This was our second house for the same client. They had come to us years after we designed the “Island House” (also on this website). They said “after we moved into the island house we liked it so much that we decided to make it more than a vacation place so we sold our city house and live on the island full time. But now we don’t have a vacation house so we need you to do another one for us, this time in France.” The property is just north of the Spanish border near the Mediterranean Sea in a valley that is steeped in history with a famous Cathar castle hanging off the edge of a cliff nearby.
Because of the historic nature of the valley, local bylaws required the house to be built on the foundation of an ancient ruined building on the property. But a beautiful almond tree had grown up in the middle of the ruin, so we turned the ruin into a walled garden for the kitchen and built the house beside it, with the kitchen wall sitting on one wall of the ruin. (In this picture, the house is straight ahead on the right.)
In keeping with the neighbouring buildings, the house was built of masonry block with rough stucco walls, red tile roofs and wooden shuttered doors and windows. The shutters are not just stylistic. In addition to securing the house against thieves and small animals, they buffer it from brutal winds that howl down from the mountains for days at a time.
The house is less than 10 years old but it feels like it has been in the family for generations. Unlike most of our projects where the precise design and careful craftsmanship are visible, this project required that all precision be hidden so the spaces could have a relaxed, rustic feel.
The massive stone and plaster fireplace provides a visual anchor for the entire main floor of the house. Grape branches from the vineyard are burned all winter long to ward off the chill of the howling winds that sweep down the valley from the Pyrenees beyond.