After my "apprenticeship and journeyman years" I stood on the street with a young St. Bernard dog and six cats; without a job and without money. That was the beginning of the story. Knowing that I had disputes with landlords and home owners over again, I was looking for a private house or part of ahouse. However, this was prohibitive for me. By chance I found out about the sale of some shacks, which were replaced by a new building. The "most beautiful" of the shacks had 60 m2, had almost all around windows and - interesting for me as an architect - interior walls, which were very easy to be reordered.

Spring 1980: Shack at the old location

Change the apartment's floor plan quite every month? That was one of the illusions that I quickly lost for practical reasons. The other illusion was that I could not set up a shack as a temporary building where ever I wanted. I had bought the shack already for CHF 2000 when I had to realize that I can set it only on building land. In this moment I could have bid farewell to the dream of the shack. But I really did not know that now the course of my life has been set for many years. Many years of hard work, substantial risks and money problems. But it was also a time full of pioneering spirit, creativity and joy.

Near Basel I was looking for affordable land and was finding it in Hochwald, a former farming village 15 km away from the Basel city. Penniless as I was, I was looking at parents and friends for small loans and could actually raise the necessary capital to buy the land.
Building land means also to follow the building code. The first job was - quite contrary to my expectations – to build an air raid shelter and thus also a basement.

Spring 1981: Basement and foundations


Soon I had to realize that I could not do my project with just the help of friends and family. So I had to take out a construction loan. Unfortunately, it was difficult to find a bank for my special projekt and also the interests at that time were alarmingly high.
In dealing with money very cautious, I wanted to keep my risk low. I tried therefore to create more living space, than the shack offered. A larger house could be shared later with other people. As the shack had a roof, it should be lifted to the first floor. Beneath it I planned a brick ground floor.

Summer 1981: The walls of the ground floor

Fortunately, my father decided to help me – already when the first problems appeared.
We added an expansion with the staircase, the workshop and a room on one side and a winter garden on the other side.


Quickly some local craftsmen were willing to help me in addition to their larger orders. But now I lost another illusion: the construction boom was so strong at the beginning of the 80's that the craftsmen never had time for me. At least the excavation was done. I heard every now and again: "We cannot come earlier than in 6 weeks, but we can provide you the material and show you how to do it; it's easy and you're an architect."
With joined forces emerged very slowly and with considerable difficulty foundations, basement, air raid shelter and the walls of the ground floor.

Summer 1981: The shack is now on the first floor

The fourth illusion was that the house could not be terminated within a very short period of time. Nevertheless the shack was indeed a finished component. It took us a year until the shack could be placed on the base.
A "cry of horror" went through the village, because the new structure did not look very nice. Fortunately, I had the support of the president of the building commission. He was able to reassure people that the planning application ran correctly and that the house was far from finished.
Because of the delay in construction I had to take a part-time work; I could not allow to live by the construction loan. To save the loan for specialized craftsmen (e.g. for plumbing, electrical, heating), we made almost everything ourselves. Fortunately, my father was technically very gifted and possessed many tools, machines and especially patience.

Summer 1981: Father at work

Slowly I became aware of the advantages of “Do it yourself”. Outside I had to keep my approved building plans. But inside I ventured some corrections. For example, the planned staircase was too narrow and the construction was too complicated for us. Because we built ourselves, we were able to improve even more.

Summer 1981: Growing with entry, staircase, another room and workshop

The disadvantages were mainly in fatigue. We were building already two years and the end was not in sight. There were also problems with different banks. One of the directors was indignant because the "creation" did not correspond with his expectations of a family home (later on he unceremoniously announced my mortgage and the ongoing construction loan).
The coordination of craftsmen made more difficulty than expected. So we had to learn, for example, to build a scaffold alone, which should repect the security regulations.

Spring 1982: Southeast facade for scaffolding the roof with reused old plain tiles

Because of the money problem, I had begun to collect old building materials. Various demolition companies allowed me to search for components. The entrepreneurs were even happy when I took out everything - they then had to pay less disposal fee.

Winter 1983: Winter garden shell which - because of an misunderstanding - had no windows for two years

Recycled components can have their pitfalls. I got a whole truckload with free old windows. Unfortunately, I had misunderstood the craftsmen and all the windows had no frame. I learned that to expand doors and windows is a very intensive and difficult work. They mostly get broken while the removal.
The shell of the winter garden stood there a long time without windows because it was too expensive to let a carpenter to do the framework to these old windows.

During the whole construction we had an incredible lot of luck. One day a taciturn, bearded fellow arrived and offered me - another - truckload of beautiful porch windows - with frames! He had heard that someone might need old components. With little effort, the shell of the winter garden could be adapted to the "new" windows.
The fact that all these years no accidents happened, was more luck than judgment.


Since the purchase of the shack, it was clear that the style and the construction of the whole house should adapt to the shack. We also had to be able to do the work as much as possible ourselves. For this purpose, a wooden construction with a wooden facade is excellent. The shack and all exterior walls were well insulated and covered with wood panelling.

Winter 2000: The winter garden is better than the thickest insulation

The component recycling had grown from an initial need to an enjoyable pastime. In Basel I found demolition companies, which helped me very much. One of the companies put all of the pieces of sandstone of a demolished house on the sidewalk. I just had to load my car and bring it home. Another company went so far as to transport for free the wall stones of an old school to my house; it was still cheaper than the landfill fee.

Summer 1996: Old floor tiles by Villeroy and Bosch

Floor tiles, windows, doors, sinks: almost nothing is new in my "Second Hand Villa".
Recycled components have several advantages:

  • They relieve our landfills. Thus, it is an environmental handling of building materials.
  • You need a lot of effort when removing and cleaning them, but they are free.
  • The already removed and clean components of the various companies with recycled components are no longer free, but the costs are very low. Another advantage is that those firms offer protected jobs.
  • With enough patience you can find very nice components. They have always inspired my imagination and led to creative solutions.
  • A further advantage is the quality of the material. Some old wood is better, probably because it was handled carefully (growth, storage, processing). Many details are more elaborate and beautiful. Perhaps in earlier times, the relationship between time and materials was another one.

Summer 1996: Windows with double-glazing from an old villa

Unfortunately I had to make bad experiences with banks. They were very inflexible and had no helping hand for special solutions, on which I was dependent. I paid, for example, for several years a horrendously high interest for the construction loan. All requests for the converting into a much more favourable mortgage were in vain. Although the bank earned very good money with me, it resigned after a few years the mortgage, because it found the house to be unsightly. Whithin a veiled threat that I should have to sell the land and the unfinished house - what a tragedy.

Summer 1996: Ensemble in the bathroom 

There were also difficulties with different craftsmen, which I asked every now and then to help. For them my recycled components were garbage. They could not assess their own labour, as they used only to make offers with new material. Someone refused to work for me, because he did not want to be "stopgap".

Summer 1996: With the surplus porch windows on can produce beautiful cabinets

In the country it was unusual that a woman was constructing herself. I also got to feel that some craftsmen despised me because they thought my way as shabby or eccentric. Some craftsmen did not want to accept me as a women + an architect + the owner of the house. I had to call for my father to get through for my plans.


After many adventures, the result is satisfying to me. The building and everything around it needed a lot of energy - sometimes more than we had. About aesthetics on can argue - I see my house stubborn but architecturally appealing.

Summer 1996: Old panelling (former elements for noise-reduction)

Now I live for many years in a low-interest home with a lot of comfort: in addition to my own living rooms, the house contains an apartment with 3 rooms in the shack, the two-storey winter garden, a large terrace, a library, a workshop, a cellar and various outdoor spaces. My father came to stay with me and lived in the apartment; as he died with 90 years his apartment became my Bed&Breakfast.

All around a generous wild garden spreads with fruit trees and a sheep pasture.


Although never an ecological balance was made, I would venture to say that the house has good notes in this aspect. It is heated only with a modern wood heating (this also heats the hot water during the heating season). The wood comes mainly from my families forest.
The house is built on the principle of “onion peel”. All windows are double glazed and fitted in winter with a third glaze (storm window). The well-heated living spaces open into the winter garden to the southeast and do not lie on the outer walls. Less heated rooms are grouped around. At the northwest are situated staircase, workshop and storage space. The fountain stores the water from the roof for all kinds of water for domestic use.

Winter 2000: Modesty on the one hand, sustainability on the other hand:
The whole house is heated exclusively with wood

The house has an extremely modest character; it can not and should not be regarded as a status symbol. But most of my Bed&Breakfast guests seem to appreciate exactly that; some are often coming back and remained good friends.