When Vicki Jeynes, 64, first saw La Pagode, it was love at first sight. The unusual home caught her attention when she began a property search in the south of France in 2018.
“I’d always loved France, so when the Brexit vote came through in 2016, I decided to make my dream of living here become reality,” she says.
When her UK house sold in October 2018, former freelance HR consultant Vicki rented an apartment in La Seyne-sur-Mer in the Var while she looked for somewhere to buy.
“I’d owned a holiday apartment in La Seyne since 2010, but stopped coming four years later when my mum was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” she says.
“I sold the flat after her death in 2015. When I came back for a holiday in 2017, however, I decided to make it my permanent home.”
It was early into her stay that Vicki saw La Pagode while out walking with a friend. Noticing that it had a ‘for sale’ sign, she later looked it up.
Overcoming budget constraints: persistence pays off
Her first inquiries, however, suggested it was not meant to be: “It was way over budget, so I tried to forget it.”
She spent the next year looking at and dismissing various properties in the area but La Pagode remained in her mind. “I kept walking past it – it was on the way to the shops, the beach and seafront restaurants – and I kept thinking ‘I wonder’.”
Finally, after speaking to her financial adviser, Vicki cashed in an investment and had the money to buy it.
She also found out how it came to be built with such an oriental look. “I discovered that it was built by a French naval officer in 1929. That’s why it’s located on the seafront, opposite the naval base in Toulon.
“The officer had previously been posted to somewhere in Asia, perhaps Indonesia,” says Vicki. “He married an Indonesian lady. When he brought her back here, he had La Pagode built with an oriental-style roof to make her feel more at home.” Unfortunately, the inside of the property did not match its smart and unusual exterior.
“The building was divided into two apartments and the downstairs one was in a poor state of repair,” says Vicki, adding that it had no natural light. The upper floor was better, but had fallen into disrepair.
“The house had belonged to an elderly couple, who hadn’t been there for years, and it had been on the market for three-and-a-half years. It was filthy inside and needed a lot of work,” she says.
However, having set her sights on the property, Vicki was unfazed: “Everything had to be redone, but in my mind I could see how I wanted it to be. I knew I could bring it back to its former glory.”
While the house plus renovations came over budget, Vicki has no regrets. “My original budget was €350,000 and I would have been a cash buyer with no mortgage. With the cost of the house, plus renovations, I’ve paid in excess of double that, and now have a small mortgage as well.
“It’s not what I’d planned for my retirement but at least I am absolutely sure I’m living where I’m meant to be.”
Transforming the property
In the almost four years since she bought the house in July 2019, Vicki has transformed the interior. However, as the property is unique and in a protected area, nothing has come easy.
“The windows at the front have an unusual design, which is replicated on the doors inside.
“All the windows are arched and at the front there are glass panels with slats,” she explains.
“The windows needed to be replaced, but in order to do so, I had to have them custom-made.
“I was also restricted with regards to the colours I used for the shutters, because the property is protected. I needed permission to alter the exterior.” Despite the unusual window and door designs, the rest of the property’s interior is fairly standard.
However, this works well for Vicki. “It’s nice and light and bright now,”
she says. “And the French windows overlooking the sea are a real feature.”
The downstairs apartment has also been renovated.
“I had to have that completely gutted and put back together again,” she says.
The joy of living by the sea
Vicki, who is now self-employed organising gîte changeovers, lives on the upper floor and has tenants in the downstairs apartment, which helps to supplement her income.
While the renovation has been complicated, Vicki has no regrets.
“The best part is the sea,” she says. “I have a 180-degree view of it and that’s just wonderful – like living on a boat.”