I believe it’s been 8 years since we started building our holiday homes in the Dordogne. Back then, I thought we’d be finished in a jiffy. This couldn’t be further from the truth: the construction work, regulations, conditions, distance, business developments (including a building for us in Eindhoven in the meantime) and human circumstances all ended up having an influence. Looking back, it would’ve been easier to have made a tasteful documentary about the whole thing, which would probably have attracted a whole flock of loyal viewers. We definitely had all the ingredients of a TV drama. Miraculously, we appear to have survived in one piece. Not due to knowledge, providence or other commendable qualities, mind you, but through sheer luck, patience and the joy of building on a dream.
I’ve always held a torch for ruins, which are pretty much the only type of ownership I have pursued since I was a child. I think it’s because a ruin is suggestive of the past while, at the same time, offering the possibility to reconstruct it, so that it also contains the future. What makes this place so unique is that the mill was built here because of the river to move the water wheel, rocks to build the dyke and walls, valley to dam up the water and woods to provide the construction timber. In fact, it’s the same approach I always take: working with materials, techniques, handicrafts and available possibilities, so that you lose as little time as possible to limiting conditions. We’ve constructed based on that tradition, but in a way they would have done in the past. Stone, wood, concrete, glass, natural stone: the buildings are in and of nature. Everything is detailed, almost everything is new, nothing stands out, it is not architecture that catches the eye or makes one think. Instead, it’s architecture that blends in and, above all, is designed to spend time in.
What’s it like to be there now? Each and every time, I go there with the nagging thought that I’ve been completely mad to invest so much in one place and a couple of houses and, yet, every time I arrive I think to myself: everything is as it should be. Fortunately, I’m not the only one who feels and expresses this same sentiment. In fact, it almost feels like a miracle. The first morning, while enjoying a cup of coffee on the patio, for instance, I saw a little roe deer walking across the grass in the valley. The water murmurs day and night. The large windows give a sense of there being no difference between outdoors and indoors, and as if it has been this way for hundreds of years. When the weather gets hot, you can swim in the more than twenty metre-long canal (also when it’s not really hot, incidentally). Plants sprout out of the ground. You cook and eat like you’re living the life of Riley and you sleep like a baby. And because the water is always flowing, there are no mosquitos!