Thursday, 21 October 2010

In Cambodia, Creating a Simple Home Full of Personality

After globe-trotting for more than four years, Marie Fabre and Frédéric Escudier settled in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where they built this two-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot home for around $300,000. (Kevin Miller for The New York Times)

via CAAI

Published: October 19, 2010

SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA — Settling down was the last thing Marie Fabre and Frédéric Escudier had in mind when they visited Siem Reap, Cambodia, in 2003. They were in the middle of a four-year globe-trotting trip that took them from Cuba to China to Morocco and India.

But this picturesque town here near the Angkor Wat temples lured the French couple back again and again, until they finally made it their permanent home in 2007.

“Siem Reap was so tranquil,” said Mr. Escudier, 48. “We liked the temples, the countryside, the cows and water buffaloes. It seemed like an easy place to live.”

Initially, the couple moved into a basic wooden house. But in 2008, after opening a boutique, the Wa Gallery, where they sell colorful Buddha heads and precious jewelry picked up from their travels, Ms. Fabre was ready for a more comfortable place.

“I told Frédéric, ‘If you want to stay here, we’re going to build a house,’ ” said Ms. Fabre, 53.

Down a dusty, unpaved road a few miles from the town center where they set up their shop, they found a 14,000-square-foot plot filled with palm, mango and tangerine trees. They leased it for 25 years at $200 a month (United States dollars are the de facto currency in Cambodia).

“The tangerines reminded me of Perpignan, where I grew up in the south of France,” Ms. Fabre said.

Though the land came with a house — a traditional Cambodian home on stilts — Ms. Fabre and Mr. Escudier said they wanted something that was more modern, airy, light, and simple, yet full of personality. They decided to leave the original home intact and hired an architect to build an adjacent structure.

“We had a general idea of what we wanted, but we needed someone to put our ideas down on paper,” Ms. Fabre said.

To ensure the result matched their vision, Mr. Escudier was on site during much of the 11-month, $300,000 construction, which was completed last November. “The plans changed everyday,” he said. “Often, I would have things redone after I saw them built.”

The long, narrow house of 3,000 square feet is divided over two stories, with the couple’s bedroom occupying the upstairs and one large area for the kitchen, living room and a guest room on the ground floor.

Glass walls accomplished their goal of creating an airy space and take advantage of Cambodia’s abundant sunshine. “Sometimes I have to wear sunglasses indoors,” Ms. Fabre said. The glass walls also create the illusion of bringing the garden inside the home.

Ceilings are 10 feet high and there are few walls and doors — even the two baths are only partially enclosed in semi-circular columns made of glass blocks.

“I don’t like doors,” Mr. Escudier said. “They are like a jail, and I wanted to feel free.”

Nor does he like angles and straight lines. Wherever possible walls bend and the flat, two-tiered roof juts out in curves over the striped, skinny swimming pool, dubbed the “couloir de nage,” or swimming corridor.

Uninspired by the glossy floor tiles used in most homes in Cambodia, Mr. Escudier turned the floor into a huge, white cement canvas, laying circular plastic molds of various sizes and filling them with pink, red and blue pigments.

Other bursts of colors can be seen in neon accent lighting, cherry-red and lime-green Pantone-inspired chairs, and glass vases in a myriad of shapes and hues displayed on vintage cupboards coated in streaks of paint. Fuchsia-and-gold speckled tiles line the 16-foot-long concrete kitchen counter.

“I need to have color everywhere,” Ms. Fabre said. “I can’t live in all white.”

The couple brought their unconventionality to their furniture as well, fashioning a couch from a six-inch thick plank of wood and two flowerpots, while locally purchased glass display cases that Ms. Fabre painted chartreuse, orange, and turquoise stand in for storage.

Though Ms. Fabre and Mr. Escudier have no immediate plans to move, they haven’t forgotten the sense of adventure that brought them here to begin with. “For the moment, this is our place,” he said. “But tomorrow? Well, you never know.”

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