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January 2013 | Hotel Edward 1er Monpazier extension and renovating a sous-sol in Capbreton


The year has ended with a bang. Not only did I accidentally discover a Frenchman hiding in the boot of Charlotte's car last month, but we've also had three major projects start on site. It's going to be a week travelling round south-west France for me, starting tomorrow in the Medoc north of Bordeaux where Charlie & Chris are having a housewarming (in both senses) now their job is finished and the heating system has been commissioned.two cats looking out of oeil de boeuf window in the medoc - copie


They are both happy and relaxed when I arrive late afternoon, despite a 3.20am water leak which the contractor fixed by midday. A small glass of champagne, canapés and conversation while Mo and Jo their twin tabby cats look on from a safe place on the mezzanine. The sun has set by the time I'm ready to leave, and the outside lights pick out the warm stone walls against the deep blue sky. We recall the mess the house was in when we started and realise how far we've come. Charlie tells me that I don't need to change their names for the diary, so thank you Mark and Lon for being exemplary clients and for giving us the opportunity to realise your dream home.


I head south down the Atlantic coast, through pine forest and past Biscarrosse and Mimizan to Capbreton, the first of our new sites.

Surf's up! Capbreton and neighbouring Hossegor host a round of the world surfing championships, and the rollers coming ashore are nearly as impressive as the customised camper vans lining the front.surfs up at capbreton - copie

The site is within earshot of the sea, a 1970's sous-sol, a detached house with its sitting room and kitchen upstairs, accessed by external steps and a balcony over an integral garage. This form of house was popular at the time as it attracted a lower rate of property tax or taxe d'habitation than a traditional house, but it doesn't really suit our clients' needs.

Gavin and June Davies hail from York and are looking to spend six months of the year here when Gavin retires this spring. Capbreton is easily accessible for them, their children and grandchildren as Biarritz airport is only half an hour away, with twice-weekly flights from Manchester. They love swimming so we are shoe-horning the longest heated pool possible into their back garden, and we're here to meet the pool installer as well as the main contractors. Gavin is here with his son Joe, and in no time we're into the detail of liner colours and retractable covers.

Interestingly, the pool covers are guaranteed against all damage except hailstones, falling pine cones and golf ball impact, which gives you some idea of the climate, indigenous vegetation and lifestyle out here.

As Pierre, our project manager, discusses details of skimmers and salt treatment with the pool guy, I take a look around in the house. We're completely reconfiguring the inside, so all the internal fittings and partitions have been gutted. Except the first floor toilet suite, phew! I suppose I should check the flush is still working before I go, but I don't. I pull the chain, it flushes. Double phew!! And then a noise like Niagara Falls from downstairs: they've left the wc working but removed the waste pipe. Lucky I only needed a wee then. Phew.


Back up from the Basque Country through the Landes, Gers and Lot-et-Garonne to the Dordogne for the next site meeting. Isn't France big when you're driving?hotel edward 1er facade - copie

I'm rather proud of this next project, it's at the 3-star Hôtel Edward 1er at Monpazier, a beautiful turreted micro-château built off the ramparts of this stunning fortified bastide town. Arjan Capelle and his wife Marije moved from Holland ten years ago to breathe life back into the 12-bed hotel and now are extending into an adjoining building, putting in five extra rooms and a grander salle for their restaurant gastronomic.

Being a building open to the public in a conservation area, the design had to satisfy the conservation planners at the ABF, the fire safety commission and the disabled access commission, as well as enhancing the charm of the hotel within a not-ungenerous but finite budget. Oh, and it all had to be completed in a year. No pressure then.

We've been having four-hour meetings with tablefuls of contractors to cut every unnecessary euro from the specification, all the while leaning on the Mairie and the Conseil Général to help us speed up the Permis de Construire, while Arjan has been lining up the bank and the building purchase so not a day is lost. In the end, the Permis was granted, the purchase was finalised and the first contractor started on site all within seven working days.

I spend the afternoon setting out loadbearing walls and drainage points with the contractor, all to the nearest centimetre and get back home at 7.30 with a feeling of a job well done but also, frankly, pooped.


beaumont kitchen sketch - copieSo I'm not too upset when I find an email from the Beaumonts canceling our meeting this afternoon on our third new site. Their flight from Beijing has been delayed so we'll meet after the weekend. I email them my pencil sketch of their kitchen to cheer them up for a minute or two of their eight-hour sojourn in the departure lounge.

And what was Antoine doing in Charlotte's boot? Fixing her CD changer when the wind blew it shut. Believe that, and you'll believe anything. Happy New Year.

Neil Vesma’s architect’s practice is at Villeréal near Bergerac


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