Our London-based friend Helen Cathcart sent us photos recently of her newly renovated flat in Nice, which she restored in six short months and now rents out on Airbnb (follow her Instagram feed at @25RuePaganini). Here’s how it came about:
“I have a good friend who lives in Nice,” Helen says. “She’s renovated a couple of properties there, and I had an epiphany when I first walked into her house. She was living the dream and why not! She and her husband had left London and were living in this beautiful house on the Cote d’Azur, while all our friends in London were trying to buy a property that they couldn’t afford, which meant they ended up living in a house or apartment they didn’t like in an area they didn’t want to be in.
“I had saved up a deposit, but it would never get me the house I wanted in London. So I decided to throw that deposit into a small apartment in Nice and continue to rent the lovely place I had in London instead of buying. People can’t understand why you wouldn’t do everything you can to own in London rather than rent, but I figured I was buying myself a whole new lifestyle.
“All in all, it took approximately six months from purchase to finishing. It was held up at the end by various delivery mistakes. Our Ikea shipment was missing a kitchen cupboard and our supplier was running out of parquet and tiles (delivery is terrible in France, for some reason). We had stayed in so many mediocre Airbnbs in Nice during the renovation that I was determined ours would be a completely different experience, with higher-end finishes and the little things like nice crockery, bed linen, and lovely soap. And the parquet floor of course, which I sourced from Wood Floors 4 You. Not those horrible floating laminates. I wanted it to feel like an authentic experience.”
Join us for a tour:
Photography by Helen Cathcart.
“I don’t think I would have embarked upon the project without the encouragement of my friend there and her links to builders etc. Finding the property was very quick. We only looked at about five with local estate agents and were pleasantly surprised by what we could get for our money. I had my heart set on the Belle Epoque style, with floor-to-ceiling windows, high ceilings, and traditional shutters.
“The one we found had all this and was located on the fourth floor with no lift. This didn’t bother me at all as the stairs were so beautiful, but it proved to be a severe negative in trying to find a builder! It needed to be completely gutted, as it hadn’t been renovated since the 1980s and was very dated and tired. My boyfriend and I planned to renovate it and go there as much as we could. It’s less than a two-hour flight from London, and the airport is so close to Nice city center it takes about 10 minutes in a taxi to get to the apartment. Being so close to the train station also means that the apartment is a great jumping off point to go and visit places like Monaco, Antibes, Cannes (you can even nip to Italy for lunch). So we decided to go for it. I have to say buying it was so quick and easy. In France, once you make an offer it is taken off the market and then there is a 10-day cooling off period for each party.”
“The hardest part proved to be finding a builder. We thought we could just use our friend’s builder, but he was put off by the fourth floor with no lift and said it just wasn’t worth his time. Other builders were charging a massive premium for it being on the fourth floor, so what we had put aside for the renovation costs was going up and up. In the end, our friend’s architect recommended a young Tunisian builder who was really enthusiastic about it and that’s what we wanted, so we went with him. He spoke limited English and I spoke limited French, which made it very difficult when we weren’t together.
“If I were to do it again I would try to be on site much, much more. Sourcing the fixtures and fittings was also quite difficult. It took so long to find out which websites and shops were the equivalent of the ones I would intuitively go to in the UK. I was determined to have a wooden herringbone parquet floor, and in the end I sourced this in England and had it couriered over as this worked out cheaper than sourcing in France. A large part of the builder’s quote was made up of excavating the property, as everything had to be carried down the four floors. My brother agreed to do this as he has renovated a lot of properties himself, and my boyfriend helped haul the refuse out with two other men, which was back-breaking work but saved us a lot of money.”
For more idyllic French properties, see: