We bought this place in March 2013. No one had lived here for many years and the old house was falling down, which was just what we wanted. Our plan was to build an eco-house, using local, natural materials and built by a true craftsman. In part, this was a reaction to living in London and the brutal ugliness of the city – yes, parts of London are beautiful and we enjoyed living there for many years, but it is mostly grey, concrete and kebab shop signs. I craved natural beauty, organic lines and I wanted to live in a house that felt as though it was part of the land, rather than an assault on it.
It took us a while to find architects and a builder, but if we’d have tried to do it all ourselves we would still be looking at a pile of rubble, and we started building in August 2014 and we moved in June 2016. It was then down to us to install the kitchen and finish the bathrooms, which we completed in January 2017. Of course, there are still finishing touches to be made, but as people around here say: when you finish your house, you die!
The house is mostly cob, made from clay dug from our land, straw from our land and local sand. Apart from the stone work and slate roof on the stone part of the house, all the work was done by one man, Mateu Ortoneda, with occasional labouring help. We have restored part of the house in original stone and kept to the original footprint (more or less). The shape is the same as the original house, but the style is totally original. Everything has been made by hand on site, including all the beams, pillars and roof slates, all from local materials.
Not only is the house incredibly beautiful and unique, but there is something very special about seeing it grow out of the ground at a very human scale and pace. This is a large house and it would have been much quicker to build a smaller one, but we always have visitors through the summer, so we went as large as our budget would allow. Mateu says that houses should be built to the natural scale that emerges from two men working together. I think he’s right on that because this creates proportions that feel right and generate a sense of well-being. In an ideal world, we would have local builders working with local materials as valued and respected craftsmen, creating homes that enhance the lives of their residents and beautify the natural environment.
We also went off-grid in June, when we moved in. Our original plan was to have solar energy with a grid tie-in. However, new laws in Spain make it mandatory for all grid customers to have smart meters by 2018 and grid customers with solar systems are to be penalised – it is more expensive to have solar and grid than to have solar alone, with huge fines for non-compliance. We didn’t build a healthy, ecological house to have our brains fried by a smart meter, so we have no choice but to find another way.