Renovating or building a house has never been so challenging, interesting, and rewarding. As a professional project manager, I am constantly amazed by just how much the sector has evolved in the past 20 years. When I moved to France from the Borders Region of Scotland in 1990, a house was hardly more intricate than four reasonably straight walls and a roof – more exotic designs seemed to be reserved for the super wealthy on the Mediterranean coast. Now, however, medium priced projects can be wonderfully original creations, combining beautiful stonework and character with modernity, essential warmth and comfort. Bringing out traditional character features (such as the lovely stone sinks – éviers, mangers, wall cupboards or beams) is as much a priority as integrating cost-effective renewable energy power sources, under-floor heating, extensive well-lit rooms with extra-large windows and doors, vastly improved wall and roof insulation and equipment to match. Thankfully, the traditional box shape is decidedly outdated – nowadays, we wish to live both in and around our houses, and building practices are tending to reflect this preference. Swimming pools, gardens, lawns or outdoor barbeque areas are no longer simply add-ons, their location and orientation is conceived from the outset, resulting in a far more pleasant, extensive and flowing living area.
Modern house renovation or construction is exciting because it is like taking an empty shell and pouring in ideas: every person is their own architect. I personally find it both essential and fascinating to be constantly on the lookout for new technologies, materials and designs for the client to choose from. Integrating passive heating and cooling principles into house projects – such as using roof angles to provide shade in summer and sunlight in the cooler months, special solar- control windows, solar chimneys (which evacuate hot air in summer) – will, I am convinced, develop into a major trend. A wealth of new materials matched by vastly increased enthusiasm among the tradesmen for innovative practises mean that the possibilities offered by a decent budget are virtually unlimited.
A note of caution however. There are many potential pitfalls. While many architects, tradesmen, suppliers and administrative staff often have more than just a sprinkling of English, it can be very difficult to explicitly convey precise information, ideas and instructions. This confusion can lead to horrendous (and expensive) messes, especially if the owner resides in the UK. No one is truly to blame but these can cause frustration, delay, upset and loss of money. Maintaining a dialogue between the trades and the owners is, I feel, perhaps the biggest single contribution a project manager can make to successful building or renovation work. (While employing British workers is an option, there is far less choice, with the result that, overall, French artisans are far more knowledgeable and boast a greater affinity and experience with the local materials).