Julien, could you introduce yourself, please?
Over the past fifteen years or so, I have been undertaking projects with a wide variety of cultural overtones. In the past ten years, I have been involved, among other things, with two theatres in Paris, Le Trianon and the Élysée Montmartre. I adopt a highly autonomous approach to the way I manage my designs. I look after the architecture (I created my company, Studio Combo, especially for this purpose), the building work, the artistic direction, the financial aspect, and so on. I really like to set up cross-disciplinary teams that work in a harmonious, family-like way, by combining their specialities. I have a somewhat atypical background. I’ve done a lot of different jobs, mostly in artistic fields, but always with an uncomplicated entrepreneurial approach. These adventures helped me forge myself into what I am today. They’ve also contributed to my being able to undertake more and more ambitious projects over time.
Where are we, here, in Portugal?
We’re thirty minutes from Lisbon, in a little-known place called Cabo Espichel, which is a promontory, and the second most westerly point in Europe. But it’s also at the edge of the Arrábida Nature Reserve. My brother and I were lucky enough to have the opportunity to buy this huge parcel of land, surrounded by this magnificent place and… the sea. Etosoto was started two years ago with a slightly transgressive and peculiar idea of ecology: to mix culture, tourism and agriculture. We are about to build a hotel made up of houses scattered all over Arrábida itself. All the buildings will be designed according to the precepts of bioclimatic construction, and very much inspired by contemporary Japanese wooden architecture. We have developed the project by reflecting on what would be the dream holiday we would like to have as a family. This involves a lot of space for cultural activities (a film school for children, workshops, music studios, and so on), a large agricultural component with about forty hectares of agroforestry that will produce a large proportion of the site’s resources (food, soaps, creams, cleaning products, etc.). We will also have spaces devoted to wellness (yoga rooms, free practice rooms, etc.). The setting plays an important role by providing the opportunity for immersion in nature. Here, we are in a house that I built while waiting for the works to be completed. We’ve renovated two ruins and clad them with wood inside and out. These places don’t faithfully represent the architecture we are going to develop, but I was able to try different things, both in terms of the materials and bioclimatic considerations. They are totally energy self-sufficient, heated by a ground-to-air heat exchanger. With Elsa and the children, it’s our refuge. A nomadic workplace. We spend a lot of time there!
How would you describe your ideal vision of life?
I love having big ideas that seem Utopian to me and then doing everything I can to try and make them come true. It doesn’t always work, and it takes time. But right now, I admit, everything’s going pretty well! (Laughs) I’ve got some great projects on the go.
What kind of education did you and your brother have?
We grew up in a rich cultural environment, which is an undeniable asset and an important foundation on which to build one’s life. Our father had a publishing house specialising in books on architecture, and our mother worked mainly in environmental protection. In fact, there are strong anchors to our family background in this project.
Is this your new lifelong project?
I’ve always perceived the few great ideas I’ve implemented as dreams come true. This is one of them. I hope there’ll be others. I’m a bit insatiable and hyperactive, so I think I’ll undertake more “lifelong projects” after this.
We're thirty minutes from Lisbon, in a little-known place called Cabo Espichel, which is a promontory, and the second most westerly point in Europe.
Can you tell us about the materials you use for your cabins, both inside and outside?
In the house where we are, I have used pine treated with a form of sugar cane compost, for the outside. I think it’s important to use these methods for treating the wood naturally; it allows it to be part of a “cradle-to-cradle” cycle. It’s also an issue for air quality in the home. Inside, all the cladding was made of poplar, fixed only with dowels. And we used stone from a quarry a few kilometres away for the mineral cladding. In the case of Etosoto, we will mainly use eucalyptus. It’s an invasive wood in Portugal, it covers 23% of the territory. Using eucalyptus allows a very reasoned approach. Moreover, it’s an exceptionally beautiful wood without knots and is extremely hard, which confers a high degree of natural protection! I discovered that when I was building the house. We applied it in just one room, and the result is stunning.
When will we be able to stay in Etosoto?
Etosoto Cabo Espichel is currently undergoing public consultation. We should – if all goes well – start on the construction in six months. Then we will have about a year and a half of work. So it should open at the end of 2021!
Can you tell us about your magazine Regain and its concept, which in a way, complements your project?
Regain, yes, I’m associated with it. The idea came from Daphne Hezard. It’s a magazine that highlights agriculture and its entire ecosystem. I wanted to be involved in it because, on the one hand, like many people, I think it’s essential to enhance the place and role of agricultural producers in our society by giving them a more modern image through good journalism. On the other hand, I am very keen to get more involved in agroforestry (which I am starting in Portugal), but I have to do my homework. To do so, I need to inform myself, cultivate myself, and discover the most relevant approaches. And this adventure contributes to that.
What are your wildest dreams?
I don’t have one in particular. The various works I have in progress satisfy my strongest desires. Whether that is through Etosoto, or through another construction site I am currently working on, in an old palace in Lisbon. We’re creating a very special place over there. A kind of living novel.
What does your son and your daughter think of your philosophy, which is very much linked to respect for the environment? Is he aware of it?
I travel a lot with my children. I have the feeling that they’ve really enriched themselves as a result. They never seem to get bored, I feel that they like it, that they blossom. I think it’s a real opportunity for them.
Can you give us a recipe made from local produce?
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily