ISSUE 51  |  Homesteaders

Before and After: A Charred Wood Cottage, on a $45K Budget

September 01, 2016 4:00 AM

BY Michelle Slatalla

On the coast of Brittany, architects Lucie Niney and Thibault Marca of Paris-based NeM Architectes discovered “a vacation home frozen in time.” The challenge was to add a bedroom without sacrificing any of the quaint atmosphere. The solution? They designed a mirror image.

To create a mirror-image effect, the architects wanted to complement the existing white cottage with a dark addition. (Black is a color often seen on the foggy Brittany coast, where nearby oyster huts are frequently coated with a black paint described as a tar.) But instead of painting the cottage black, Niney and Marca decided to burn it:

Photography courtesy of NeM Architectes.

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Above: Old and new. The two cottages are joined by a walkway clad in charred Douglas fir.


NeM Architects vacation cottage Brittany ; Gardenista

 Above: Working with a budget of $45,000 and a mandate to add a bedroom to the vacation cottage, the architects decided to build a second peaked structure alongside the house.

Charred Douglas fir wood for a cottage ; Gardenista

Above: During a recent trip to Japan, the architects had become interested in the Japanese charred-wood technique of shou-sugi-ban. Charring wood makes it weather- and mold-resistant, a benefit near the sea.


Above: The architects’ plan called for a freestanding charred-wood cottage connected by a walkway to the existing house.

NeM charred wood cottage Brittany ; Gardenista

Above: The new cottage is clad in charred Douglas fir.


charred_cottage_gardenista_NeM_MAISON BOIS BRULE_VUE BIAIS

Above: The two cottages share a terrace.

NeM charred wood cottage Brittany ; Gardenista

Above: The bedroom in the new cottage has floor-to-ceiling doors instead of a wall, to connect it to the backyard.

charred_cottage_gardenista_NeM_MAISON BOIS BRULE_VUE INT EXT

Above: “Looking at the building’s color, it changes from black coal to ash gray depending on light and weather,” say the architects.


Above: Connected by a covered walkway to the existing house, the new cottage is a mini replica of the old.


Above: From the road, the new charred wood cottage is reminiscent of the dark-stained facades of nearby oyster huts. “The burnt wood was also used for the roof to keep simple volumes and shapes,” say the architects, noting that “the choice of copper gutters à la nantaise was a natural choice. “

For more about shou-sugi-ban, the technique of charring wood, see: