February 2004: This piece was featured in The Financial Times (original press clipping below transcript).

Mary Wilson on a restoration company hoping to protect Val d'Isère's older properties from being ruined by developers.

Passionate is the only way to describe how Robert Senior feels about the hamlets of Val d'Isère in the French Alps, where he has a second home.

The London-based advertising executive feels so strongly, in fact, that he created a second job for himself - running a company that protects the area's older buildings from being ruined by new-build developers.

"They were devaluing the currency, not adding to it," says Senior, who has skied since childhood and spent a year after university training as an instructor. "These lovely buildings deserve to be treated with respect."

In the 1990s, Senior met a like-minded partner: Chris Harrop, a dishwasher-turned-ski-guide who moved 25 years ago from Bolton in north-west England to Sainte Foy, a village 20 minutes from Val d'Isère. Realising that mountain wages wouldn't fund a pension, Harrop had taken time off to study carpentry, then began taking on projects in the summer months.

Senior soon realised that his new friend's real goal was to work with old wood, renovating "some of the 200-year-old farmhouses out there" in the Alpine villages both men loved. "He started with his own chalet and when I saw it I was blown away," Senior says of Harrop.

"I also fell in love with the village and the surrounding area, which had a genuine mountain feel, with character and real people."

He advised Harrop to get a business partner, so the carpenter could concentrate on his craft, but nothing came of it until two years later, when Senior bought his second home. "I asked Chris to find me an old farmhouse and restore it, which he did beautifully," Senior says. It didn't take long for the two men to advance their partnership, launching French Mountain Property in 1998 with a third backer, Paul McCulloch, a friend of Senior's. Since then, they have restored and sold five houses and have another 11 scheduled for renovation.

"We use as many original materials as we can. The mayor tells us which quarry we can use for the stone and all the hand-cut terracotta tiles come from the Aosta valley," Senior says.

"We are also very choosy about who we sell to. We won't sell to people who aren't on the same wavelength as us. (We want) people who love the rustic feel of the villages and the character of the old properties. (Our homes) certainly wouldn't appeal to anyone who wants to pop into Prada."

French Mountain Property has two homes on the market now. le Planay in Sainte Foy is a four-bedroom, two-bathroom chalet on offer for € 725,000 and Le Manessier, in nearby hamlet Le Miroir, is a seven-bedroom, four-bathroom chalet with a staff flat priced at € 1.5m.

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