HOW does someone go from being so poor they live with their family in an attic, to owning a collection of magnificent homes around the world? Ask French multi-millionaire Bernard Gauthier – owner-builder of one of Niseko’s most opulent mansions, Eco 260.
As a child, Bernard was raised in the ‘poorest of poor’ Parisian neighbourhoods. However, following success in the textiles industry and other investment, the eccentric, enjoyable entrepreneur now designs homes for himself as a hobby. Bernard’s latest project is the enormous 932sqm, six-bedroom Eco 260, a six-storey mansion in Hirafu Lower Village with a build-cost of US$6.5 million.
“My mother and I were the poorest in all the area,” Hong Kong-based Bernard says. “It was a nice life, but my family house was in an attic and we couldn’t even afford the simple things in life. Our life started to change as soon as I left school and started to work.”
Eco 260 was named after its environmentally friendly, self-sustaining design and features. That, and for the unparalleled 260-degree views from the huge open-plan living area on the top floor.
The environment is of the utmost importance to Bernard and wife Lily. Eco 260 has 20 geothermal bore holes, all 115m deep, that provide all the heat required for the pool, jacuzzi, driveway and floor heating. When sunny, 54 solar panels produce enough power that it’s sold back to the national grid to offset winter consumption.
And as for the views, the outlooks from basically every room in the residence are stunning – from Kutchan to Mt Yotei, and over to Hanazono and Mount Annupuri, which is at its most spectacular at night, Bernard says.
“It’s an amazing view of Yotei to wake up to every day, but I find myself eating dinner facing the opposite direction to look at the mountain that is alive with skiers at night.”
The piece de la resistance within Eco 260 is undoubtedly the 10mx4m stainless steel swimming pool, the only pool within a private residence in Hirafu. “What can I say, I wanted a stainless steel swimming pool,” Bernard says.
“I have the same pool in Switzerland. I can’t explain it – with stainless steel you feel something great under your feet.”
The pool is lit by multi-coloured LED lights that can be changed to suit the mood, and is housed in a vast room with a two-storey ceiling, boasting uninterrupted views of Mt Yotei through gigantic half-tonne floor-to-ceiling panes of glass – the largest in a residential home in Hokkaido. A gymnasium on a mezzanine level above shares the same outlook.
Bernard’s earlier vocation as a carpenter turned him into quite the handyman. So much so that the entire house – which is Bernard’s brainchild from the house plan to the custom tap fittings – was designed by the millionaire, who still doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty.
“I designed everything in the house because I know what I want,” he says. “I like to make things – I even made the bunk beds in one of the childrens’ rooms, and the wooden flooring in the genkan entry way. I don’t want to live in a house of an architect, I want to live in my house that I designed. Now I can spend all day here and not have to go out. I don’t need to leave because I have everything I need right here.”
Bernard came to Niseko about 10 years ago, but was not particularly attracted to the town because it was ‘underdeveloped and boring’. But now he calls today’s Niseko ‘paradise’.
“Here there is peace and quiet, safety and no worries,” he says. “People are nice, polite, courteous. When you are in Niseko, you have peace of mind. For me, this is a paradise, and that’s why I built my house here.”
Bernard is based in Hong Kong with his wife Lily and daughter Charlotte, and they plan to live in the lap of luxury between Niseko, Hong Kong and Switzerland in the years to come. “I am a very lucky man,” Bernard says.