PROJECT RESTORATION 3 - THE BARN
Thursday 25 August 2005, by
How to build a brand new house inside some 14th century walls ..
This entire project is not so much one of restoration, more of building a brand new house in an ancient shell. We again stumbled upon the place by accident, as usual. It strikes me that property buying down here is largely a matter of opportunism; being in the right place at the right time.
We have now owned the barn for over a year and it is taken almost all this time to get a clear idea in my head as to what I would like to do to it, and secondly getting the building permit.
The barn is immense - 10 meters high and 116m2 floor surface, with a 50m2 courtyard at the front and a small terrace (27m2) at the near. Because the surface area of the livable space we were intending to create exceeded 170m2, we were obliged to go through an architect. This is a French statutory requirement. I am used to drawing up plans as this was always a regular part of my work when I was a building contractor. However, what the architect insisted on, in order that he would put his rubber stamp to my plans, drove me to distraction. This being said, when finally the plans were submitted, everything went through very smoothly.
The main controlling body when dealing with a property in a listed village is the "Architecte de Batiment de France" (ABF). This is a name to strike fear and loathing into all builders and architects alike. They are equivalent to the UK "English Heritage". After two lengthy meetings with our appointed architect, we arrived at an amicable compromise regarding new openings etc.
At this point, I should describe the barn and its rather special location. Gabian is a listed village thanks to its church and also the building that used to house the bishops, both superb examples of medieval architecture and stonework. The history of Gabian goes back before the Romans. The barn actually forms part of the old ramparts. A stone construction with walls 1m50 thick, overlooking the river Thongue. From several conversations with the local archaeologist, it appears that the basic construction of the barn dates back to the 14th century and was at the time a "maison de seigneur". It can clearly be seen from various carved stone corbels remaining in the walls that there used to exist a structure of arches forming the basic supports to the upper floors. The existing façade is relatively recent.
With the co-operation of our beloved ABF, we arrived at a plan to open two windows through the ramparts looking out over the river and the vista of rolling Languedoc landscapes. We also agreed on a plan to completely rebuild the façade. Fortunately neither the ABF nor the Mairie are in the slightest bit concerned about what happens inside the building architecturally. Although, given we are putting a new electricity supply in, we shall have to undergo a full examination of the circuitry and installation in order to qualify for a certificate of conformity. (If we had mains gas the same would be the case, however, Gabian does not.)
The barn itself has been partly hewn out of the solid rock face. The ground floor is mostly solid rock - no need for hardcore! We have started works with a load bearing central wall cutting the ground floor into two halves; one half will be the garage, boiler room and services; the other half will be an indoor heated swimming pool. Because we are on solid rock there is no question of digging the pool into the ground, as you would normally do. So I’m going to build off the floor in a system of reinforced concrete and blocks. The pool will be heated from a solar panel on the roof with twin pumps providing a powerful current of water, strong enough to swim against. I’m planning on a "broken tile" finish above water level not unlike that which can be seen in Barcelona in the Gaudi Park Guel. On the same level, there will be a shower room and a WC.
There will be a stone staircase going up to the first floor on the left. I want to make the most of the space and the vaulted window opening over the river with an open plan kitchen and living area (60m2). This area will be open to the roof. To the right, there will be two bedrooms with en suite bathrooms. A second staircase will lead to an open gallery passage and a third bedroom. On the same level will be an open mezzanine forming possible sleeping area or office/studio or whatever.
This is the biggest and most exciting project I have undertaken to date.
We shall post regular progress reports on the site.