Homes Ready to Walk Into, A New Concept in Luxury Living

Homes Ready to Walk Into, A New Concept in Luxury Living
Homes ready to walkinto. Pictures on the walls, crockery in the cupboards, coordinatedcushions and throws adorning stylish furniture, wine cooling in thefridge. Not a packing box in sight.

These are Gerard Faivre's "ready-to-live-in" houses in Provence.Beautifully restored farmhouses and village holiday homes, eachrenovated to a high standard. Each with their own story.

But beware, such luxury and service doesn't come cheap.

It's a concept Faivre hit on by chance 6 years ago, when he and hiswife Cleo bought and restored a house in the Provencal village of StRemy, made famous by the painter Vincent van Gogh who loved the qualityof the light he found there.

They had only just moved in, when a neighbour asked whether she couldbuy it from them. For double his total investment of around 400,000euros, Faivre thought he would be a fool to turn it down.

So they packed up all the furniture and moved out. Only to be asked aweek later by the new owner, if she could buy the original furniture aswell, as the house just did not look right without it.

And so the "pret-a-vivre" house was born. First Faivre finds a house,then he restores, decorates and furnishes it. Only then, once he haseven spent a week or two living in the property to iron out any lastwrinkles, does he begin the search for a client ready to pay upwards of2.5 million euros ($2.9 million).

Six years on, the Faivres have transformed 17 houses in the Alpillesregion, with just the last two still for sale, the others having beensnapped up by wealthy movers and shakers.

Most are foreigners, British and American, most work in finance and they are increasingly young, aged between 25 and 40.

And they don't need to bother with niggling details like loans ormortgages. One of his last clients had a 3 million euro year-end bonusburning a hole in his bank account.

"These are people who work hard, and when they stop they don't havetime to be bothered with restoring houses and unpacking boxes. Theyjust want somewhere they can walk into," Faivre said.

For Faivre, who once worked in the family business running threeclothing factories, it's a risky business, as he's investing his ownmoney in the business which he runs with Cleo and his son, Cyril.

Architect, decorator, interior designer and real estate agent all atthe same time, Faivre takes charge of the building site on every newproject and aims to have the house finished within three to five monthswith up to 50 workmen on site throughout.

And he has run into none of the problems with procrastinating buildersalways promising work will start "tomorrow," which author Peter Mayleso humourously described in his bestseller A Year in Provence.

"I could write the opposite book to Peter Mayle. Right away I foundserious people, with whom I could work with. But I am on site every dayfrom 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, cracking my whip," he laughed.

No late starts, no stopping for the legendary two-hour lunch breaks, nowhipping out the bottle of pastis at every opportunity. But in returnhe provides work 7 months a year for regional artisans and craftsmen.

Now Faivre is turning his attention to the booming Paris propertymarket, where prices in the second quarter of 2005 rose 12.5 percent,on top of a 13.4 percent increase in the same period in 2004.

The Faivres have bought a 160-square-metre (1,700-square-foot)apartment in a 1937 building built for the cosmetics magnet HelenaRubenstein on Quai Bethune, on the upscale Ile Saint Louis whichnestles on the Seine River.

The aim is to create a luxury Paris "pied-a-terre" for a businessman orshowbiz personality with about 3 million euros to spend.

The furnishings have all been bought, and Faivre has set himself the challenge of finishing the work in just two months.

But there's one thing that is not supplied to the proud owner of aFaivre house; a photo of what their dream home looked like beforeFaivre got to work.

"On the one hand it could be tremendously complimentary for me, but onthe other it could give them a scare seeing what a state the house wasin before," he laughed, adding after all "I am selling a dream."

by Jo Biddle, Copyright 2006 Agence-France Presse