An A-frame self-build house in the Dordogne which cost just €35,000 has become a surprise internet hit, with more than 100,000 views of an online film about the project.
The inspiration for the house that architect Elizabeth Faure started building, mainly on her own, came from an earlier project she worked on, where she designed small A-frame homes to house the homeless.
The project was never put into practice but Ms Faure, 65, used the same principles on a larger scale.
“I found myself looking for a house, without much money, and I just decided that the best way of doing it was to build one myself from scratch, using the techniques for the shelters,” she told The Connexion.
“The A-frame, based on equal-sided triangles is one of the earliest structures used by human beings and even Eeyore’s house in Winnie the Pooh uses it.”
After she bought the land on a lotissement in Lusignac for €16,000, a contractor levelled the ground for the house – one of just two contractors used. The other installed the heat pump heating system.
Ms Faure then dug out the foundation pillars by hand, set 70cm deep, and built foundation platforms using reinforced concrete.
Douglas pine floor joists were fixed to the pillars and then a series of A-frames, also in Douglas pine, were assembled and raised. They were fixed to the floor and each other with carpenters’ bolts, with more diagonal pieces between the frames – all sticking to the 60- degree principle of equilateral triangles.
A small team of helpers was needed for the first two frames. The rest were raised by Ms Faure, sometimes with help from a friend, using pulleys.
“Men, especially, ask what tools I used, what they should buy, and are so disappointed when I say I didn’t even use a power saw – the Douglas is easy to saw by hand when it is green,” she said. “This house was built with ordinary carpenter tools, hammer, saw and spanners, nothing fancy.”
The next stage was to cover the frames with OSB particle board, with the board providing most of the structural strength of the house. Bitumen tiles were screwed into the board as weatherproofing.
“The beauty of the system is that you can move along the house – that way, I was able to move from the small shed where I was living on-site into a comfortable room just six months after starting work.
“It took me another six months to have an inside shower but it was more comfortable than the shed.”
In all, it was 18 months before the house was finished, although Ms Faure still has plans for work in the upstairs loft, where work stopped when the money ran out.
She moved from Morocco to London in 1969 and studied architecture for seven years at Hammersmith College of Art and Building, without ever becoming a chartered member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
“I worked all the time, often on building sites, something not all architects do, so building my own home did not daunt me,” she said.
Her love of the Dordogne came after she worked on a project in the Lot and decided to drive back through the Dordogne, rather than the fast road. “I suddenly saw what the great attraction was,” she said.
The house’s fame spread after family friend Morgane Launay, 35, made a 90-minute documentary of its building and Ms Faure’s philosophy of life.
“I hardly did any building but followed Elizabeth around,” she said. “I wanted to film this mission impossible: a woman in her 60s, without money, who builds a house in the form of an A on her own.”
The documentary was shown in 30 cinemas before lockdown and then Ms Launay decided to put it on YouTube. “It was picked up by Castorama, which has an online film channel, and they made a three-minute report. Since then, it has moved from a few views to more than 105,000.
“We have many, many people wanting to see us, with questions about it all.”
The pair are now thinking of setting up a series of tutorials.
The film can be seen on YouTube with the search La Maison en A, or on the site lamaisonena.wordpress.com.
Make money by turning your home in France into a film set
DIY tips for French farmhouse renovation: Where to get help?