header FPN

April 2013 | Extending the Hotel Edward 1er Monpazier and the pre-emption rights of the Mairie to land purchase.

sketchYou may recall last month I was surprised by Neil and Kate's feedback on their new house design, saying it wasn't contemporary enough. I sent them a revised tongue-in-cheek sketch along the lines of a grass-covered Martian space ship, though I suspect I should have mentioned I was only joking. The clue was in their terribly polite reply, saying it was maybe a little too radically futuristic for their taste and would I mind awfully toning it down a bit? Getting their lawn mower up onto the roof wasn't going to be very easy either.

The real revision is in front of me now, a zinc-clad flat roof floating on glass above natural stone walls, a sculptural opening through the ceiling to drop light onto the kitchen worktops. They're much more enthusiastic now, and have nearly forgiven me the earlier scare.

TUESDAY The extension to the Hôtel Edward 1er in the pretty Dordogne bastide of Monpazier is coming on apace, and today is our regular chaotic site meeting out of which comes order, progress and a sense of purpose. How this actually occurs is beyond me, but it does. We are stood by the doors between the kitchen and the restaurant which have been fitted before the wall is built. This is perfectly normal but still looks bizarre to me.

hotel extension 2 - copie

Today's big issue is the staircase. Being an Etablissement Recevant le Public, a building open to the public, rules apply regarding the steepness of stairs and the height of individual treads. The problem is the disabled-access officer or fonctionnaire checking our pre-contract plans made a mistake at the time and is now saying we need an extra step. This will intrude into the corridor, creating a tripping hazard and causing us problems with the fire safety fonctionnaire.

hotel kitchen doors fitted but no wall - copie

It would have been OK had the project not been halfway complete already. As it is, I spend over an hour with the joiner, plasterer and mason talking through shaving centimetres off the length of the stairs, moving door positions, moving partitions. Robert the French joiner who will be fabricating and fitting the stairs goes off to work out actual dimensions on his laptop and will ring me to let me know if it fits. Fingers crossed then.

WEDNESDAY Bonne nouvelle! Good news the stairs will fit if each tread is 4mm shorter than the legal requirement. Mauvaise nouvelle!! Bad news we can't risk getting refused on a technicality when the hotel is inspected prior to opening.

This is getting critical. We need the stairs built and fitted before we can build the walls around it, it's too bulky to fit afterwards, and we need those walls finished, plastered, decorated and with their skirtings and cornices complete before the carpets go down and the lighting goes up. The hotel reopens in ten weeks, no time to arrange appointments with our friendly fonctionnaires to discuss options, so it's back to site to pull the rabbit out of the hat.monpazier square flower market - copie

LATER We were 7cm too long, but we sorted it. Arjan, the Dutch owner of the hotel accepted my solution: to knock down the bathroom wall facing the stairs and rebuild it 20cm further back. Luckily the new smaller bathroom is still a good size, and it gives us a more open approach to the restaurant entrance at the foot of the stairs.

THURSDAY Off today to a lovely hilltop town nestling in the vineyards of the Entre-Deux-Mers, with an impressive château perched on the edge of town overlooking the river valley beyond.

I've been asked to design and build a new house on a site my clients are purchasing a stone's throw from the château itself. The château is Listed so we have been negotiating with the conservation department, the ABF, over the positioning and appearance of the house, but now an entirely different spanner has been thrown in the works. It appears the Mairie has a right to pre-empt the purchase of any land in the commune, and in this case they have decided to do so. The vendor has no option: he either has to sell to the Mairie or withdraw the land from the market.

The Notaire dealing with the sale says this is the first time she has ever come across this right being exercised, so I've made an appointment with the Mayor herself to talk things through. You can do that sort of thing over here.

The meeting is not as frosty as the room we meet in, the château walls keeping the spring warmth at bay, and I find out the Mairie wants the land to build gîtes. The town lacks tourist accommodation and the land is perfect for it, having views of the château and being in walking distance of the shops and restaurants. The Mayor tells me of other building plots in the town which my clients might like, which is kind of her.

However I'm here to represent my clients and when she says they are looking to build fifteen or twenty units on the site I sense an opportunity, albeit a long shot. We conclude the meeting cordially and I leave, then immediately ring the head of the departmental ABF to let him know what the Mairie are intending. A development of that intensity has to have an impact on the château, and he's instantly concerned. He promises to look into it straight away. If the Mairie can't develop the site as they want, perhaps they will pull out. A long shot as I say, but worth a shout and it’s my job to look out for my clients.

friday house - copiefriday house 2 - copie

FRIDAY I’ve a site visit to do 20km away and it’s a sunny afternoon, so I squeeze into the lycra to go by bike. As I strut out of my office Charlotte gives a wolf-whistle and pretends to swoon. It’s nice to know I’ve still got it.  47 minutes 25 seconds later I’m at Ben and Caroline’s new house, which has just been rendered and is at last starting to look like it’s supposed to. It’s still a little austere without its shutters and surrounded by bare earth, but the setting is breathtaking and calming at the same time. Nobody’s around (it’s Friday afternoon after all) so I dangle my legs over the edge of the terrace, bask in the warmth and surrender myself to the peace. Time passes.

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

www.neilvesma.com     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     Tel  0033 675 847 176