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Old March 8th, 2006, 01:10 AM   #1
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Gerard Faivre's "Ready-to-Live-in" House

Homes ready to walk into, a new concept in luxury living

PARIS, Feb 28, 2006 (AFP) - Homes ready to walk into. Pictures on the walls, crockery in the cupboards, coordinated cushions and throws adorning stylish furniture, wine cooling in the fridge. 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, each renovated 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 six years ago, when he and his wife Cleo bought and restored a house in the Provencal village of St Remy, made famous by the painter Vincent Van Gogh who loved the quality of the light he found there.

They had only just moved in, when a neighbour asked whether she could buy it from them. For double his total investment of around 400,000 euros, 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 a week later by the new owner, if she could buy the original furniture as well 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 has even spent a week or two living in the property to iron out any last wrinkles, does he begin the search for a client ready to pay upwards of 2.5 million euros (2.9 million US dollars).

Six years on, the Faivres have transformed 17 houses in the Alpilles region, with just the last two still for sale, the others having been snapped 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 or mortgages. One of his last clients had a 3 million euro year-end bonus burning a hole in his bank account.

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

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

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

And he has run into none of the problems with procrastinating builders always promising work will start "tomorrow", which author Peter Mayle so humourously described in his best-seller "A Year in Provence."

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

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

Now Faivre is turning his attention to the booming Paris property market, where prices in the second quarter of 2005 rose 12.5 percent, on top of a 13.4 percent increase on 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 Helena Rubenstein on Quai Bethune, on the upscale Ile Saint Louis which nestles on the Seine River.

The aim is to create a luxury Paris "pied-a-terre" for a businessman or showbiz 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 a Faivre house -- a photo of what their dream home looked like before Faivre got to work.

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