Although I have been renovating old buildings more or less continuously for the last four years, and have created this website about the best ways to renovate old buildings, I am also a modern architecture enthusiast.
In magazines and brochures you will have seen buildings that are old and traditional on the outside, yet have soaring spaces, steel staircases and halogen lighting on the inside. It is the contrast with the outside that sets your expectations and adds to the surprise when you enter such a property.
Yet the biggest challenge is how to incorporate the two. We have not gone resolutely modern in our barn conversion, but we have incorporated some modern touches.
– a wood and steel balcony mimics the ‘parallel lines’ theme of the ancient roof beams, while being very modern in appearance. You could do the same thing in stainless steel, which would look even better
– adding modern art can transform the look and feel of the interior (how many modern art galleries have old worn stone or brick walls?) Large Rothko or Jackson Pollock paintings (copies if you are not a millionaire) would also work very well.
In the kitchen, instead of choosing wooden fronted units a semi-industrial stainless steel kitchen and steel appliances would work very well.
We have some friends who have suspended plasterboard between the roof-beams in the lounge, but have left a small space between the sharp straight lines of the plasterboard and the rough hewn edges of the beams. With halogen lights inset in the plasterboard, this is a very impressive ‘modern meets traditional’ approach.
Don’t be nervous or intimidated about incorporating some modern elements in your project. Just because a building is old doesn’t mean everything in it also needs to be old. Modern items will gain a new lease of life with a rustic stone wall behind them.
Indoors / Outdoors
Incorporating the indoors and outdoors of a traditional French building goes completely against the norm. A traditional house has small windows to keep the heat out (or in, in winter). There are shutters on all the windows, and the inside is quite dark.
But nowadays we like lots of light inside the property, so this is not always the best choice. If you have a good view from your property you want to see it from inside the house, so that it can be admired during the winter.
Another effective idea is to have an outdoor terrace that feels like part of the house, so that you can move between the two easily.
The solution is often to have large patio doors, with as much glass as possible, between the two areas.
At this point I have to recommend a book. It is a superb book, but I think is only available in French. No matter, the pictures alone are worth the price, if you can’t read French. The book is ‘Habiter l’architecture’ by Maurice Sauzet.
The book considers the ways to make the best use of space, both inside and outside, and suggests ways to establish natural ‘pathways’ through the house that lead to the highlight – often the terrace and the view. It also has ideas about the best ways to arrange garden planting around the property, and the ways to screen the private areas of the property from the public parts such as the driveway and so on.
In the book you will see houses that start out as unremarkable little houses and end up as masterpieces of modern architecture. I can’t recommend too strongly that you buy this book if you are interested in how best to approach your renovation from a modern angle. And just for the record, I have no financial interest in whether you buy the book, and I don’t know the author!