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Surrounded by nature and scrubland as far as the eye can see, we criss-cross the narrow roads that lead to this magical place in the Cévennes region in the south of France, where the cicadas have just stopped singing. We are welcomed by the intrepid Jansen family: Arnaud, an airline pilot who has just come home after a long flight, Béatrice, who takes care of the property and welcomes guests, and their two children, Romain and Manon.
The property, which now includes a set of guest houses as well as the family’s home, was little more than rubble when Arnaud and Béatrice first discovered it. “We bought this ruin in 2005. We immediately started working on ideas we’d had in mind for a long time,” Béatrice says. “We especially fell in love with the view and the vaulted cellars. Since we were starting from ruins, we were full of doubt as to whether we could succeed in rebuilding this cluster of buildings and, at the same time, excited about the idea of creating a unique place that would allow us to accommodate a set of guest rooms that really resemble us, and follow our own wishes.”
House at a Glance Who lives here? Béatrice and Arnaud Jansen and their children, Romain, 15, and Manon, 10 Location Hérault, in the vicinity of Pic Saint-Loup, at the edge of the Cévennes region, France Size 950 sq m, 270 sq m of which are for personal use Duration of work About 10 years
All of the vault structures were rebuilt identically to the originals. However, while this space was originally a cellar, the couple opened up the vault and put in a staircase with a landing at the level of the main house. This makes it possible to pass from one level to the next and creates a good flow around the property.
From here, various spaces unfold from the original building through low arches – like the one pictured here on the right of the photo of the bedroom – that open onto furnished rooms.
The building offers whitewashed guest rooms under newly built traditional framework ceilings. Each is designed to evoke the ambience of far-away places, like this room with its beautiful canopy bed from Bali.
The new buildings provide a home for the family in the spirit of the original compound. The three buildings that make up the family home are connected by glass structures that separate the living and sleeping areas.
The entire front of the house opens onto a raised terrace (see first photo for a long shot). Large sliding doors allow for free movement along the living room side of the house. The idea of creating continuity between inside and out was inspired by a trip the couple took to Japan.
The reed ceiling softens the light to smooth the transition from inside. This creates free movement around the outdoor space, which is between the two walls separating the kitchen from the living room.
In the kitchen, a central island lets the whole family keep whoever is cooking company. An immense worktop carved out of stone from nearby Pompignan forms the cooking space. “The countertop alone weighs around 500kg. It took 10 people to install it,” Arnaud says.
An oak slab tinted with a penetrating stain rests on top and serves as a tall dining table.
The magic of this open-plan room lies in its direct access to the garden and terrace. Dry stone retainer walls allow water to circulate through the Mediterranean vegetation, which includes local sun-resistant species.
On the floor, slabs of stone from Tarn continue inside. “Though slabs like this are traditionally arranged in a Roman opus tiling pattern, the ones here have been laid like wood flooring, in keeping with the aim of creating real continuity between the inside and outside,” Arnaud says.
One of the couple’s main aims was to create interconnected spaces: one dedicated to music, dominated by the Pleyel grand piano; one for meals, and a lounge in which to enjoy the warmth of the fireplace.
The family appreciate art, particularly music, and the two children are enrolled in a conservatory – Romain is studying to be a professional musician.
Access to the personal spaces is through a long glass structure that crosses the vegetation and divides the children’s level below from the couple’s space upstairs.
Inside is a splendid staircase made of steel and wood, sanded and varnished by a craftsman.
The story of how this staircase was built is emblematic of the couple’s tenacity. “During the construction of the staircase, the metalworker did a lot of welding,” Arnaud says. “While I was flying, Béatrice was woken up in the middle of the night by a fire caused by a bit of hot grit that had flown into the plants. Within a few minutes, the fire had devastated the entire floor and we had to rebuild everything.”
Upstairs, the master bedroom is sheltered by an authentic traditional framework ceiling made of Douglas pine by an artisan from Cévennes.
A module separates the bathroom from the sleeping area. “Since the height of the framing did not allow us to partition the space, we opted for a modest and ingenious solution to separate the two areas. The module has openings created to let in natural light and provide a cross view outwards,” Béatrice says.