Came, saw, built: the dream house of an early bird

After 16 years living in a terraced house, Christian Senn had another shot at building. As a town councillor in the municipality of Buchs, he was involved in the modification of the land-use regulations for the Rafszerfeld project. More building land was to be released in this area.

Building a new, larger house of their own without immediate neighbours was an enticing concept. His wife Gabrielle was none too excited by this idea at first: «Build again? Now that the children have grown up ...?» But, actually, why not. It was becoming more cramped in the terraced house anyway. He needed space for his hobbies: the motor bike, the caravan, the piles of firewood... Finally, an attractive plot became available in the Räfzerhalde area. And a small inheritance allowed the ball to start rolling. Christian Senn acquired the building land leasehold, meaning that he pays an agreed amount for the land as rent for 99 years.

Personal contribution: good or bad?

Uncomplicated. Professional. Efficient. This is how the owners wanted the building phase to be. And no different. And it was also quickly clear how the house was to be planned and built. The Senns had already built a house once, 16 years ago. A terraced house back then, made of wood and stone. The trained joiner easily recalls the tough building period. Back then, he made a big personal contribution to the effort, working day and night on the building site. This experience has left its mark. «If I ever build again, I’ll go to the building site with my hands in my pockets and won’t lift a finger to help.» Christian Senn has exactly the right attitude today. Indeed, if you have a house built on a turnkey basis, this is in many cases cheaper than if you do some of the work yourself as the owner. You only really save if you can contribute building skills and practical experience. For many, though, this remains only a good intention, as people are often so tied up with their own job these days that they quickly overestimate what they can do themselves and have to call in builders at great expense anyway. The free time they had planned is simply not enough.

Crucial: the choice of general contractor

Christian Senn used a CAD system to lovingly draw and plan his dream house down to the very last detail, and then obtained quotes from various builders and contractors. But everything had to be shelved again for cost reasons: this approach made it too expensive. Senn started looking for alternatives. He started looking for a general contractor who would do it all to perfection from start to finish. Everything should be geared to the wishes and needs of the owner, from the first sketch to final handover. Swisshaus was then awarded the contract without further ado. Building on its many years of experience, the general contractor supported the Senn family throughout as they realised their dream home.

Doing a small bit for the environment

The Swisshaus team was amazed by the clear ideas and the detailed CAD project that the owner had produced. Planned, drawn and itemised, right down to the last socket. The perfect solution was found for everything, together. The house form was also important for the couple. Both of them have more of a Mediterranean mindset, including their views on colour. Living like you do on holiday was one big wish. The couple liked the suggested house type right from the outset. It also fitted perfectly on the plot. Why procrastinate when you know what you want? They worked their way through the house point by point with the Swisshaus project manager, Alain Besse. «The green concept was a challenge,» relates the owner. Minergie, no; sun collectors for hot water, yes. And of course the heat pump. To do a small bit for the environment. In terms of interior fittings, things were quickly sorted: be it the kitchen, doors, floors or paving stones, sampling was fast and efficient. Everything was done and dusted before the building work started.

Finding out what’s under the ground

A Swisshaus specialist analysed a geological report to check the hillside and its ground conditions before the building work started. This headed off any expensive surprises. Even in the planning stage, the concept is that an experienced architect will always work with, and not against, the hillside to plan the house to best effect given its geographical position. In other words, the art of building on a hillside is to turn supposed disadvantages into advantages. Under the Senns’ hillside plot there was a fair amount of rock. So the owners knew that additional costs would be coming their way. Then came the groundbreaking ceremony, or more accurately the exploratory trench. 250 cubic metres of stone had to be blasted out and removed.

Interior design: well thought-out and proven

Many ideas were taken over from the old home. These proved successful in the terraced house, so there was no need to re-invent the wheel. The bathroom, for instance, has the same fittings as before with two washbasins. Today, the garage is integrated perfectly in the hillside beneath the patio. There used to only be a parking spot for the car. Lessons had also been learnt for the basement from the first house they built: the rooms are now open-plan, which makes for plenty of space. Maybe for a classic car workshop, later, or a sauna. We’ll see. Only the laundry and boiler rooms are closed off. On the ground floor, the open hall was changed in favour of a larger room, which is where the owner’s office is located today, right by the entrance to the house. A sliding door can be used to close off the large kitchen-diner, if desired. This means that unpopular smells and noises do not permeate the house. The stove is a real eye-catcher in the living room. Another fine feature here is the genuine wood parquet flooring that also adorns the stairs to the first floor. Laminate was only selected for the bedrooms for practical reasons.

Delightful: a hillside garden

The long-awaited first night in the new home finally came in August 2010. When then they woke up in the morning, they realised – fantastic – we’re really here! But they had not slept that well. «It’s really quiet here. We were both lying in bed waiting for the first train to come. But it never came. Somehow we missed it,» laughs Gabrielle Senn. «Fortunately, though, this is no great loss,» adds Christian Senn. The «hillside garden » project is set to start in the spring. The idea is to landscape the garden on two levels. Christian Senn would like to distil his own grappa some time, and for that, you need a few vines in the garden as well.

Building with Swisshaus – a good decision

Today, the Senns are convinced that the decision was completely worthwhile. More than anything else the owners really appreciated that their ideas were always clearly visualized so that they could assess the cost. The couple was also totally satisfied with the almost perfect building process for them and the quality of the builders. Especially as it is not easy to find good, clean, reliable workers, as the former Schreiner knows from his own experience. Christian Senn likes to repeat: «The Swisshaus architect always took each of our suggestions  very seriously. Apart from the price and the references, this once again confirmed for us that we had found the right partner with the experienced general contractor from St. Gallen. This provided a very good foundation for us to work together. After all, it is our dream house – the new focal point of our life. Everything is just how we wanted it to be.»

«After all, it is our dream house – the new focal point of our life. Everything is just how we wanted it to be.»

Christian and Gabrielle Senn