written by:
photos by:
January 19, 2011
Originally published in Rethink Recycling
as
Ruin Reborn

In 1981, Londoners Anthony and Gillian Blee purchased the ultimate fixer-upper. The property in southwestern France was idyllic, but its old mill, built in 1822, and three flanking outbuildings had fallen into terrible disrepair.

Modern cabin renovation in France
"We really wanted to capture the ruinous quality of this old building rather than do something overtly new," Blee says. Before construction could begin, however, he and Halligan had to patch the remaining walls using stones found in the nearby river. Wherever a wall had collapsed, the designers inserted framing to create windows and doors. For the roof, they turned to the original tiles. "My father's terrible at throwing things away," Blee says. "We took the tiles off 30 years ago, as it was too dangerous to have them up there. They've been sitting in the fields ever since, and this was out last chance to use them."
Photo by 
1 / 6
Photovoltaic solar panels by backyard
To power the building, Blee and Halligan hooked up two solar panels—though not without difficulty. "The roof faces the wrong way—north—so we couldn't mount the panels on it," Blee says. Instead, they affixed the two 1.5-by-1.5-foot solar arrays to a nearby existing wall and ran cables back to the structure. To increase efficiency by not having to convert the 12-volt power coming from the panels to higher, more appliance-friendly wattage, the architects installed 12-volt light fixtures throughout. "You can't plug a laptop into the wall, but it's a more simple and robust system: just two panels wired into the battery," Blee says.
Photo by 
2 / 6
Wood-burning stove with built-in water boiler
To heat the small structure, Blee and Halligan installed a 17.75-inch-tall, 15.75-inch-wide, and 15.75-inch-deep wood-burning stove equipped with a built-in water boiler. The stove was built into an old doorway that was no longer needed. By wrapping the walls in sheet steel, Blee and Halligan made the area fire-resistant, and the warmth from the stove is amplified as it reflects into the room. Though it's handy in the winter, the stove-boiler combination is merely decoration in the summer: "It's so hot that we just bathe in the river nearby," Blee says.
Photo by 
3 / 6
Modern cabin renovation with glass facade
The building takes advantage of passive heating and cooling, thanks to Blee and Halligan's strategic design to capture the most sunlight in the winter and provide the most shade in the summer. The above-ground glass facade faces east and draws in the daylight, but when the sun proves too strong, whoever is staying in the structure can close the internal shutters to beat the heat.
Photo by 
4 / 6
Bathroom with salvaged tile wall
Renovating the old mill was a family effort, and Blee called on his sister Kate, a textile designer based in London, to lend a helping hand with the tile work. Kate's repertoire also extends to building installations, including a ceramic wall in the City and Islington Center for Lifelong Learning in North London. "She had several boxes left over," Blee recalls, "which meant another opportunity to use something that was lying around." The tiles, with finishes ranging from heavy glazes to matte coats, offered textural variety, which brother and sister used to "play around with the idea of reflection from the roof light."
Photo by 
5 / 6
Modern bedroom clad in wood
The cabin is partially underground, so the designers drew on the sun via skylights and strategically placed windows to light and heat the structure.
Photo by 
6 / 6
Modern cabin renovation in France
"We really wanted to capture the ruinous quality of this old building rather than do something overtly new," Blee says. Before construction could begin, however, he and Halligan had to patch the remaining walls using stones found in the nearby river. Wherever a wall had collapsed, the designers inserted framing to create windows and doors. For the roof, they turned to the original tiles. "My father's terrible at throwing things away," Blee says. "We took the tiles off 30 years ago, as it was too dangerous to have them up there. They've been sitting in the fields ever since, and this was out last chance to use them."
Project 
Blee Residence

"It was a complete ruin and completely uninhabitable," says Greg Blee, one of Anthony and Gillian's five children and a founding partner at Blee Halligan Architects.

Bit by bit, the couple restored each building with the help of family and friends. In March 2010, Blee and his design partner, Lee Halligan, completed the final renovation transforming the last structure into a 215-square-foot cabin for two. After prefabricating the timber framing in sections scaled to fit into a Renault van, Blee and Halligan drove through the chunnel to construct the interiors on-site. With no access to electricity, plumbing, or other utilities, the duo turned to the land for materials and to the sky as a source of energy.

Photovoltaic solar panels by backyard
To power the building, Blee and Halligan hooked up two solar panels—though not without difficulty. "The roof faces the wrong way—north—so we couldn't mount the panels on it," Blee says. Instead, they affixed the two 1.5-by-1.5-foot solar arrays to a nearby existing wall and ran cables back to the structure. To increase efficiency by not having to convert the 12-volt power coming from the panels to higher, more appliance-friendly wattage, the architects installed 12-volt light fixtures throughout. "You can't plug a laptop into the wall, but it's a more simple and robust system: just two panels wired into the battery," Blee says.
Wood-burning stove with built-in water boiler
To heat the small structure, Blee and Halligan installed a 17.75-inch-tall, 15.75-inch-wide, and 15.75-inch-deep wood-burning stove equipped with a built-in water boiler. The stove was built into an old doorway that was no longer needed. By wrapping the walls in sheet steel, Blee and Halligan made the area fire-resistant, and the warmth from the stove is amplified as it reflects into the room. Though it's handy in the winter, the stove-boiler combination is merely decoration in the summer: "It's so hot that we just bathe in the river nearby," Blee says.
Modern cabin renovation with glass facade
The building takes advantage of passive heating and cooling, thanks to Blee and Halligan's strategic design to capture the most sunlight in the winter and provide the most shade in the summer. The above-ground glass facade faces east and draws in the daylight, but when the sun proves too strong, whoever is staying in the structure can close the internal shutters to beat the heat.
Bathroom with salvaged tile wall
Renovating the old mill was a family effort, and Blee called on his sister Kate, a textile designer based in London, to lend a helping hand with the tile work. Kate's repertoire also extends to building installations, including a ceramic wall in the City and Islington Center for Lifelong Learning in North London. "She had several boxes left over," Blee recalls, "which meant another opportunity to use something that was lying around." The tiles, with finishes ranging from heavy glazes to matte coats, offered textural variety, which brother and sister used to "play around with the idea of reflection from the roof light."
Modern bedroom clad in wood
The cabin is partially underground, so the designers drew on the sun via skylights and strategically placed windows to light and heat the structure.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

marcel breuer architect letter office kansas city snower house
See a glimpse into the office of a master architect.
May 01, 2016
Santa Monica living room with an Yves Klein coffee table
Dwell editor-in-chief Amanda Dameron talks us through Dwell's May 2016 issue.
May 01, 2016
house that sottsass built maui hawaii memphis group home renovation ettore facade colored volumes
In Maui, of all places.
May 01, 2016
two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to dream homes , we visited homes from Haiti to Italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
houseofweek
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016
n0a6974 dxo
Architect Diego Revollo refreshes an apartment with a standout kitchen.
April 29, 2016
img 8652 1
The city of San Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the reopening of SFMOMA for years—and as the May 14th opening approaches closer everyday, the anticipation continues to build for art enthusiasts both near and far. This morning, we were given the opportunity to explore the newly expanded space before the crowds roll in. After a series of speeches, remarks, and tours, we left the grounds feeling thoroughly inspired and excited to share what we discovered.
April 28, 2016
gramercy 1 ar53319
A family doesn’t have to travel far for a private oasis away from the busy city.
April 28, 2016
Renovation of 1967 Hamburg apartment with Vipp kitchen.
In our April issue, we showcased an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with a striking, matte-black kitchen from Vipp. The 77-year-old company became famous for its iconic pedal trash can before venturing into kitchens and other tools for the home. This isn't the first time that the Danish company's products have graced our pages, and here we've gathered additional examples from our archive that show how the brand's minimalist black kitchens are always a win in modern interiors.
April 28, 2016
Zafra residence living room.
A man and his wife make an emotional return to an apartment building he loved as a kid.
April 28, 2016
the garden inside concrete dining pavilion indoor outdoor custom cabinets thermador dishwasher refrigerator
A skylit conservatory doubles as a verdant dining parlor in Sonoma County, California.
April 28, 2016
Details of the Calico collection.
Calico Wallpaper founders Nick and Rachel Cope showed us through their home in our March Issue, now step inside their studio.
April 28, 2016
william krisel pow 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
April 27, 2016
Dwell on Design and designjunction at ArtBeam
It's all part of Dwell on Design + designjunction's three-day event, featuring a program of talks chock-full of leading figures in design, architecture, urbanism, and beyond—coming up May 13-15 at ArtBeam in New York.
April 27, 2016
seattles mariners floating house prefab facade exterior fiber cement panels
A prefabricated floating home drops anchor in the Pacific Northwest.
April 27, 2016
royan treatment living room stone fireplace vintage new furnishings
French designer Florence Deau effortlessly mixes the old with the new.
April 27, 2016
modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove
Take a lesson from this school-turned-home.
April 27, 2016
The sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio De Janero, Brazil, designed by Roberto Burle Marx
The Jewish Museum in New York City takes it outside with a celebration of the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
April 26, 2016
Waterfront home in Belvedere, California
A 1960s home infested with powderpost beetles had to be sacrificed before this this Zen-inspired house could happen.
April 26, 2016
dialogue house
At the base of Echo Mountain in Phoenix, a geometric home by Wendell Burnette opens up to the surrounding desert landscape.
April 26, 2016
street smarts kitchen full view
A creative couple transforms an old Toronto storefront in Dundas West into a home and studio.
April 26, 2016
hald strand
This architect thinks of everything for his summer escape, pizza oven included.
April 26, 2016
gans turin residence living room
Thanks to a contemporary interior that she’s been updating for a decade, modern architect Abigail Turin has learned to love her traditional 1925 San Francisco home.
April 25, 2016
131
Johannesburg-based design studio Counterspace was founded in 2014 by young architecture graduates Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar. Their projects are collaborative, research-led investigations into possible futures and ideas of otherness in Johannesburg.
April 25, 2016