Renovation / transformation

Reconnecting with time

Zoom in: France, Haute-Savoie department, valley of Montjoie, municipality of Saint-Gervais-les-Bains, Saint-Nicolas-de-Véroce village. A main road, a beautiful church, a few farms and houses, and, at 360°, the powerful presence of the Alps emerging from behind the pine forests. One hour away from Geneva and at an altitude of 1180 meters, this decor serves as a backdrop to a lovely property that has been in the same family for nearly a century.

Acquired after the Great War by a successful Parisian following the Alpine tourism movement and the so-called return to the simplicities of nature, this barn transformed into a chalet is the place where parents and children, siblings and cousins from “the city” have converged every summer. Built in 1874, the house shows the efficiency of mountain constructions.

Placed below the road, with its roof ridge facing the wind in order to facilitate the drying of hay at the time, its wooden structure rests on stone foundations that formed a cave used for aging cheese. The exterior envelope hides a framework of beams and wooden planks that have been extended over time, with a few brickwork additions, destined to improve what would be audacious to call “comfort.” But as the 21st century welcomes the fifth generation of children, and as the roof and the walls grow weak, what should be done for the building to regain its identity?

The successive transformations, sometimes unfortunate, bear evidence of use in constant evolution, and, as such, are part of family history. This still stark conscience rules out the idea of a full-on restoration. Far from dogmatic principles, the selected options favor a finer approach, highlighting the best interventions of each era. Marking the identity of the site, the original volume of the barn benefits from a particular attention, equal to its patrimonial qualities; the arrangements executed in the 1930s take advantage of appropriate adaptations; the facade openings and the distributions are maintained in their aims. The partitions on the ground floor have been removed, widening the entrance and the cloakroom, and opening up on to a beautiful kitchen. Upstairs, the bedrooms have been left untouched and new bathrooms have been installed in the extension. The lovely stairs, well-trod despite their steepness and narrowness, have not been modified.

The dilapidation of the exterior envelope was beyond repair, prompting important renovation works. Stripped to the bone, the building reveals a fragile yet sound framework. The static weaknesses have been locally reinforced, while the fitting of thermal insulation and double windows reaches the equivalent of Minergie® standards. Clever construction details neutralize thermal bridges and avoid general thickening due to the bulky insulation layer. The facade walls have been covered with new cladding and the roof, at last cleared of its tinware elements and its flat, interlocking tiles, gets back a traditional cover made of larch shingles. These different choices have allowed the original structure to step into the light, retaining the old joists, wooden floors and wall panels. The interior layout finds itself even more enhanced by the complete modernization of the house's technical equipment (electrical and heating systems, sanitary facilities).

The tempered redefinition of the service areas and the discreet renovation of the structure and the envelope certify that historical substance prevails on architectural gesture. By following the course of history and of the land, the renovation was made to be truly lived in, a place of authenticity for Saint Nicolas de Véroce.