Welcome to our ‘Behind the Scenes of St Martin’ series where we talk to some of the fantastic people who help make this charming Trois Vallées resort work. Here Chris Raemers, husband of Helen, the founder of The Alpine Club, chats about his work as an architect in the Alps and his business, Alpine Design Studio.
CHRIS THE ARCHITECT
Helen and I originally set up The Alpine Club together in 2003, splitting the workload 50/50. Then when the business was more established I began to focus on setting up my own architecture practice. I designed The Alpine Club’s two beautiful chalets, Chalet Abode and Chamois Lodge.
What was your background before coming to the Alps?
I worked in London for a large architectural practice that was involved in a broad range of projects including large scale residential, hotels, leisure, central London offices and industrial buildings. I mainly worked on residential and hotels schemes, with my last project being the Langham Hotel in central London. When I came to The Alps, I was able to draw on my residential and hotel experience in designing the chalets for The Alpine Club and now my main focus is on mountain properties.
What sort of chalets do you design? Complete new builds? Refurbished properties?
I do both. I’ve been involved in a range of projects, from a small 2 bedroom apartment of 60m2 to a 6 bedroom chalet of 400m2 with spa and cinema room.
The design of Chalet Abode and Chamois Lodge has generated a lot of work from clients wanting a similar look. People buying chalets in The Alps tend to want an Alpine look to their chalet but don’t want overly cheesy Savoyard styling with heart cut-outs in cupboards and reindeer curtains. I have developed an ‘Alpine Loft’ style that maintains the character of the Alpine chalet and combines it with contemporary interiors and finishes.
So, the million dollar question: how much money would I need to hire you to design a chalet for me?
If a client just wants me to design the chalet and help with the planning stage then I charge on an hourly basis, but if they want construction drawings and technical specifications and want me to project manage the build on site, then I work on a percentage fee of the construction cost – this works on a sliding scale depending on the cost of construction (the percentage fee reduces as the construction cost rises). It is a bit more than a UK architect would charge but because the client is not actually here, I do a project management role which you would not usually get from your architect.
Is a new build more expensive or a renovation of an existing building?
It depends on how old the building is, but refurbs tend to be more expensive because there is an unknown quantity. There’s a lot of ‘buggeration’ cost that you don’t have with new build, such as demolition, making
new openings in old stone walls or tying-in new and old structure. Costs for these works are difficult to estimate so you have to allow a contingency sum, which would normally be 5% of the total cost.
How many chalets have you designed now?
This is my fifth year working as an architect in the Alps and I generally have three or four projects on the go each year.
Do you just work in St Martin or in other resorts too?
I’ve done design and planning drawings for chalets in other resorts but all the chalets I have built have been in St Martin. It is not very cost effective working in other resorts because of the travel time involved. It is better to find a local architect who knows the commune and the local design guidelines which are specific to each area.
Did you have to requalify to work in France or is your UK architecture RIBA qualification recognised there?
My UK qualification is recognised here. I had to submit a CV of my work experience and my qualifications/certificates to the Ordre des Architectes in Lyon, attend an interview and that was it.
Do you own any chalets yourself?
Helen and I own Chalet Abode, and are joint owners of Chamois Lodge with a business partner. We have also recently bought another Chalet in Villarabout, which will be The Alpine Clubs newest chalet, opening winter 2015. The Ecurie is a stunning restoration of a stable & barn & will have 4 luxury en-suite bedrooms, a double height living room in the roof with spectacular mountain views. I’m really excited about the project.
Finally, if you had a limitless budget, what would your dream chalet be like?
Location would be the most important thing – the limitless budget would need to buy a stonking view. It’s a bit of a cliché but light and space would be key ingredients in the design. One of the things that attracted me to the Alps is the quality of light and the “proper weather” – it’s either stormy and raining/snowing or its blue skies and sunshine. Drizzly, overcast days are very rare.
The dream chalet would have to exploit the drama of the scenery with big panoramic picture-frame glazing. Add-ons like a swimming pool and spa would be nice, but the key ingredients are location and light.
If you would like to talk to Chris about designing or refurbishing your dream