Monday, September 28, 2020

20 Questions for: Alexandre Lafourcade

Architect Alexandre Lafourcade is an expert in historic renovation and restoration

A book available in French and English features Lafourcade projects, family history, gardens and more.

In France, when you hear the name "Lafourcade" what comes immediately to mind is the impeccable restoration of gorgeous, historic estates, usually in an aristocratic, 18th-century style. But the company also builds from scratch and does contemporary projects too, on sites ranging from run-down farms to abandoned industrial sites to stunning vineyards. So I thought it would be interesting to chat with Alexandre Lafourcade about how this specialty came to be, what he’s working on now and what it’s like being entrusted to create--or bring back to life—some of the most-magnificent properties in Provence (like Le Mas des Poiriers, an expansive private estate near Avignon, pictured just below).  

Les Mas des Poiriers in Provence, France

Alexandre was born in 1973 in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande in the Gironde. His mother Dominique is a painter and garden designer; his father was the self-taught architect Bruno Lafourcade, who developed an expertise in historic restoration and opened an office in St. Remy in 1977. Alex left school at 15 to work with his dad and, by age 20, had his own clients and projects which he managed from A to Z. He was named director of the company in 1997, by which time father and son were handling an average of 15 large-scale projects each year, from Narbonne to Monaco, many of them with sumptuous Mediterranean gardens designed by Dominique Lafourcade. The company took on its first hotel clients in 1998, with two projects for the owners of the five-star Relais & Châteaux property Baumanierethe restoration of  La Guigou (a mas in the hills with a view on Baumaniere) and Le Manoir (below the village of Les Baux). Seasoned by 25 years of experience, Alexandre took the reins from his father in 2012; Bruno Lafourcade passed away four years later. In 2014, Alex transformed two luxurious hotel properties--the Château de Berne and the Domaine de Fontenille--then expanded further into wineries. Today Lafourcade Architecture employs a team of ten, which includes designers, decorators, interior architects, a PR director, support staff and more. With budgets ranging from €1.5 to €2 million euros, current projects include the restoration of Château Primard near Paris (former home of actress Catherine Deneuve). A 210-page hardcover book (available on Amazon) was published in 2018, in French (Lafourcade: Magiciens en Provence) and in English (Lafourcade: Magic in Provence). In his down time, Alex collects and races cars; he developed a passion for motorbikes at age five and by age 20 was winning prestigious auto racing competitions. Alex and his wife Céline met in the office and married in 2012; today she is the director overseeing coordination of all the company’s building sites. The couple lives in St. Remy and has five children, ranging in age from 11 to 23. So read on for my Q&A with Alex...and more stunning photos of course!

Farmland "before" shot at Les Confines in Provence
The gorgeous "after" at Les Confines in Provence.
The gorgeous gardens by Dominique Lafourcade at Les Confines in Noves, Provence, France.
Before...and two afters at the home and garden called Les Confines, just outside the village of Noves.

Hi Alexandre! So...what are you working on today?

Each Monday, I try to stay at the office to meet with my employees. Today, I’m working on two wineries: Château de Mille in the Luberon and Château d’Estoublon in the Alpilles. At Estoublon we’re creating a new winery, a new olive mill and a sheepfold with agricultural outbuildings. Also I have an administrative file to supervise, dealing with the restoration of a huge mas in the Camargue.

And what about the rest of the week?

I’m working on eight architecture projects (in the studies stage) and five architecture projects (in the building-site stage). I’m checking the good progress of building sites in St Rémy and in Eygalières. Also I’m going to fly near Paris to have a meeting at Château Primard. It was the magnificent home of Catherine Deneuve and we’re transforming her château into a deluxe hotel.

The Domaine de Fontenille, a hotel and winery, in the Luberon region of Provence, France

Winery at Domaine de Fontenille in the Luberon region of Provence, France

Hotel, winery and property overview at the Domaine de Fontenille in the Southern Luberon

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The discovery of THE IDEA of the house transformation project...and the enchanted surprise of my clients astonished by the final result.

And what is the most difficult part of your job?

Modern technology in ancient buildings. It is, for example, very difficult to place an invisible elevator in a château. The administrative obligations related to town planning in France are daunting!

What project are you most proud of...and why?

The complete transformation of Le Mas des Poiriers, for the attention to detail and exclusive top-level finishing work. It was a huge building site! Fifty people were involved on the site, plus all the craftsmen working in their own studios: stonecutters, iron workers, wood carvers, cabinet makers, etc. The entire restoration (there are several buildings on the property) lasted a year and a half.

Describe your dream project. 

I’m immediately passionate about the challenges that clients entrust to me. A dream project is one where the owners are confident in me. Mas des Poiriers was a dream project because the client, Shauna Varvel, confirmed our plans very quickly and did not change her ideas. She was very enthusiastic.

Le Mas des Poiriers

What’s one job/project you didn't get...but wish you wish you had...and why?

An inspiring winery project ordered by a famous movie star. But finally, I did not have regrets because the man gave up the idea.

What's your best advice for anyone starting their own renovation/restoration project?

Make a list of your dreams, the ideal way you would like to live in your future house.

What’s the wildest, most-expensive or most-unusual thing a client has ever asked you for? Did you do it?

Our clients are reasonable and they love following my ideas. The only thing they must let me know is number of bedrooms. Then, I draw a pilot study of the property. And most of the time, they confirm. Once I was asked to design a bathroom for a dog (!) but ultimately we didn’t finalize the project.

What are three things you absolutely couldn't work without?

My faithful team at my office, since decades. And of course my wife Céline, who is director in charge of the coordination of the different firms and craftsmen involved in every architecture project.

The summer dining room and the wine-and-cheese cave at Château de Berne, the five-star resort and wine domaine in Flayosc, in the Var. 

What's it like working with your mom?

Lafourcade is a family business and I’ve been working with my mother for decades. It allows us to remain close. Her beautiful garden creations blend perfectly with my architecture.

Tell us one shop you love in Provence that sells beautiful things for the home.

La Maison F in St. Rémy.

What’s your favorite restaurant in the area for a quick lunch?

I’m always delighted by the food at the restaurant Aux Ateliers chez Franck et Flo in Maussane.

And how about your favorite restaurant for a special occasion?

The Michelin three-star L'Oustau de Baumanière in Les Baux. The food is excellent and the view on Les Baux is breathtaking.

What’s one place in Provence that you suggest all visitors must see?

The beautiful road through the Alpilles leading to Les Baux – the D27.

Sainte-Marie-de-Pierredon Abbey is a unique private property where a group of Chalais monks lived in the 13th century. The property, with its Romanesque chapel, is set on a vineyard and olive/almond grove in the Alpilles Mountains, near Maussane. Alexandre rehabilitated the home, chapel and outbuildings while Dominique Lafourcade did the gardens. 

What haven't you accomplished yet that you'd like to?

The transformation of a huge ship, such as an Antarctic expedition ship. I’d like to work with a naval architect. The challenge would be to transform an ancient paquebot (a ship or liner) and to modernize it, to make it cozy. So...the same work I'm doing with my buildings.

Where was your last great vacation and why was it great?

Carqueiranne, in the Var on the Mediterranean coast...and “Les îles d’Or,” off Hyères. When we're there, we feel as if we're in Corsica.

Where would you like to travel next...and why?

I’d love to see Iceland because I’m fond of wild dramatic landscapes.

What do you wish you had more time for?

Driving racing cars.

Alex, ready to race in the Circuit de Ledenon, in 2017. He drove a Proto CN.

If you hadn't chosen this career, what might you have liked to do instead?

I would make my passion for car racing into a profession.

And if you won the lottery next week, what would you do?

I’d give more support to a number of charities, especially to the Institut CurieAnd I’d buy a race circuit!

Photos: (1) Portrait of Alexandre Lafourcade by Mathieu Garçon. (2) The Lafourcade book is available in French and English on Amazon. Many of the projects mentioned here appear in the book. (3) Mas des Poiriers photo by Bruno Suet. (4-6) At Les Confines: Before photo courtesy of Lafourcade. After photos (house) by Clive Nichols and (garden) by Bruno Suet. (7-9) Domaine de Fontenille photos by Bruno Suet with drone overview by Filmatik Production. (10) Le Mas des Poiriers interior photo by Bruno Suet. (11, 12) Château de Berne photos by Bruno Suet. (13-15) Pierredon photos by Bruno Suet. (16) Alex in racing clothes, photo by Bruno Suet.