Building and buying

Tradition meets modernity: from barn to dream home

Cécile Maurer

Sandra and Stéphane are passionate mountain sports enthusiasts who are 41 and 47 years old respectively. They live in the sunny canton of Valais surrounded by nature and with a view of vineyards and the Alps.

Sandra and Stéphane stand in front of their converted wooden barn.
© Natascha Vavrina

In this article

“It was love at first sight”

When Sandra moved to this pretty village in central Valais where Stéphane has always lived, she knew that she had come to stay. As a real estate agent, she’d always known that she wanted to become a homeowner herself at some point. Her profession finally led her to this property. Her neighbor at the time wanted to sell his barn in the village center, and asked her to help him.

When she visited the barn for the initial viewing, she fell in love with the property as soon as she caught sight of it. It represented everything she had always wanted. The barn, which is located at the heart of the village, is a unique property, that is neither too big nor too small. And converting the building would be exactly the sort of challenge she was looking for. Now all she had to do was convince her partner. It didn’t take much persuasion to bring Stéphane, a trained tiler with his own company, on board. They both set themselves the goal of making the old barn their new home.

Although it would take years to plan and complete the project after the initial purchase, the two of them always kept the project close to their heart. When asked what it takes to buy and rebuild a house, Sandra answers: “Resilience, flexibility and trust.

Bird’s-eye view of Sandra and Stéphane’s renovated barn with the adjacent barn in the foreground.

A romantic adjoining building: Sandra and Stéphane want to set up guest rooms in the neighboring barn.

Making the impossible possible

Despite quite a lot of discouragement from friends and family – telling them that the barn was too small and the conversion project too complicated – they didn’t let themselves be dissuaded from their plan.

They set about working on the project with a great deal of motivation and enthusiasm. It took them almost a year to obtain all the permits. Ultimately, it must have been meant to be. Because in the same year Sandra suffered a heavy blow of fate with a big emotional impact. This meant she wouldn’t have been able to summon up the positive energy needed to create her new home: “Life always works out alright in the end. The waiting period was necessary for a positive new start.”

The new beginning didn’t just concern the old barn. Sandra and Stéphane decided to completely re-invent their whole lives. Inspired by the beautiful natural surroundings, the Alps and the sunny Valais, they bravely took the leap into a new adventure: founding their own company.

The sports enthusiast couple founded “Beeheidi”, a company that offers visitors unique experiences in the Alps: with offers ranging from trail runs, hiking tours and yoga classes with spectacular panoramic views to culinary expeditions, customers discover the Valais landscape, joie de vivre and hospitality at first hand. But why Heidi? The answer: Sandra, the granddaughter of a mountain climber, already had this nickname as a child.

In the foreground there is a green meadow where Sandra and Stéphane can be seen trail running; a valley and mountains are visible in the background.

Experience the Alps up close: Sandra and Stéphane offer tourist trail runs and excursions in the area around their home.

When enthusiasm for sport becomes a vocation

Even before they established their company, Sandra and Stéphane had always been drawn to the mountains for trail runs or hiking tours. When they weren’t busy renovating their barn, they would usually spend their free time enjoying the wonderful mountain air during sweaty runs. So the idea of turning their own enthusiasm for sport into a profession seemed obvious.

This enables them to combine their passion for regional and healthy cuisine with their occupation. Sandra and Stéphane also regularly take their visitors on culinary discovery tours of the region. This aspect is to become even more central in the future: because following the extension of the neighboring barn, which Sandra and Stéphane also bought, they will be able to create guest rooms as part of a Bed & Breakfast.

This means that Sandra will soon be able to use her favorite place in the house even more often: the kitchen. It is a bright and elegant room that welcomes visitors entering the pretty little house. Sandra designed the kitchen according to her needs and habits, and knew exactly how it should be furnished.

This is where she now prefers to cook balanced meals – for her husband and herself, but also for her tour guests. And where better to enjoy healthy regional cuisine than in their living and dining room, which overlooks the vineyards and Valais Alps?

Sandra and Stéphane’s converted barn seen from the road.

Awakened from its slumber: the former barn has now been turned into a modern residential building.

View into Sandra and Stéphane’s kitchen. A table with a wooden top and metal legs stands in the middle.

Bright and modern: Sandra and Stéphane’s kitchen.

View of the working area in the converted barn. Shelves can be seen in the foreground. A desk and an office chair are placed in front of a window.

Sandra and Stéphane’s open work area is located in the upper part of the barn.

View into the living room of the converted barn. The main focus is on a corner sofa with a mirror above it.

The large mirror in the living room distributes the light that enters the room through the windows even more effectively throughout the room.

Sandra has pulled out two drawers from the stairs, Stéphane is standing alongside.

Clever idea: the stairs in the converted barn are also drawers.

Making optimum use of space

Since the house is relatively small, it was important to make optimum use of every room. The stairs are a space-creating miracle. Sandra and Stéphane have indeed exploited every cubic millimeter: the stairs also function as drawers, while a niche next to the stairs provides space for books, and on the other side there is a storage room and cloakroom.

Sandra and Stéphane look at a construction plan together.

Half a conversion project is about good planning: thanks to Sandra’s experience as a real estate agent and Stéphane’s craftsmanship, the couple had the best possible qualifications for the job.

On the first floor there is a large, open room that serves as a work area for Sandra and Stéphane – and where the cat Ulysse has his own special corner. A sliding door gives access to the bedroom with an “en-suite” bathroom (i.e. a bathroom directly adjacent to the bedroom) and a small “walk-in” closet.

As on the ground floor, the open room concept conveys a feeling of spaciousness. The interior is simple and elegant. The colors are bright and friendly. Everything seems calm and comfortable. “We wanted to maintain the old structures and breathe new life into them.” Sandra left nothing to chance – and in retrospect, there is only one little thing she would like to change: the position of just one electric socket.

Sandra and Stéphane are sitting at a small garden table, on the left is a wooden bench, and one of the walls of the house can be seen on the right. The vineyards are visible in the background.

A small patio with spectacular views of the vineyards – this is where Sandra and Stéphane enjoy their free summer evenings.

The project continues

The conversion work is far from over: because a completely new building project began with the acquisition of the adjacent barn. For their above-mentioned Bed & Breakfast, Sandra and Stéphane want to break through the wall between their old barn and the newly acquired adjacent barn to create a direct connection between the two houses. In addition, a large patio with a pergola will link the outside areas.

Sandra and Stéphane are very proud that they have been able to breathe new life into the old barn without sacrificing its original charm. Tourists often stop to admire the barn, which has a cozy appearance as well as being interesting from an architectural point of view.

Sandra and Stéphane also want to combine traditional charm with modern elements in the extension of the new barn. The “Heidi’s Barn” project isn’t over yet.

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