WORDS – DOMINIC BRADBURY
PHOTOGRAPHS – RICHARD POWERS
Tucked into the rugged folds and valleys of the Luberon in southern France, Thierry Gautier's home is a sensitive, modest and crafted retreat. With its green, planted roof and protective outer walls made of local stone, House G does its best to almost disappear into the landscape. At the same time the interiors are all about celebrating and responding to the scenery in this rural enclave.
'Integrating the house into the landscape was part of the brief,' says Gautier, a director at the jewellery company Van Cleef & Arpels, based in Paris. 'We didn't want a high building and wanted to work on very simple lines. The most important thing was to create something where you feel as though you are floating inside the space and you know that the view is the real masterpiece.'
Gautier has known the area for many years after first discovering the charms of the Luberon during a holiday. He first bought an 18th Century farmhouse, which he restored, but then decided that he wanted to build his own home from scratch. It took Gautier some time to find a suitable piece of land to build the house.
'I love the Luberon because it's very green and diverse and the landscape is not aggressive,' says Gautier. 'I wanted to find something far away from the main road and protected from the mistral, which can be quite annoying. But I also wanted a wonderful view of the landscape without seeing any other houses.'
Having found the perfect spot, Gautier then turned to architects Karl Fournier and Olivier Marty of Studio KO, who he had known ever since the practice did some work for Van Cleef & Arpels. He was especially taken by a number of houses that Studio KO have designed in Morocco, with a particular sensitivity to landscape and context, but that were also distinctly contemporary and rich in character.
'We had the idea of designing the house as a "camera obscura" aimed at the landscape, with the closed side walls and then openings at the two ends of the house,' says Karl Fournier, who collaborated on the project with local architect Michel Escande. 'We wanted the house to be an additional layer upon the scenery and questioned what the landscape would accept and absorb. It needed to be a house that melts into the land.'
It was not easy to get permission to build the house in an area of such natural beauty, but the planning authorities were eventually convinced by the sensitivity of the design and supported the project. 'They thought that this kind of architecture would be more in harmony with nature than pink walls and newly tiled roofs,' adds Fournier.
The main emphasis within the design of the house, then, is the upper level, which leads into a dramatic open plan living space and kitchen at the front of the house, with a vast bank of pivoting glass windows reaching out to the vista beyond. This key living space, sparsely but elegantly furnished, also looks down upon the swimming pool and terraces below. The master bedroom and bathroom are pushed to the rear of the upper storey, while guests have their own sanctuary down on a more discreet lower level that leads directly out to the simply ordered terrace.
Studio KO designed the kitchen island and units in oak, with a dining area neatly integrated into the sculpted form of the island itself. The natural textures of the oak contrasts with the smooth walls and the polished concrete floors, just as the stone shields either side of the house offsets the crisper finishes of the concrete used for the main body of the building.
The oak finish also wraps around the kitchen and flows down two long corridors at either side of the house forming a vast timber box, which encloses the cave-like master bathroom and other services. The master bedroom to the rear is another generous space, with a large sequence of windows looking out upon the approach to the house.
Furniture mixes many bespoke pieces by Studio KO with a number of considered choices from the 1950s and '60s, as well as more unusual artworks and curios, such as the Dogon ladder leaning against the wall by the kitchen.
'We wanted to magnify the view by using the furniture in quite a minimalist way,' says Gautier. I loved the way that Karl and Olivier used three mirrors in the living room to reflect different parts of the landscape. You are inside the house but at the same time you feel outside because of the reflections.'
House G is the most delightful of rural retreats. But at the same time it is a very responsible piece of architecture, caressing the landscape and inviting it inside rather than seeking to impose itself upon it. Perhaps its greatest success lies in the fact that even passing close by through the Luberon countryside it would be the easiest thing to miss House G all together.
'The important thing about designing a country house like this is that it feels timeless,' says Fournier. 'What pleases us most about us most about the house is that this place now feels more beautiful than it did seven years ago, when we first started work.'
Studio KO – www.studioko.fr – + 33 (0) 1 42 71 13 92