How do you turn a crumbling French ruin into the ultimate family home? Jessica Salter investigates
It’s open house: how do you turn a crumbling French ruin into the ultimate family home? Create features from the missing parts first – then use nets instead of floors and ceilings, as Jessica Salter discovers
- Anna Chavepayre tells how she transformed the 300-year-old French farmhouse
- The architect and her husband found it in the Basque region, in 2012
- The stunning renovation was recently featured on Apple TV’s Home show
I can’t change it,” was Anna Chavepayre’s first thought as she opened the door of her dilapidated 300-year-old farmhouse and saw light streaming in through the collapsed roof. “It felt like finding an enchanted world – and I wanted to keep the sense of magic.”
Chavepayre, a Franco-Swedish architect, and her husband Julien found the farmhouse in the French Basque region in 2012 after years of searching.
It would become a family home for them and their two daughters, Lou, now 22, and Valentine, 17. Despite the condition of the property, the whole family was ‘enchanted’, she says: ‘Valentine, who was very young at the time, said to me, ‘I’ll just sweep up and we can move in.’
Although the farm needed more than a quick sweep with a broom—a year spent on design and planning rules, followed by construction—Valentine’s words matched her mother’s vision: Even in its dilapidated state, the property was perfect for Chavepayre. .
Increase the fun factor: Anna Chavepayre and husband Julien enjoy one of the two nets she has installed that give the farm such personality. ‘You can lie on it, read, sleep – and it doesn’t obstruct the view.’ Daughter Valentine makes the most of another playful addition: a swing. Swann the dog makes his own entertainment
Double work: Everything in the house is multifunctional. The library serves as a banister and at the same time creates its own reading space
Groom with a view: ‘Looking out over the mountains while you’re in the bath or shower is magical,’ says Chavepayre. “It really connects you to nature.” For similar tiles try claybrookstudio.co.uk
She explains: ‘You would never make a hole in a roof, but since it was there, I wanted to keep it. The light was incredible; it gave the feeling of being outside while being inside. You could even see birds flying overhead.’
So Chavepayre kept the opening and added a glass roof. And instead of safety railings, she installed a giant net that stretched across a wide-open area on the first floor. She says about this special addition: ‘A net is not only affordable, but you can also lie on it, sleep and play. It’s so versatile.’ In fact, she was so impressed with the idea of a net that she had one installed outside as well.
As the renovation was mostly done on budget – they had €300,000 to spend – moving the original thick walls of the farmhouse was too expensive, so Chavepayre had to work with the existing floor plan. This, she says, has “enabled the house to invent our lives for us.” By this she means that rooms have become multifunctional: bathrooms double as libraries, stairs provide seating and shelving. “Create uncertainty and see where it takes you,” she says of the unique flow of her home.
Wanna hang out? In the dining area, a small original window was opened to take advantage of the view of the Pyrenees, while the covered net above has caught Valentine’s eye as a place to relax. For a similar dining table, try oka.com
Outer Edge: A desk overlooks the inner net, with the glass roof above, and views over the countryside. “Wherever you are in the house, you have the feeling of being completely outside and inside at the same time,” says Chavepayre. For a similar desk, try the Bisley at johnlewis.com
Due to the strict budget, the couple decided to take advantage of parts of the house that many would have removed or restored. For example, the ground floor has been redesigned with an open living and dining area, while a bathroom, bedroom and storage room have been reserved behind the existing walls.
The renovation was recently featured on Apple TV’s Home show, in which daughter Lou, who has cerebral palsy and is studying for an MA in art, says her mother’s “craziness” inspires her. I ask Chavepayre if this project did indeed feel crazy at times. “Everything is crazy until it is no more,” she says. “It’s like when Lou was little and the doctors said she would never read or write – now she lives far from home and she’s an artist. This house was a ruin and was reclaimed by nature, and I wanted to keep it. With everything in life you should be free and not be afraid of the unknown.’
For more information about the renovation, visit collectifencore.com