September 30 2015

Spectacular scenery – and sheep – are the first things that come to mind for most of us when we think of New Zealand.

For an architect, spectacular scenery is always both a challenge and an opportunity.

This was very much the situation for David Ponting, founder of Ponting Fitzgerald (in 1998) of Ponsonby, Auckland, New Zealand, when he saw the site for what his affluent client hoped would be a “sanctuary.”

The site was breathtaking with unbelievable views of Lake Wakatipu in Queenstown, New Zealand, and the mountains beyond.

Rocky, powerful terrain. Strong visual lines. Subdued color scheme. Nothing dainty or traditionally cozy was going to work. This site had a strong, powerful presence of its own.

Ponting and his client settled on a simple, yet very demanding, brief: Let the land speak. With a sensitivity that Ponting later described as having an “element of divination,” he allowed the site to express itself.

Rather than coming to the site with a preconceived set of shoulds and musts and limiting ideas, the architects kept walking the site. They eventually ‘divined’ a beautiful solution that speaks the same language as the site.

They realised that there were two separate locations on the site, each with its own distinct natural forms, each ‘asking for a building.’

They granted the wishes and created two low-profile structures, one as the master dwelling, the other – the larger one - as the guest wing.

When viewed from above, from the entrance way and parking area, each looks like a low-lying bird wing. Not imposing or interrupting, but somehow belonging in the landscape.

The breathtaking beauty of the structures comes from the strong elements: glass and stone, and polished, board-formed and in-situ poured concrete, with reflecting ponds and skylights adding an element of wonder – all in the service of letting the land speak, none standing in between the viewer and the view. The scenery is literally part of the interior, especially in the guest wing that is more open and grandiose than the slightly more private and inward-looking master house.

In the master dwelling, the windows at one end look into cut bedrock, with snow-capped mountains beyond. At the other end, on the rocky hillside, the view at times includes those famous New Zealand wild sheep that occasionally wander by.

If there ever was a project where the brief has actually become reality, this is it. The land has spoken, and was heard well. We are awaiting an invitation to the guest wing. And should it ever arrive, we may never leave. - Tuija Seipell.

Images by Simon Devitt



September 25 2015

With a floor as beautiful as the chevron-patterned dark hardwood one in this recently renovated classic apartment, the re-imagining designers’ main job is to try to not ruin it or its harmonizing and stylish effect.
In the case of the Strasbourg, France-based private apartment in question, the other defining features are the gorgeous fourth-floor corner location with the large windows, and the elegant cast-iron railings.

Luckily, design team Tomas Umbrasas, Aidas Barzda, Tautvydas Vileikis, Rokas Kontvainis of YCL Studio knew how to leave these elements alone. Not only did they preserve them, they also emphasized them.

The gorgeous ceiling moldings, classic crystal chandeliers, the smart placing of a few ornate wall sconces, and the overall white and cool grey colouring draw attention to and highlight these time-tested features.

The five-room apartment is 114 square meters (1,227 sq.ft.) in size but it looks significantly larger because there are no tight nooks or dark corners, no hidden areas and no unnecessary doors.

The design team made one substantial – and extremely appealing - change in the original room division by creating a massive, white bath room/spa with its own windows, seating area and seemingly endless space. This alone upgrades the apartment to a totally new level.

Located in the Alsace region of North-eastern France, Strasbourg is the home of the European Parliament with more than its share of gorgeous apartments and residences.

Combining traditional and new as smartly as the YCL team has done is a perfect fit for the cool set of the town.

Based in the capital Lithuania, Vilnius, with its neoclassical and Gothic architectural highlights, the YCL team brought to the project not just a fine sense of new and modern, balance and scale, but, more important, a confident sensibility toward what must stay and what must go. - Tuija Seipell.



August 18 2015

We had forgotten how beautiful grey concrete can be until we saw what Ezequiel Farca had done with a 1970s residence in Mexico City.

At the same time, we were also reminded of how much we love Farca’s elegant work in general.

To start with, the Barrancas House in Mexico City had a lot going for it before Farca came along.

It is located on a sloped property so that the four levels of the house, from basement all the way to the top, or second, floor, are all in fact on ground level.

In addition, the site overlooks a great wooded area with grown trees and greenery. The house had good bones that Farca and team members Cristina Grappin and Fernanda de la Mora preserved and then took to a new level of cool, modern comfort.

The 720 square-meter (7,750 sq ft) house is a family residence. Keeping that in mind Farca maximized the exposure to the views and daylight by opening up the rooms with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the woods. He also knocked down interior walls and replaced some with sliding screens and hidden doors and providing bay windows that open fully . All of these give the family members the option of creating specific spaces for their changing needs.

Much of the furniture was also custom-designed by Farca’s team for the Barrancas residence.

The new luxury amenities of the house now include a home theater, a wine cellar, a gym and two large terraces. Our favourite luxury features are the chic  long pool on the topmost level and the skillful use of greenery both inside the residence and outside in the new garden.

The landscape was designed with plants that adjust to the local climate, with green roof and green walls, it also has a solar energy system and a automatized water saving system.

Marble, stone and wood dominate the interior, with earthy tones and neutral colours throughout. The interior flows seamlessly together with the exterior  and all of that gives the sensation of expanded, unblocked freedom.

Ezequiel Farca and his team have achieved that tough-to-define and even tougher to accomplish harmony where the old and new coexist, where the exterior and interior belong together and where the meticulous design work does not honk its own horn but instead, stays stylishly in the background where it belongs. - Tuija Seipell.

Photography: Jaime Navarro, Roland Halbe



August 4 2015

A confident black margin drawn on a crisp sheet of pristine, white paper anchors everything on that sheet and divides it decisively into sections. But it leaves everything else free and open; to be decided later, to be filled in - perhaps in writing or with drawings or other media.

That same feeling of order and balance - and also of rejuvenating freedom - permeates this Olivier Dwek-designed residence on the island of Zante. Zante, also known as Zakynthos, is one of the Ionian Islands that also include Kefalonia, Ithaca, Corfu and Paxi along the western coastline of central Greece.

The elegant dwelling sits confidently on the ocean-side ledge of the island, overlooking the neighbouring island of Kefalonia (or Cephalonia).

The British-born, Brussels-based, 45-year-old architect Dwek is a master of the pure, clean line.

In the Zante residence, the first level includes an entrance hall, outdoor dining room, kitchen, living room, patio, swimming pool, terraces and a bedroom. The large master bedroom is located on the second level.
All windows look over the steep hillside and face the beautiful vista of Kefalonia.

There is so much we love about this project. Obviously we are drawn to the elegant minimalist white-and-black scheme, the efficient, open floor plan, the overall openness, the refined proportions, and the complete lack of gimmicks or unnecessary enhancements.

And we always love a structure that leaves room to breathe, see, hear and experience the surroundings.

But in this particular house, our favourite feature is the black margin. We see them in the frames for the windows and sliding doors, the edges of marble counter tops, the play of light and shadow on the white surfaces.

These margins border and outline the life inside and outside, and they define the scenery and direct the viewer to the incredible surrounding beauty. - Tuija Seipell.



May 29 2015

May we just move in, please? This super-sleek, one-storey residence is rather close to a perfect minimalist house.

It fits in its surroundings and manages to appear like a real home for real people although it also reveals its cool, sophisticated character that reflects the tastes of the owners.

Located in residential suburb, about a 15-minute drive away from Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, the 264 square-metre (2841 sq.ft.), three- bedroom house centers around an inner courtyard that also has a swimming pool.

The car port merges seamlessly with the overall scheme and does not appear like an add-on. As a clean concrete cell, the car port not just shelters the owner’s retro sports car, but it also creates a display case for it. The shelter works just like a perfect box for the perfect gift; it enhances it but does not compete with it or take anything away from it.

The minimalist general approach, and the low profile and scale, make the structure seem unpretentious and sleek and much smaller than it actually is.

Our eyes are drawn to the elegant use of white as the colour of floors, and even the concrete and gravel outside.

This same educated minimalism is in view also inside the residence, where minimalism is not taken to a painful degree, neither is the harmony broken by arbitrary, and so often meaningless, splashes of colour. Much of the furniture is by Poliform and B&B Italia

Glass, wood and concrete are the main materials used in this house, affectionately called the Piano House. This name comes from the display-like open space around the grand piano. Because the piano is on display in a minimalist setting, it becomes the main character. Or, conversely, one might say that the piano as the main character has dictated the fact that open space is needed around it. The key point here is balance, and knowing what to leave out.

We believe that it is very easy to be complicated, not just in architecture and design in general, but in all creative endeavours. Minimalism is not easy, as we have said on so many occasions, but when it IS executed well, it creates an elegant sense of ease and lightness.

Everything belongs, everything fits together, everything speaks the same, language. Tuija Seipell


May 26 2015

Build a massive house made of concrete in the middle of a grove of 130 beautiful protected old oak trees and you have an ugly disaster in your hands.
This scenario sounds likely but it was elegantly avoided in the Oak Pass Main House that Walker Workshop designed for a private client in Beverly Hills, California.

The house sits on a 3.5-acre site at the rim of a canyon, which is why the fantastic views were the main consideration of the house plan.
The ornate oak trees provide a contrast for the hard edges of the low-lying house - a delicate balance not easily achieved.

The use of glass allows for views and vistas over and through the house and makes the mass of the house seem much smaller than it is.

Structural concrete is the main building material as it lets large spans of space to flow into each other without columns or supports.

All of this leads to a calm harmony between the site and the elegant minimalist house.

The 8,000 square-foot (743 sq.m.) single-family residence includes four bedrooms on the lower level beneath the green grassy roof, two kitchens, a dining room, a living room, an office, a 900-bottle wine room, an exercise room, a media room, four bathrooms and a powder room, a foyer and an art gallery courtyard plus a garage.

A 75-foot lap pool with infinity edges on three of four sides, bisects the house.

This large residence is on the same property with the much written-about Oak Pass Guest House that Walker Workshop completed in 2013. - Tuija Seipell.


February 10 2015

Villa Moos by Lake Constance (Bodensee) at the northern foot of the Alps draws our attention with its building-block appearance and foreboding façade.

And yet, surprisingly, with these almost semi-brutalist intentions, the look of heaviness does not follow.

Instead, there’s a delightful mood of lightness, almost of semi-permanence. It seems as if the entire structure could be a fold-up affair made of exceptionally strong origami paper or very light sheets of card board, ready for packing up and carting elsewhere. But as we know metal and glass are the main components, we must admire the architects’ ability to balance the scales so that the end result is harmonious.

With a sparse set of key ideas, the German architecture firm Biehler Weith Associated has managed to create a rather classy and serene vacation home for the owner whose sleek speed boats and antique race cars fit right in with the cool residence. - Tuija Seipell.

Images by Brigida Gonzalez


January 26 2015

For someone born in 1977, Mexico-born and educated architect Manuel Cervantes Céspedes has scooped up his fair share of accolades. With his team at CC Arquitectos, he has completed both residential and commercial project that deserve attention.

One residential project in particular, El Mirador, located in Valle de Bravo, Mexico, and completed in 2013, has remained in our minds as an impeccable example of how to create elegant balance.

In this mountaintop residence, the architect and interior designers – as well as the owners – have resisted bravely the temptation to add just that annoying bit of attention-demanding “interest” - a contrasting dash of colour or a contemporary piece of furniture or art in a completely unrelated genre.

We admit that when we first saw the images way back then, we fell in love with the free-ranging horses. Then we admired the use of reclaimed railway ties as logs for the walls and then we were intrigued by the mirror-like pond at the entrance that also functions as a drinking fountain for the horses.

In the end, all of these features are essential parts of the balanced whole: A natural theme that is not disrupted.

There isn’t a single material or colour, inside or out, that breaks the theme, yet the house does not look or feel over-themed or over-designed.

The structure is a combination of steel and wood, and local stone is used extensively throughout.

The residence itself is a one-bedroom plan and takes up only about 550 square meters (5,920 sq.ft) and includes a kitchen and a large family room that connects to the outside terrace.

In El Mirador, Manuel Cervantes Céspedes’s team included José Luis Heredia Alvarez, Rafael Rivera Sanchiz and Javier Claverie. - Tuija Seipell.

Photos © Rafael Gamo




October 14 2014

If we had only one word to describe this residence, we’d use harmony. If we’d have just two, we’d use harmony and elegance. Luckily, we can use many more, and timeless is a third word that comes to mind immediately.

Architects Geert Bosch and Annemariken Hilberlink of Berlicum, Netherlands-based HILBERINKBOSCH architects designed this timeless gem for a couple whose children have already left the house.

The villa is located in Utrechtse Heuvelrug, a municipality in the Dutch province of Utrecht.

The key to the harmonious elegance of the house is the way it sits on its site. The pine-forested site has a height difference of six meters – a unique feature in the predominantly flat Dutch landscape. As requested by the clients, the architects took full advantage of the location.

As a result, the house appears to have been on this plot for a long time. It belongs here as it responds seamlessly to its surroundings.

The architects pick up even more elegance points through the timeless style of the building itself. Three masters inspired the refined grace: Frank Lloyd Wright for his mastery with natural scenery, Mies van der Rohe for the open and transparent plan, and Peter Zumthor for his brilliance with tactile materials.

The entire color scheme of the residence stems from the surrounding nature. The dunes inspired the color of the concrete, and the beige, orange and green hues of pine trees are reflected in the bricks.

The same seamless color scheme continues indoors where the forest and dunes seem to be just as present as they are outside. The owners love art and theatre, and their home is designed to be a perfect showcase for both. This is true especially in the double-height entrance area.

Let’s add a few more adjectives, just to prove how much we love this villa. Graceful. Chic. Cool. - Tuija Seipell





August 23 2014

We are not quite sure how long we can stand feeling this envious but, for now, our envy is directed sharply at the owners of the gorgeous 500-square-meter (5,382 sq.ft) Parisian property, recently overhauled by designer François Champsaur.

The Marseilles-born, Paris-based designer was faced with a double challenge. The family has owned this apartment for generations, yet Champsaur’s brief was to make it “unrecognisable,” as he is quoted as saying in a magazine article.

Also, the apartment is located in the Trocadéro neighbourhood with views of the Eiffel Tower and the Seine, and it carries a historical weight as a representative of an era. Champsaur did not want to destroy these historical underpinnings in the process.

Like the proverbial sculptor, he removed everything that wasn’t the apartment, including walls, false ceilings, doors and staircases. Narrow corridors, thick walls, heavy doors and dark corners disappeared.

The beautiful, U-shaped open space circling an inner courtyard was then carefully outfitted with just the right replacements: Light-weight walls and partitions, open sight-lines, minimal colour, custom-designed furnishings and lighting.

The cool old-world feel comes from the white framework, and of course, the view. You have no doubt your are in a storied, fabulously aging, historical space, but it is also a decidedly and classically modern luxury home.

Champsaur even convinced the owners to heed the call of their almost-empty-vessel surroundings. Used to living among numerous valuable and ornate objects in every room, the owners now agreed to select only key pieces that give just the right touch of decoration, tradition and opulence.

Many of the pieces of furniture, such as the Mars chairs by Konstantin Grcic for ClassiCon, are also sculptural and demand visual scarcity around them. One of our Our favourites is the green leather banquette seating designed by François Champsaur. We also love the undulating dividers made of both wood panels and wood slats and strategically placed to emphasize not so much the division but the unity of the spaces. - Tuija Seipell.


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