Want to Know How Chic Chateau’s Villa and Bungalow Were Designed and Constructed to Work Towards a Greater Purpose?
An inside perspective from designer and owner, Janet.
When the woven palm slats of Chic Chateau's gate swing open and you enter the stone paved driveway towards the main house for the first time, several things may catch your eye. First, the design factor : wrap-around mosaic tiled veranda, the way the palms trees arch naturally over the two story main villa, it’s signature thatched roof, that stunning ocean view and the way green plants seem to frame all the other buildings harmoniously.
I thought I’d share a bit of insight into why I built Chic Chateau the way I did, and how it became not only my dream home but a bed and breakfast. It’s a place where you can share in the experience of sustainable-luxe-Caribbean living far off the beaten path, and the origin story is a pretty good one if I do say so myself.
Why this home design?
Why this home design? The mantra guiding my design choices was to use local craftsmen, local materials, following the most eco-friendly designs I’d come across.
Throughout my career in international development, I I benefited from living in a multitude of housing styles. The Tukls in Juba near the Sahara Desert Riyadhs in Morocco, castles in Lamu and Zanzibar, villas in Mexico, gingerbreads in Port-au-Prince. I took mental notes over the years about layouts and what felt most harmonious with the natural environment. They have all inspired me and influenced the design of what would become Chic Chateau. For example, from my earliest experience in Southern Sudan I covenanted ( with myself) that if I ever built a house in the tropics it would be covered in thatch roofing.
Why such a traditional roofing? Why not go in for sexy Spanish tiles or Mediterranean roofing? In spite of its humble appearances, thatch is incredibly eco-friendly and off the charts in terms of energy efficiency.
In my house design, I paid special attention to key elements for natural cooling, such as ventilation and ceiling heights. Plus, I knew I wanted to feel I was outdoors even while being inside, what I call "indoor/outdoor living".
I had a like minded architect who helped place the buildings on my land without losing any trees that had sprung up on the property. I chose my construction team from the community, knowing the manifold value of hiring local labourers and not bringing in outsiders. Side note: for anyone building in Haiti: you see,, my new neighbours and construction team inadvertently became my long term security corps: folks willing to watch my back in exchange for their appreciation of temporary income. I also wanted my house to fit into its environment, to not be an oversized concrete mansion like those frequently built by people who make their money elsewhere and come back to Haiti to spend it. I sought to incorporate local styles and French-colonial doors from nearby Jacmel begged to be emulated. Overall,
Adamant about being off the grid was also consistent from the outset. I refused to establish a property linked to the irrational unpredictable operation of the national electricity provider. Instead, I opted for a totally solar installation to provide electricity. I also refused a noisy back up generator that would interfere with peaceful rhythmic sounds of the sea. So if we don't have sun for three consecutive days I may be in the dark, a scenario that happened just once during a major hurricane, but I will embrace the consequences knowing the payoff for peace.
Water is a precious commodity and the property was carefully and thoughtfully designed to minimize consumption and reuse wherever possible to avoid waste. Grey water from showers and kitchen is piped to Chic Chateau Gardens and we reap benefits of their great produce. Waterless Toilets are installed in the guest rooms. The modest sized pool was copied from designs in water-poor Portugal called 'plunge pools'. Daily cleaning removes water which is recycled to the gardens, and it is topped up with spring water, ensuring minimal use of chemicals. Rain water is caught from the roof and stored in an under ground reservoir for use in the gardens. Water from a capped spring is piped to the property and captured in a second separate reservoir for bathing and cleaning. A solar water pump fills the elevated water tank and gravity feeds to all the buildings. Potatable water is provided by an in house, locally manufactured 'FilterPure' water filter system.
Post construction of the villa itself, my energy became focused on landscaping and making the soil productive. I gleaned information from anyone who would talk to me about farming. I was obsessed with learning what would grow and I was preoccupied with planting trees. I practised what I had learned living in other humid tropics and followed what locals were doing. But my manioc, yams, sweet potatoes did not yield like my neighbours’. In the first year, my tomatoes were a failure while eggplant and okra thrived. And with the steep slopes of my land I could see the empty gullies where my topsoil travelled down to the sea after a heavy tropical rain. True, I was growing food but I was faced with an over abundance of produce that wasn't on my daily menu and which had little or no market value. Corn, yes, it supplemented my free-range chickens' diet. But after just one growing season, more was going wrong than right. Dreams of self-sufficiency were withering in the hot sun.
Inadvertently I met a "permaculture " practitioner who inspired and encouraged me to not give up growing things. He complimented our efforts and suggested using banana circles to promote healthy growth using our bountiful grey water. Further research expanded my understanding of how to have permanent agriculture and it's slowly transforming this bit of earth and has restored my hopes of success. Everything begins with the soil qualify.
Using organic material from my land such as stakes from tree branches and dried palm and latanier fronds, rain water flow has been halted by installing living ramparts. Multiple swales and other tactics are used to control flow of torrential rain water and increase absorption into soil. We grow green manure and use beans to increase soil nutrients. Nothing organic is wasted - to the compost piles it goes.
Taken together, my dream home in Haiti was designed to be eco-friendly and more importantly, it followed The Do No Harm Principle. When visitors to Chic Chateau take a stroll in the gardens, cool off in the blue plunge pool, or fall asleep in a breezy hammock under the high thatch roof I hope they take extra pleasure knowing these experiences are crafted in a harmonious way,
Here' further reading on:
The Coolness of Thatch. "Thermal Comfort Analysis of Different Roofing Techniques"
Permaculture 101: The Basics