Rising early to prepare a complete French breakfast doesn’t bother Kristie Worrel one bit. She and her husband Jim are living their dream, owning and operating Villa La Riante, their bed and breakfast just minutes from Paris on a regional subway ride.
In English the name “Villa La Riante” means “the charming, or pleasant villa.” In French culture, their home is une vieille dame, one very classy, elegant old lady built in 1869.
Michigan natives, the couple moved to Paris 21 years ago when Jim worked for Total Petrochemicals. Jim’s contract was for five years but rather than leave their adopted country, which they had grown to love, Jim sought another job, and the couple successfully stayed on in France permanently.
But it wasn’t until five years ago, as retirement neared, that the couple finally began the search for their dream. “It had always been a lifelong ambition of ours to buy and renovate an old historic house and to open and run a bed and breakfast,” says Kristie.
So when the couple found Villa La Riante in the Paris suburb of Le Vésinet, a leafy, lake-dotted village, they were delighted. “To have this opportunity in Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, made it a double dream come true,” says Kristie.
Theirs was not an entrepreneurial decision made lightly, though. “The house had been for sale for almost two years, and most potential buyers who came through the gate to look at her quickly fled in the opposite direction when they saw the amount of work to be done,” explains Kristie.
“But not us. We had the property surveyed and spent hours looking at financial requirements, not to mention the ‘sweat factor,’ with all the work to be done. Then we came to the joint decision to go for it!”
And personal commitment has dominated the Worrel’s labor of love for the past five years. Kristie worked as a school teacher in Paris when they began their work and spent weekends and vacations realizing their dream. Jim, too, spent his time off work carefully stripping and restoring the parquet floors, the woodwork and moldings, and outdoor terraces and gardens.
The Provence-red mansion was once a Catholic girls’ school, and Kristie and Jim found old school tablets and other supplies on the third floor, the one they claim for their personal and private life. The ornate grill work of the radiators and fireplaces had been painted over, and when restored, revealed beautiful craftsmanship. All renovations were completed with respect for the original design.
“It’s been a lot of work (a venture certainly not for everyone)… a five-year process of working Monday through Friday at real jobs and then coming home to spend every weekend and vacation working on ‘the site.’
“Jim and I are impassioned do-it-yourselfers. Of course, I speculated that the real reason Jim was excited to take on this project was because it gave him an excuse to buy every power tool and implement in existence. But without a doubt, as he says, the right tool allows you to do the job right!”
And it wasn’t cheap. The couple invested close to $1.3 million buying the property and more again on the restoration and renovations. “Most of the money came from years of saving so we could invest in this dream. But our villa is 2,400 square feet on a plot of 7,000 square feet in total. Contrast that with a 500-square-foot fixer-upper in Paris, which can sell for as much as $650,000, and you can see the value,” says Kristie.
“Location was a huge factor in sealing the deal. This is an exceptionally lovely and historic suburb just 20 minutes from the heart of Paris and sitting ideally on a major train line.
“Our guests can walk by a former home of jazz singer Josephine Baker, dine at excellent village restaurants, and venture to Versailles, Giverney, Chartres, or the famous La Maison Fournaise on Île des Impressionists in Chatou, where Renoir painted his well-known work Luncheon of the Boating Party,” says Kristie.
B&B life is booming, according to the couple. “Our rates are $104 to $156 per night, depending on room size, and we’re running fully booked every weekend and many of the weekdays.”
There are four comfortable, en suite guest rooms, titled Chablis, Chardonnay, Bordeaux, and Burgundy. Kristie welcomes guests with a champagne aperitif and a scrapbook detailing their restoration efforts. In addition to croissants and coffee, Kristie serves cereals, yogurt, juice, and eggs prepared to order for breakfast.
“This house was in desperate need of renovation, but after five years we’ve definitely breathed new life into her. It’s been an incredible adventure and well worth it,” says Kristie.
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