My Modern House: architect Vicky Thornton’s modern holiday home in Southwest France
“I was looking to build a modern holiday home in Southwest France that would offer easy living spaces and be contextually appropriate. The project was always about responding to and celebrating the location of the site.
“I enjoyed working to my own brief. You have to really think about how you want to live and how a space can facilitate that. For me, that meant things like keeping the kitchen and living areas open, so I can be sociable while I cook.
“More than anything though, the design of the house was centred around exploiting the views. We wanted to make sure that the way the house was positioned would be conducive to maximising the vistas over the valley and village, and that every aspect of the view would be framed in a way that celebrated the landscape, both outside and in.
“Being sensitive to the setting and architectural heritage of the area was an important consideration for our choice of materials. The house is made from local stone and timber, and both materials are very much part of the local vernacular.
“The timber has weathered now and become greyer over time, so it’s even more nestled into the landscape. The shape of the house is modern, but the materials, albeit pared down in their detailing, make it very much of its place.
“As is often the case with building abroad, it was a painful journey at times. Learning technical French and adjusting to a different working culture was challenging, but when we finally cracked it, the completed building was so rewarding.
“Looking at the house when it was finished was such a joy – there it was, a house that dramatically cantilevers over a hillside!
“We come here about five times a year: a couple of times either side of high summer when the schools are out and also to open it at Easter. The house is often full – it’s about sharing it with others.
“The layout is very open-plan, and not just the living spaces, the bedrooms and bathrooms are too. It means that the spaces flow very easily between each other and it’s a relaxing place to read, cook, potter and just look out over the views … which is mostly what I do here.
“Escaping English weather was one of the main reasons for building this place. It’s lovely to be able to cycle over the – sometimes cruel – hills to the local market, buy produce, and then spend an afternoon cooking with the windows open.
“What this place affords me is time. It’s an absolute luxury. I love my job, and I work really hard in London, but this is my escape.
“One of the things I find myself doing more of is sketching and drawing. It sounds sad but I often come across houses that I really like around here, and then I go home and draw up schemes for them.
“Often I’ll pretend to knock them down or extend them. It’s not even speculative design because I’ll never own them! But it’s one of the things I do here, and never think to do at home.
“I’m also a potter and one of the things this house has allowed me to do is display and use my ceramics.
“There’s a long wall as you walk into the house which combines a window seat, cupboards, bookshelves and a fireplace. I display my ceramics and books there and in this way, they become part of the fabric of the building. It’s a very functional thing that captures all of the activity of the house.
“I didn’t build the house to rent it but it’s quite an adaptable space and one that can support different ways of living. It doesn’t break too many rules; unless you want a door on your bathroom!
“That’s the thing about this house. There’s nothing ground-breaking about it but to me, it’s about the atmosphere it creates and having a different spirit of life while I’m here.”
Vicky, how do you define modern living?
“It’s an individual thing, and that’s important because everyone has a different view on what life should be like. If you live in a city, modern living might be an escape that allows you to break out of the constraints of living in a smaller house or flat.
“I think that the idea of space in life is obviously more important now because this generation is enjoying the ability to have more glazing than was historically possible. We are exploiting the relationship between outside and inside much more than ever before.”
If you were to move, what would be the first thing you would take with you?
“The house and all its contents!”