Quirky property: Family turn laboratory into cut-price home near Paris

Change of use needed and a flood risk - how a 1980s lab offered a cheaper way to set up home in the French capital’s suburbs

The family spent €150,000 on overhauling the 200m² space
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The Zaidi family began searching for properties in Paris in 2006 with the aim of purchasing something to use as a ‘family headquarters’.

“We are all over the place – my parents are in Dubai at present, and we have lived in the UK, Algeria and the Gulf region previously,” explains Kinda, 38.

“We wanted somewhere for us to all come together when we want to.”

Buying the property was a risk

However, finding the right place – near the centre of the capital – proved more challenging than anticipated.

“We looked for five years in the Paris suburbs as city apartments were too small but everything we found was either too expensive or too close to other properties,” she says.

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Then, in 2011, Kinda came across an unusual property for sale. “It was a former technical lab, and didn’t yet have permission to be used as a residential dwelling,” she says.

“But this meant it was cheaper than other properties in the area.

“My father and brother are both architects so know how to navigate ‘change of use’ procedures.

“Purchasing the property was a risk – as permission might not have been granted – but we decided to have a look.”

On first viewing, it was far from homely

“I looked around it with my mother. There were no real rooms, just two square spaces – one at basement level, one on the ground floor. Each area was about 100m². The house is on a plot of 870m² and sits right in the middle of that.

“The lab was built in 1987 so everything needed modernising. There was also a river going through the back garden, which might have posed a flooding risk but I just said: ‘We’re taking it!’.”

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Kinda found it relatively easy to look beyond the clinical interior and see the potential for creating a comfortable home.

She was also relieved to find her flooding worries were groundless.

“The proximity of the river was a concern but we discovered that the architect who designed the building installed a pumping system, which kicks in when the water rises, to prevent flooding,” she says.

The family bought the property as a société civile immobilière (SCI), which enabled each member to have a stake in the building, paying a share of the overall purchase price, which was less than €500,000.

An early setback to their plans

“We had decided that instead of renovating, we would demolish the building and start again but city hall would not let us,” Kinda explains.

“We applied for change of use, though, which we got. It was a risk, but this is why the price was so affordable for the area in which we live, just 20km from Paris city centre.”

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Once the sale completed, the real work began

“We created two living areas, one of which we might rent out in future,” says Kinda.

“The basement level has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen area, with separate access. Meanwhile, the main floor has a living room, dining room, a bedroom, two studies, two bathrooms and a kitchen.”

While the rather utilitarian building might not have had much ‘kerb appeal’, Kinda relished the prospect of renovating a ‘shell’.

“It was great, as we were able to create the space we wanted,” she says.

One benefit of buying a non-residential building is that the family now have a house in a unique location.

“We have one neighbour, and on the right we have a park.

“The house faces the river and another park. On the other side of the river are houses, so we have the best of both worlds – we are near people, but it also feels as if we live in the middle of the countryside.

“We can’t hear anything from our neighbours, and we see a lot of animals, such as foxes and ducks.

“We have river access and can fish if we want to”

Already risen in value by 50%

Another advantage of keeping the original laboratory building is the enormous windows that flood the house with light: “We call it the ‘summer house’ because there are windows everywhere – everything feels open.”

At present, Kinda lives in the house, with other family members moving in and out or staying from time to time.

Eventually, however, her parents will live in the property full-time on retirement.

“Our only concern was that we are away from amenities – you need to take a bus or have a car.

“But when we inquired with an estate agent, we were told we would never find a place like this again, unless we wanted to pay €2-3million. It is truly unique.”

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The property has risen in value by more than 50% since its purchase, making the €150,000 spent on renovations a worthwhile investment.

Although the original plans the family had for the building did not come to fruition, they now have a distinctive property in a city location for a fraction of the price.

“We took a risk and it paid off,” Kinda says.

“It’s unusual from the outside – some people call it the space station – but we love it. It’s a real haven in the middle of the city.”

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