Norlha, the Atelier, a work in progress

When we began in 2007, we were big in thinking and small in means. We had a plot of land from the village, and the choice between a traditional wooden pillar and beam structure or a Chinese village style brick building with a tiled roof. The first was more challenging financially though more attractive, lasting, and in tune with the local environment. Since we had no architect, only the local builders and the limitations of 3 meters between each pillar, Dechen did something simple; she took the floorplan of the village house she was living in and blew it up; an elevated central part, with large rooms extending on either side and a surrounding wall, made of dry stone, artfully built by the local stone mason. There was room to expand on the lower part, and the kitchen and dining room were the first addition.

Our first office was in the room between the two workrooms; deprived of sunlight, it was tiny, cold and drafty, and soon became much too small. In 2010, we built our office opposite the dining hall, and in 2011, we rebuilt the office next to it, moving the new sewing room into the former office. In 2012, we built the felting room, behind the work rooms, with a courtyard in between. We had a slight scuffle with our neighbor who thought we were too close to his dung pile and had to beg for the extra meter, which was granted by the village council. In 2013, we added the guesthouse, to house visitors in comfort. It was also in traditional wood structure style, though we opted for the local dark tiles instead of the flat roof. It had an attic, soon occupied by a multitude of roosting pigeons. We built a kitchen outside, and when we requested our builder to add windows, he asked why we needed windows on a bathroom. When we explained it was a kitchen, he muttered in amazement “these people are crazy, they put the bathroom in the house and the kitchen in the courtyard”.

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In 2014, we ventured into a new building style, confident with the direction and design of our architect friend Blake Civiello. Our new dyeing house had a metal structure and an ambitions ventilation system. In 2015 came the storage and the showroom, also the work of Blake, in the same style that effortlessly merged with the existing buildings. Then we took a break to catch our breath, though struggling with insufficient dining space competing with the need for a photo studio.

This year, we took the plunge and extended upward. The existing office was torn apart, the skylight taken closer to the sky, and stairs built to access the meeting rooms and photo studio. Dechen’s office, along with those of Dorje Jampa and Serwo disappeared to give way to open space. It was not a big loss, as Dechen’s office had become the after school playroom of the managing team’s children/changing room for models. On the 15th of July, we packed up the office tent we had been living in for two months and moved in. It is all bigger and better, but still a work in progress.