Once Upon a Time in the Perche House / Java Architecture

Architects: Java Architecture
Area: 220 m²
Year: 2022
Photographs: Caroline Dethier
Manufacturers: Monier, SUNCLEAR
Carpentry: TREFIBOIS
Structural Engineering: RAAI
Program / Use / Building Function: Housing
City: Les Genettes
Country: France

A residential renovation project designed by Java Architecture in Normandy’s Perche region has successfully integrated the past with contemporary living standards. Inheriting a ’70s “Phoenix house” positioned in a forest clearing, the family faced challenges with the building’s lack of insulation, natural light, and contextual integration. Opting for renovation over demolition, the architects enhanced the home’s thermal performance, introduced significant natural light, and improved spatial configurations by adding bedrooms, a larger living area, and versatile outdoor spaces. The project, completed with environmentally conscious choices, exemplifies sustainable architectural practices by preserving the existing structure and blending it seamlessly with modern extensions.

Once upon a time in the perche house / java architecture

A legacy from recent history. A family inherited a home from their grandfather located in the Perche region of Normandy, positioned in a clearing within a lush forest. Despite their attachment to the existing structure, they were uncertain about its future use.

Once upon a time in the perche house / java architecture

Constructed in the 1970s with subsequent additions of a garage and a greenhouse, the building is typical of the era’s “Phoenix houses,” named after a prominent constructor from that time. Although solidly built, it did not accommodate the lifestyle of the new owners, with significant drawbacks including poor insulation, inadequate natural light, and a lack of integration with its surroundings.

The owners sought professional advice to decide between demolishing and rebuilding or refurbishing the existing structure. After evaluating the site, it became clear that renovating and extending the building was the preferable and environmentally sensitive option, given the structure’s sound condition.

Once upon a time in the perche house / java architecture

The agreed-upon plan aimed to revitalize the “Phoenix house” to meet the clients’ needs: enhancing the building’s thermal efficiency; opening up the home to the surrounding landscape; adding additional bedrooms and expanding the living area; and creating outdoor spaces for enjoyment throughout most of the year.

Dubbed “A Phoenix Reborn,” the approach involved encasing the building in a wooden framework while removing parts that were no longer usable, such as the greenhouse and the garage roof. This framework was designed to achieve three main objectives: extend the living room with views of the landscape; convert the garage into habitable space with a semi-outdoor feature; and unify the various sections of the home.

Once upon a time in the perche house / java architecture

For the living room extension, the west facade was removed to expand the confined living space and construct a master bedroom upstairs. A wooden structure of laminated Douglas fir was erected, mirroring the original building’s geometry. This extension opens widely towards the west, allowing the landscape and daylight to penetrate the living area, while a wooden claustra on the upper level maintains privacy and reduces heat gain during summer.

Transforming the garage involved repurposing the eastern part of the building, which was no longer required for its original use. The family needed additional guest bedrooms and a connected outdoor area near the kitchen for year-round access. Using the same wooden structure as the western extension, a new section was built vertically to house a children’s dormitory above and guest rooms below.

This new structure extends the building’s central exterior walls, creating a semi-outdoor space that integrates the old garage as a guest house within the house. It opens broadly to a covered area linked to the communal kitchen, serving as a secondary focal point of the renovated home, accessible in various seasons and benefiting from natural light via glass roof tiles and an eastern polycarbonate face.

To integrate the home into its site, the renovation aimed to blend the different segments into a coherent volume, transforming the assorted constructions into a single entity reminiscent of a contemporary farm set in its clearing. The house was enveloped in an insulated wooden structure aligned with the extensions, featuring a unified terrace along its length.

Once upon a time in the perche house / java architecture

The new facade of the main building was constructed to echo the rhythm and proportions of the tension structure, using Douglas fir “boxes” to store logs, creating a dynamic facade that evolves with the seasons and wood storage. This continuous wooden facade links the building’s parts facing a shared deck, designed for summer use while keeping the rest of the site as natural as possible. Recycled tiles were used for the roofing of the extensions to enhance the impression that the building has always belonged to this site.

The importance of preserving structures that might appear outdated or architecturally uninteresting is highlighted by this project. Choosing not to demolish benefits not only heritage properties but should also be considered for all types of constructions.

This endeavor shows that many buildings, akin to the Phoenix, are ready for revival, simply requiring the architect’s creative spark to begin their transformation.

Project Gallery
Project Location

Address: Les Genettes, France

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