“I quickly had a vision for this house.”
Interview with Suzanne, in her kitchen
On a sunny Saturday morning, at the foot of Mount Jura, French-speaking part of Switzerland, October 19th, 2013
Fifteen years ago, Suzanne decided to acquire an old dilapidated house. She has been restoring it ever since, following both her intuition and the energy emanating from the place. With a background in construction, Suzanne chooses to favour natural materials that she finds, recycles and reuses. Slowly, the house has become a personification of her: beautiful, sturdy, calm, and full of life and balance.
There has been a kind of love story between you and the house. Why did you choose this house rather than another?
I really do wonder about that. I believe there has been some kind of magic. We normally choose a house without being really aware of it. However, in this case, the moment I saw it, I knew that I had to
acquire this particular place. I quickly had a vision, though hazy, of fixing this place up.
My primary thought was of survival: to settle down by buying a reasonably priced house and to gradually fix it up with recycled materials. I started renovating from the first day. It was a wreck; nobody wanted it. During the renovation, I was staying in a small apartment in the village. The rent was not high, which allowed me to live there while doing the work in this house. Work had been tremendous. The house had to be refurbished inside and out: the floor, the ceilings, the beams, and the joists. I would not have the courage to do it again!
For a place to be cosy, it has to be arranged with love and passion
How did you devise the space and the rooms?
First, the place had to be respected as it was, so I did not modify the configuration too much. I just transformed it while maintaining its structure. Then I quickly opted out of Styrofoam because I really
wanted natural materials. For a place to be cosy, it has to be arranged with love and with passion. It would show in the house. Therefore, I decided to take my time. My work had to be part of the history of the construction of this house, so I did not want to hasten the process, even if I needed a place to live.
Nobody would like to wear plastic clothes for long.
Then, I got tired of working according to the typical technical know-how. I already knew how to work with different materials and the physical aspects of architecture – I was ready to go beyond the building techniques.
What I really needed was to find something more interesting. So I tried to explore different aspects: First, the geometry, because geometry is fundamental when creating a building. We can make cubes and squares, but we can also go further, and listen, in which way the shape has an effect on us. In fact, materials already affect us subconsciously. Nobody would like to wear
plastic clothes for long; we feel more comfortable wearing a proper fabric. The same applies for a house, except that this “clothing” does not stick to our skin, instead it is a few meters away. But it is an envelope surrounding us.
With the same perspective, we can go beyond mere geometry, into the invisible. I wanted to explore this area. It led me to geobiology, which is the telluric energies from the earth itself. It searches all the types of energies present in materials or conveyed through their shapes. I found out that things overlap, and that everything is linked. It actually becomes a whole. This aspect of construction really interests me.
So this is how you came to geobiology?
It resulted from a combination of questioning that brought me to a geobiology course. At that time, the concept of Feng shui, which deals a lot with energies and shapes, appeared. It became obvious to me that energies had to be taken into account when building a house. Feng shui can go very far, to a spiritual level. We create an atmosphere in the house with the
materials we use and with the energy that we invest. The geometry is almost sacred. This aspect interests me a lot.
We notice that most of the rooms are ornamented with an aperture in the ceiling. On the kitchen ceiling, there is a five-sided window; in the entrance, a rectangular glass; in the staircase, leading to the upper floor, the beams are crossed-shaped; and there is a ribbed vault in front of the bathroom. Why are all these different shapes above our heads?
At the beginning, the house was extremely dark. I tried every way to bring more light into the house. Then, as I said, I got really interested in sacred geometry and the golden ratio, which is a relation between the three dimensions: length, width and height. I noticed that this geometry bears very strong symbols, energetically speaking.
The pentagonal aperture on the kitchen ceiling is very symbolic as in Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing. A circle can be drawn inside, as in the six-sided shape.
It confirmed what I have always thought. The theories seemed right to me, but I just needed to put them into practice to see them functioning. I tried them out and realized that I really felt good living in this house. People visiting me feel likewise. And the work is still going on. That is a concern! But people feel good in here. I guess it is the combination of all elements that constitute a coherent whole: good energy, geometry, and natural materials that breathe. The love that I gave really respires. We feel good in this house without knowing exactly why.
No need for savvy calculation!
I have an anecdote concerning sacred geometry. I had learned the basics and wanted to put them into practice. I started building a timbering wall while respecting the golden ratio. I worked with the compass and the ruler. I had measured everything conscientiously in order to position the beams. And when I fixed my work on the wall, I realized that I came to an exact copy of what I had built on the other side of the wall.
It is amazing! How did you build the other side?
I had done it instinctively, without any calculation or drawing. I just placed the timber beams together. It was really amazing. I thought that it was a wink from the invisible architect of the house, saying, “Well done, go on! No need for savvy calculation!”
When I checked what I have instinctively built, I realized that I had built according to the golden ratio. Nature is built according to these proportions.
I believe that one needs to listen to his inner self when building. All the knowledge is in us. What is difficult is to look for it, to let it rise to our awareness.
You are not going to burn these fine beams?!
Where did you find all the recycled materials you have used?
Almost all of the recycled material I found was in dumping grounds or building sites.
Even the wood comes from “the 1st of August Swiss national celebration bonfire”.
I said to them: “You are not going to burn these fine beams of healthy and dry wood that can still last for years?!”
It is a lot of work though, because one needs to condition it, plane it, straighten it up, and remove the nails. It is hard work and it can damage the machines. But it does not cost much.
Wood and stone are the main materials. Have the stones also been recycled?
Some stones come from demolition sites. But because of their dimensions or aspects, they needed a lot of polishing. They constitute the base. Otherwise, the rest of the stones come from the limestone quarry. It is lots of work. I was lucky enough to be able to carve them in a workshop, where I could use their machines. It helped but lots of them had been cut manually. Machines cannot do everything.
Why am I doing all these things that make my life complicated?
In the house, there are several arches. It reminds us of ancient architecture. It is marvellous! These arches were there previously?
No, I had to build them. They also have a function, that of supporting the ceiling. They did not have to be specifically arches, but I felt the need to have them. I understood that renovating this house was like renovating me. These arches had a meaning that I could not grasp at first. Why am I doing all these things that make my life complicated?
An arch is harder to build than a simple beam that bears the roof. Each stone needed a curvature. It’s a lot of work, but I couldn’t help it. I had to do it. Later, I tried to understand the symbolism of the arch. It represents two separated elements that are embedded in the ground, which then rise and join at the top to form a new element extremely resistant, capable of supporting huge weights. I think I also had to join two different elements in me.
There is no wall. Nevertheless, we feel the individuality of each room. From one space to another, we climb some little stairs: from the kitchen to the living room, from the living room to the bathroom. How is the space delimited?
The ground floor is like a huge loft. I removed all the walls that were there, in order to make it look vaster, and to let the energy circulate. I did not want to cloister the space. But the walls are still there. It is very strange. I think that a wall does not need to exist to be there. Everything is lying on wooden pillars with foundation stones. I used stones a lot for the ground floor. It is the base. We are on the ground, so I found it sensible to have stones; whereas on the upper floor, I used wood. The more we go up, the lighter it becomes.
This stone: it is limestone from the region. Its yellowish aspect reminds us of the stones in Southern France. It is very warm.
In the local limestone variety, we find greyish and yellowish colours. I preferred the yellow that is warmer.
It was obvious that I was going to use local materials, so I chose limestone. I did not want to use granite from India!
The wood is mainly fir tree and oak. The coating is whitewash. I also made some insulation out of a mixture of whitewash and hemp. Finally, I used hemp fibre for insulating the ceilings. Hemp used to be cultivated a lot in the region. We were using it to make ropes and bags until it got forbidden to favour sisal from America, for commercial reasons I believe. These are materials that breathe well, with absorbing and resorbing qualities that keep the warmth and diffuse it when necessary. It works very well.
The kitchen is the heart of the house
Talking again about spaces, the kitchen is the room with a huge window facing south, and is full of light. In the middle of the ceiling, the five-sided window gives a feeling of an axle in the room. We almost feel like huddling around it. It is also a place open to all the other rooms of the house.
What does the kitchen represent to you?
It is the heart of the house for me. The heart that beats and lives, where one breathes, drinks, eats and parties. It is a place of life.
Were you inspired by a particular architecture or did you just build instinctively?
Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia?!…
-No, don’t start such a project! I told myself.
Joke aside, I would not be able to tell what inspired me. I guess I had been inspired by everything I had seen around me: religious monuments, churches, castles, mansions, and the local countryside architecture.
Original interview in French
Translated into English by David John Kong
Interview with Suzanne, Vaud, Switzerland (see french Download-PDF at the end of the text)