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June 2012 | Garlic soup followed by light bulbs of genius


I wake to find the town still recovering from its tenth Fête du Tourin, our annual garlic soup competition. It was a gruelling Saturday morning, with competitors being judged under the market house from 9am. I like garlic soup very much, but at breakfast time?

Our Mayor was one of the judges, and made a speech of welcome in which he joked that, by the end of the tastings, his garlic breath would be so bad nobody should come to his office till Wednesday. At least, I think he was joking.  



Off to Beaumont du Périgord for a completion inspection on Nell and Karl's barn conversion, which is looking rather splendid in the bright midday sun. The interior is cool and welcoming, and we do the tour together with the artisans, noting the few niggles that need attention.

They had only appointed me because they had no choice but to use an architect. Under French law, any project over 170 square metres has to be designed by an architect and Karl had made it clear they weren't very happy about it. They had thought it an unnecessary expense, so I had explained how my work could also contribute to the quality of the finished building.

A properly-designed and detailed house fits like a well-cut glove, and an architect also oversees the smooth running of the building works. Once they'd bitten the bullet we got on really well, and between us we have created a house that we are all rather proud of. As I leave, they give me a cheque for the final tranche of my fees, and I head back to the office with the feeling of a job well done.



A somewhat more difficult day today dealing with an angry and well-built roofer. He was recommended to me by the bricklayer on one of the new houses we're building and, after I'd checked him out and he'd put in a devis, he put the roof on. If it had been as well built as his torso there wouldn't have been a problem.

Generally he did a very tidy job despite having to wait out the worst of the winter weather. He should however have protected the roof timbers better while waiting for the weather to improve. As he didn't, there are patches bleached by the sun and other patches stained by the rain. He had offered to sand them clean but never got round to it despite my repeated reminders. In the end I ran out of patience and wrote to him saying, in line with the contract, that he should do it within seven days or I would get someone else to do it at his expense.

No reply. So I got it sorted and my client wrote him a reduced cheque, and now he's here and he's not happy. It's not a comfortable conversation and I don't naturally fall into the headmaster's role of reminding him of his responsibilities. When however he's finished shouting at me he, I'm able to get a word in edgeways to tell him I really appreciate the work he's got right. Between huffs, he says "J'en suis fier", he's proud of it, and "C'est une maison magnifique", which doesn't need translating.

And it is magnificent. Now it's plastered out and the light's streaming in, I find myself a touch awed by this "espace lumineux". Not many of my clients ask for a contemporary building, but by George the style works in this southern sunlight. I've done the right thing by my clients. I've designed something special for them, and given them the backup they needed when the going got tough.



A day of odds and ends, nothing to write home about, but this evening Mick and Jolita have invited me over for dinner. Theirs was the first house I designed in France, and the first I wrote about in French Property News. They have been building it themselves for four years now.

The building stands on a rise with views across the fields and wooded hills of the Lot-et-Garonne, and one of the lakes which dot the landscape here, sparkling in the setting sun. The untreated green oak frame of the house is starting to weather back to its eventual silver grey, contrasting its timeless solidity with the crisp modernity of the floor-to-ceiling glazing under the terrace.

We dine outside, the meal accompanied by a bottle of the local Buzet (nearly pronounced boozy), a fresh and fruity red that the locals prefer to "that foreign muck from Bordeaux", 60 miles away.

I notice a few missing shutters and some half-finished render and ask Mick when they expect to complete the house. His face lights up in a mischievous grin as he looks at Jolita, and replies in his broad Australian accent "Hopefully never mate, or she'll have me doing another one!"



Charlotte the practice manager comes in after lunch carrying enough bags to have emptied Bergerac High Street of clothes and shoes, and looking very glam in a Mary Quant-style A-line retro minidress (at least this is what she tells us it is). Pierre, Frederic and I immediately feel slightly dowdy by comparison, but quite perky and frisky at the same time. What fools we mere males are, but it's also good to remember how creations of beauty and elegance can lift the spirit. After all, that's what an architect's for.

 Neil Vesma’s Architect’s practice is at Villeréal near Bergerac. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or tel 0033 675 847 176, or visit his website www.neilvesma.com