he explains it all so I guess it’s going to work out! And maybe PO will convince PPO into giving us back the crest. He seems very hopeful.

  6. What a wonderful job Relationnel is doing. I hope you enjoy your champagne at New Year, it sounds great, we’ll probably be trying to keep cool under the trees in the back yard.

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