Started January 16, 2017
Dear Diary, Friends, and Families,
Less than a year after moving into adequate rental space, Marianne and I decided to buy our own place. At the time, we convinced ourselves that the rent we were paying was just a drain, whereas a purchase "might" be financially positive. We knew no ex-pat who had taken such a step, but the theory seemed solid. Besides, we had finally closed on the sale of our condo in San Jose, so I think the money was burning a hole in our pockets. Just a hunch.
Nadia, the real estate agent who had found our rental, assured us it was a great time to invest in Kiev (English and Russian - Kyiv in Ukrainian), and she started showing us candidate properties. We were looking for "historic", but most were absolute disasters, far beyond our vision or our nerve. Each was subject to the communist era fallout of having multiple owners. A majority were filthy and falling down, dangerous to even walk through. However, from the dozen or so candidates, one offered hope.
The apartment on Artema (or Arteoma or Artyma) was owned by a family who had made it their home for years. It had been divided into three or four separate spaces, but they were divided among family members (two grown daughters, with husbands and at least one baby, plus a dad and his mother, his wife having died the year before). It was relatively clean and in tact and showed it's turn-of-the-century style (built about 1906, as I recall), hidden by the soviet-added walls, but "the bones" were right.
On November 16, 1999, we paid about $70,000 for the 1300 square foot flat, in cash, in a darkened room. The money was counted into five stacks, one for each owner (Dad, sisters, Gramma, and a share for the deceased mother, which was then split between the daughters). For the next six weeks, we had to wait as the family used our money to find new housing. As a holdover from communist time, the law in Ukraine required that no sale could be final before the original occupants had been resettled.
It was a nerve-racking time, but it gave us a period to dream and find the folks necessary to make our dreams come true. We started with Lena, the interior designer who had created some furniture for us. We asked if she knew an architect and she volunteered that, in fact, she was trained as an architect and could take on our remodel task.
We asked Nadia for a recommended general contractor and she said an American, "Mike" (I forget his last name!), had done work for some of her clients and seemed reliable. Mike was as enthusiastic and confident as Lena. Somewhere along the way, we asked Lena if she could work with Mike's firm and she agreed, as did Mike in reverse. So, our team was shaping up. Later, Lena admitted that her husband was in fact Mike's staff architect, the guy that handles all the technical stuff while she does the creative interior work.
In less than six months, they had transformed a ruin into a city palace, worthy of Architectural Digest. Really (Ukrainian version).
What more to say? We enjoyed the place for our stay and we cried when we sold it days before we moved to Frankfurt in 2001 (to another American, recovering our money and enabling HIM to make a good deal of money a few years later.) For me, it remains the standard of an urban residence we can only dream of today.
The illustrated story can be told a few different ways. At the time, Marianne put together a picture book to show friends and family and it gives an excellent overview, from an early walk-through up to the Architectural Digest summary that Lena arranged for our project. Click on the picture to see.
In early 2000, I was still sending emails back to friends and family, sharing our overseas experiences.. In five of those, from January through March, I told the story of our project, from the doubts and the rough construction, up through near completion. These would later be converted to pages on our website (trotter.ws) and, even today, offer insight into what we were going though. This is a wonderful endorsement of the value of a diary!
Here are links to those first five diaries:
Our photo record also has a full range of memories and it is fun to see what we recorded, but did not send out to friends and family at the time.
For example, here are shots from our first walk through after getting possession of the keys. Clearly, the place was rougher than we wanted to publicly admit in emails back to America.
Our best record of the various remodel stages is in the diaries and Marianne's picture book (above), but the photo record adds a few shots of important details, important to us anyway.
Here are some "as-built" pictures, taken at about the same time as our famous magazine spread. The magazine photographer was better, I have to admit. The flat still lacked some of the personal touches it later acquired.
The most important part of our Kiev apartment was that we could entertain there. I wonder where all these folks are today? We are still friends with several, including Chin and Peter, whom we will join next month on a trip to Havana.
Earlier, we showed "rough before" and "as-built" photos, but here are pictures from late in our stay, more like "as-remembered."
The end of our time in the Artema flat came in two stages. For reasons we can explain, I think, we decided to quit Kiev and travel Europe. Something about being reminded of what was important in life. The plan was to lock the door at the end of September, 2001, fly to Helsinki, and drive a Porsche for as long as the money held out. After plan-altering events on the 11th, we did manage a going away dinner or two. Still a nice place to entertain.
On September 30th, we called a driver (Dima or Yurii, I forget which) and headed off with bags packed for a new adventure. We would not see the apratment for seven months, but reliaable Nadia made sure there was no change in all that time.
In fact, that was one aspect of the Artema flat, its relative safety and freedom from worry, that I have since missed. At the time, we just didn't think about such things.
We came back in early April, 2002 and the flat was as good as ever. Unfortunately, our future was more uncertain than ever. I tried, unsuccessfully, to get back a job with my old company, but that fell apart during a family trip we made to the The States. Back again in Kiev, times were apparently uncertain enough that I don't even have pictures from that era!
However, my US trip had also included a job interview with the American part of Framatome ANP, and they were interested in my services for work they had pending in France or Germany. Somehow, it was decided that Frankfurt would be our new home, for a few months at least. We would rent or sell the Artema flat, or so that was the plan.
Days before we got on a plane to Frankfurt for house-hunting, Nadia found us a buyer who wanted the property and everything in it. That worked for us, so we signed a deal that called for three years of renting and then final purchase.
As I recall, we then had a hectic trip back to find a mover, pack up everything, and get back on a plane to Germany. I have to admit my memory is fuzzy for this period and I was clearly too busy to write diaries or even take many pictures.
One part of moving from our flat was that we would need to leave behind all our antiques. We knew this would happen, but it was painful nonetheless. We get attached to nice things.
We sorted everything and took a few more pictures to remember.
Shortly after everything was packed, I flew off to the new job in Frankfurt while Marianne and the movers were left with the task of navigating the export of our goods. Another story, but one she needs to tell in person. Just ask.
So, were we crazy to take on such a project? Or, perhaps for leaving it behind after so little use? Financially, we broke even, no more money out than we put in, and no less. Emotionally, the stress was considerable, but today I can not even remember it. Maybe that's the answer. It was a wonderful experience, an important chapter in our lives, and can still serve for memories. And THAT's why I did this diary.