Interview: Couple who climbed a mountain to Alpine dream

LOOKING at the stunning farmhouse in the North York Moors National Park surrounded by a herd of Aberdeen Angus it is hard to imagine anyone wanting more.

And for more than 20 years the farm they lovingly restored was enough for award-winning architect Chris Carr, 58, and his wife Clare, 59.

"We never holidayed abroad," says Chris. "Why would we; we have everything we need here."

But when their two children, Emma and Sarah, were in their 20s and left home Chris and Clare were persuaded to visit one of their daughters in the French ski resort where she was working as a chalet maid. The love affair with skiing began.

"We both just loved it, although we weren't too keen on the busy French resorts. We just loved the mountains."

A visit to the little-known Swiss resort Val d'Anniviers and the village of St-Luc would change their lives.

"We'd fallen in love with the area and as we were wandering through the village we used to look in the estate agents' windows just to see what there was for sale and we spotted this plot of land, perfect for development. We couldn't talk about anything else over dinner and that night we went up to our room and designed the chalet we wanted to build."

The next day they made an offer for the land, a magnificent site covered with wild flowers in the forest on the edge of the village.

For a couple who had hardly even set foot outside of the UK it was a brave move, taking on a building project 1,000 miles away from home.

"Friends thought we were a bit mad. We had only just taken up skiing and we had never run a building project outside of the UK before," explained Chris, who runs an architect's practice in Barnsley. Acting on the spur of the moment is nothing new to this couple. They decided to buy a run-down hill farm in Goathland near Whitby because Chris had always had the dream of owning a farm.

"We love projects and I think we need the excitement and excitement you get from taking on a new job. When the Goathland farmhouse came on the market we jumped at the chance and then spent the next 20 years renovating it."

Having no experience of farming, the Carrs went on a week-end stock management course in a bid to get to know the industry.

"We were on the course with people who were planning smallholdings with just a few animals. The next day, we went out and bought 150 ewes and started sheep farming before building up our herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle," says Chris.

They rebuilt the farmhouse and traditional outbuildings, built a range of purpose-built farm buildings and designed and created two acres of gardens from scratch. Clare, a qualified physiotherapist, takes on day-to-day responsibility for running the farm with Chris providing additional labour at weekends. Clare is also company secretary for Chris's architectural practice and for the couple's construction business.

Two five-star holiday cottages have been added over the years and two more are planned for later this year.

Chris says he always wanted to design something modern as most his work in the UK is more traditional.

But designing your perfect chalet is one thing, negotiating the complex Swiss planning laws, organising the individual tradesman and getting them to do something out of their comfort zone is not easy.

"We did have a few sleepless nights," says Chris. "I don't think that we had any idea what we were letting ourselves in for. The design was the easy part. Neither of us spoke French or German and very few people speak English in the valley. We had never done a project abroad before. We tried to get over to Switzerland every three weeks, but realised we needed someone there on the ground all the time."

They appointed a Swiss architect to oversee the work and project-manage the job.

The chalet was one of only four permissions to be granted annually in Switzerland to foreigners – the consent for a modern build all the more unusual – and took 18 months to be granted.

"They work very differently out there. You have to have the planning permission before you can buy the land. In fact four years down the line I have only just had confirmation that the land is in fact ours."

Despite all this, the construction of the chalet went well. The only problem was when they had to change joiners as the original joiner they appointed was more used to the rustic finish in most properties in the valley than the pristine finish that Chris desired for his ultra- modern chalet.

"I wanted really clean lines, and they just aren't used to working like that out there." The other problem was the fluctuating exchange rate which meant the project ended up costing more than they had budgeted for. But Chris is philosophical and says he would consider taking on another project abroad.

One moment which brought home the difference between building here and abroad was when the visited the site one day to find two labourers spit-roasting a rabbit and warming a bottle of red wine by the fire for lunch.

The chalet is located in a forest clearing at the edge of St Luc village on a steeply sloping site that provides a unique mix of privacy and convenience. The contemporary design includes bespoke furniture combined with family antiques, fine rugs and well-chosen art.

"We wanted to create a home from home. Somewhere we could come with the family and friends and have all the comforts of home. We didn't plan it as a commercial enterprise and I suppose that is a bit of a problem. There is so much of us in it, especially the furnishings and the furniture, but we do need to let it for a few months of the year."

Chris is hoping that groups of friends or a family will rent the chalet for the same week every year.

"We don't want it to be too formal," says Chris who has enlisted the help of Hugh Coulson and Jemima Palmer-Tomkinson for the 2011 ski season.

Between them, Hugh and Jemima have extensive experience looking after private guests in the UK and abroad, including exclusive chalets in Klosters and Chamonix, Scottish shooting lodges, private houses and castles.

"We want people not to feel on ceremony." The Carrs intend to rent Chalet Charr for eight weeks of the prime ski season and possibly for weeks in the summer when the area is equally as beautiful.

"We know of people who rent out the chalets for so much of the year that they don't get chance to spend any time in it themselves. That is not why we have done it," says Chris, who hopes to spend

at least four months a year at the chalet.

Chalet Charr offers accommodation for eight adults in four double bedrooms, all with en-suite or private bathroom/shower room facilities.

There is a large, open-plan upper living area, combining a comfortable sitting room with open log fire, dining room and lavishly equipped state-of-the art kitchen. Sliding glass doors open to a balcony overlooking the mountains opposite.

At the central level there are four individually designed double bedrooms, two of which have balcony access, and at the lower level there is an exclusive leisure facility combining a home cinema, sauna and wet room.