At night the glass reflections of the house’s lights on the lower storey windows make the room seems much larger. Photo by: MICHAEL SLOAN
IF you don’t know who Le Corbusier is I’m going to kill you,” aren’t words you usually expect to hear during a tour of a house. You just might though if the house in question belongs to Marie Fabre and Frederic Escudier, the owners of the Wa Gallery Concept Store in Siem Reap.
Fabre’s homicidal Le Corbusier is jokingly delivered while she glances over a stack of architecture books heaped on her kitchen tale, following a discussion on the architects and interior designers who influenced the design of the remarkable 3,000-square-foot concrete and glass house the couple built over a nine-month period in late 2008.
The couple’s self-designed home on the outskirts of Siem Reap has certainly attracted attention, and last October it had the distinction of being profiled in the Great Homes and Destinations section of the New York Times.
The couple said they didn’t tell anyone that their house featured in the New York Times, and received several surprised phone calls from friends in the US following the article’s publication.
Fabre said architects including Nils Peters and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe influenced the design of the house, which gives the illusion of being completely open to the outside world with one half of the narrow structure covered in wall-to-ceiling glass panels, providing an unrestricted view of the palm and mango trees outside.
Fabre says when she and Escudier first started building their home, they made a conscious decision to design a structure which would fit in with the environment around it.
Fabre said: “Looking out the window and seeing the trees feel natural. It’s relaxing to have that.”
The effect of the glass is magnified, especially at night when the reflection of the house’s lights on the lower storey windows make the room seem twice as large, and visitors walking through the kitchen hallway are accompanied by their double in the glass.
Sometimes this can have a slightly panopticon effect, and Fabre jokes that she once surprised Escudier by describing what he was eating from the kitchen fridge after seeing his reflection while at the other end of the house.
Bordered by a circular terrace running the length of the building, the master bedroom sits alongside a huge circular window giving a bird’s eye view of the surrounding trees. Constructed from white concrete, the floors and roof of every room produce a uniform calming effect which is offset by the vivid colours of the furniture in every room, most of it handcrafted by Phnom Penh-based interior designer Nicolette Mantat.
Fabre said every piece has a unique name and story, such as a vintage chest of drawers that Mantat named the “handbag of my mother”, after varnishing back its Victorian oak surface and colouring it with bright flecks of paint.
Vivid colours also feature in the purple and gold tiles covering the kitchen bench as well as the outside pool area, which produces a warm sparkling effect by reflecting the light of the sun during the day.
The double-story house and pool is wrapped around an older traditional Khmer stilted house which the couple decided to leave standing and use for storage space.
From the street the newer more modern house is invisible, and passersby can only see the high fence and the roof of the original structure. Fabre says she likes the feeling of the house being a hidden secret.
“Sometimes you don’t see it, tucked in between all the other houses on the street.”
Escudier and Fabre consulted with 13 architects before settling on their final choice and specifically designed the house to fit in with local conditions. “We couldn’t build the house the same way as we would in France,” Fabre explained.