It helps to have a strong understanding of dramatic interiors when tackling the potentially intimidating task of restoring a massive, 17th century Amsterdam canal residence AND re-imagining it as a functioning modern residence for a busy, fun- and art-loving four-member family.
Interior architects Sigrid van Kleef (38) and René van der Leest (40) of Amsterdam’s Studio R U I M had what it took to strike that seemingly impossible balance: Their background in theatre and opera set and costume design, as well as in restoration and interior design of contemporary homes.
Their priority was to respect and celebrate the heritage and character of the Herengracht canal house built originally in 1666 for a successful Amsterdam merchant, Abraham Muyssart.
Equally important was to not make the residence feel like a museum but instead, allow it to express the current residents’ own lifestyle and interests, of which photography was a significant one.
The resulting 400 square-meter home includes three living rooms, five bedrooms, two kitchens, two bathrooms and a 200 square meter garden.
One of our favorite features is the massive, black ornamental steel frame in the living room ceiling. It speaks the visual language of centuries-old mouldings yet makes a bold contemporary statement and creates a lovely contrast to the daintier visual elements in the space.
We love the use of wood: panelling, staircases, exposed in ceilings and in framing. The kitchen is a particularly cool combination of traditional and modern. The walls are dominated by vast restored paintings depicting views of the river Vecht and framed in their original wood frames.
Countering this are the super-modern counters, bench and especially the custom-designed (by Studio RUIM) industrial-scale copper light fixtures.
All this juxtaposing is a demanding balancing act but RUIM has managed to tie it all together with a bold sense of drama, yet they have also induced a feeling of fun, lightness, serenity and comfort avoiding the trying-too-hard, melodramatic solutions that would have been easier and predictable. - Tuija Seipell.
Photography: Daniel Nicolas
Not only is this Bernardo Bader designed private home beautiful and elegant in its deceptive simplicity, it is also a great example of how to use resources to their fullest. Haus am Moor is a private residence with an attached studio, located in Krumbach area of Lower Austria.
For some of us, the exterior of the house brings back images of Scandinavian barns in their hulking, windowless, untreated beauty that weathers perfectly in the harsh climate till the barns appear to be part of the landscape.
Bader took some of his cues from the traditional stone-and-wood –structured Bregenzerwald house that also speak a minimalist visual language and use local materials beautifully.
For Haus am Moor Bader and his team used a concrete core and wood from the owner’s own forest. Every part of the the 60 spruce, fir and elm trees was used to construct walls, floors, ceilings, doors and furniture. During the construction, the building team unearthed clay in the depth of one meter. This clay was pressed to form bricks that were air dried on-site and used for the floor structure under the wood slats.
The house is heated with the central wood-burning hearth, and with geothermal heat pump.
Of course, we love the overall minimalist approach evident throughout the house both inside and out. But what we love specifically is the way daylight plays among the wooden slats, and the way the lit windows glow at night. Beautiful. Tuija Seipell
Not your typical weekend cottage, LM Guest House in Dutchess County, New York, is a study in minimalist elegance. The 2,000 square-foot (approx. 187 Square meter) house was designed by New York-based Desai/Chia Architects on the private client’s working farm that had no existing buildings.
What must have been a rather sizeable budget gave Desai/Chia Architects’ founders, husband and wife Arjun Desai and Katherine Chia, an opportunity to create an updated interpretation of the iconic Farnsworth House, that Ludwig Mies van der Rohe completed in 1951 in Illinois.
Although Farnsworth House was considered by some at the time to be cold and characterless, an aquarium or a pavilion rather than a dwelling, it has held its place steadily as a superior example of understated sophistication and as a timeless expression of van der Rohe’s desire to create balance and discourse between the indoors and the outdoors.
Similarly, the LM Guest House allows the residents an expansive view of the landscape by framing it with the triple-pane glass windows that are 20 feet wide and more than 10 feet high.
And although the LM Guest House is deceptively simple in appearance, it is a marvel of engineering and sustainable features. Geothermal heating and cooling, radiant floors, natural ventilation, motorized solar shades, photovoltaic panels and rainwater harvesting for irrigation, are just some of the examples of how this modern retreat attempts to fit in with the surrounding nature rather than conquer or harm it.
The property’s landscaping follows the same philosophy. Native plants frame the views and provide privacy while also managing storm water run-off. The bluestone slabs excavated from the site are used in the outdoor seating, pathways and terrace. Indoors, in addition to glass, the main materials include American white oak that is used for sliding panels, floors, ceilings and built-in furniture. - Tuija Seipell
When we first saw the images of Villa SSK by Takeshi Hirobe Architects, we had mixed feelings. On one hand, the house is made of wood which usually helps us become interested, and it does afford the inhabitants many beautiful vistas.
On the other, the structure seemed somewhat out of place among its very plain-looking neighbours, and we could not shake the feeling that it was slightly Darth Vaderish, dropped from beyond the Outer Rim.
But the longer we looked, the more we liked this villa by Tokyo Bay. It reads like a thoroughfare between the mountain and the sea. The vistas are clear and beautiful from many angles, and each viewpoint is different. By combining rigid timber veneer walls and truss arches, the tunnel-like space is achieved without almost no right-angle walls, all of which adds to the feel of the unexpected.
The residence includes spacious living, dining and kitchen areas, a bathroom overlooking the ocean, and one guest room. It also boasts a special room that can be used to display the owner’s beloved car.
What we like most is the way the tiled central courtyard functions as an outdoor living room, where the owners’ dogs can play and where larger parties can be held. Water also flows into the courtyard to create a pond. The bathroom, with its round tub, has possibly the best view in the house.
When the residence is lit at night, the impression from both the inside and outside is that of lightness and tranquility. Great qualities for a home. - Tuija Seipell (Photos: Koichi Torimura)
We love order and minimalism in buildings. New, freshly planned, pristine and perfect are great attributes for new structures , yet we also find ourselves drawn to things that aren’t so flawless. Recycled, repurposed, previously loved, salvaged. Buildings that have a previous life carry a character that brand-new ones just cannot master.
When old structures are preserved and lovingly restored, we gain in so many ways. Not only do we preserve materials that would otherwise end up in the waste stream, we also respect the heritage of each building, and add to the character of the surrounding area. Sadly, restoring the old is often more costly than building anew, yet we believe that more and more people and companies will continue to do it.
We see combinations of materials that would probably not end up side by side if the opportunity to do something radical didn’t present itself in the often impossibly complex demands of creating livable space from the old and unlivable.
We see solutions to gain more space – add height, increase the number of rooms, expand the footprint - that would never be used in a new structure. Creative ideas that do not really follow any known rules of style, yet produce a unique, cool style of its own.
Combining existing structures with a linking new segment is also gaining popularity. The resulting combos are often unexpected, fun and practical as well.
Often, there is a need to add light – larger windows and more openness in general – to older structures that have tiny openings due to the cost of (or unavailability) of window glass, or the cost and labour-intensity of heating.
In some cases, a new superstructure combines a disparate group of existing buildings and makes the entire cluster seem coherent and cosy.
Mimicking or echoing, yet distinctly differing from existing materials, colors, shapes and styles forms is also an elegant way to create a harmonious and elegant new style.
And, then of course, there are the rather mad, but delightfully so, mix-and-match ideas that make a point of not trying to fit in.
Whatever the result, we will be keeping an eye on these New Again structures because we know it is a trend that will keep growing. - Tuija Seipell
If you have seen cool examples of this, please let us know.
Image 1 - Refurbishment of west tower in Huesca City, Spain
Image 2 - Shoreham Street, Sheffield, UK
Image 3 - Brighton College, UK
Image 4 - Health Centre for Elderly People
Image 5 - Casa He - Italy
Image 6 & 7 - Convent of Sant Francesc in Santpedor, Spain.
Image 8 & 9 - Wolzak Farmhouse
Located in Bellevue Hill, one of the most affluent suburbs of Sydney, this elegantly renovated residence merges the heritage of the building with contemporary minimalism in a way that is not easy to achieve.
Sydney-based Luigi Rosselli Architects in charge of re-imagining the Victorian bones of the building. They have done it lovingly by adding a new wing that includes a kitchen and family room on the ground floor and a study and staff quarters above it.
What we like especially is the eye-catching new three-storey staircase that links the old and new segments. It seems like a perfect signature of the bygone period yet manages to look completely cool and modern.
We also love the whitewashed walls, the wide oak floorboards and the elegant use of marble in the bathroom. The cool lighting installation (by Lindsey Adelman) above the staircase, and the cozy yet roomy vaulted-ceilinged attic are both features that respect the old structure but in a fresh manner.
In these images, it is also tough to ignore the lovely display furnishings brought together by Alexandra Donohoe of Decus (also of Sydney).
During the renovation, the building’s heating system was also completely overhauled and it now operates a geothermal air conditioning and heating system. - Tuija Seipell
Photographer: Justin Alexander
The stark honesty of Hiroshima-born and -based 38-year-old architect Keisuke Maeda’s work is breathtaking.
The Pit House residence he designed for a client in Okayama, Japan, is a startling steel-structured 138 square-meter (1487 sq.ft.) “cave” that was built into the hillside site, yet it allows the residents 360-degree views of the surrounding area and its buildings.
This is achieved by mounting the above-the-surface part of the structure on 50 branch-like poles, creating a surround skylight for the amphitheater inside.
The Pit is one of those residences that one would absolutely want to visit, not just during the day but at night. There is an observatory-like feel to the space, yet the inside looks completely comfortable.
The structure’s boxy surface silhouette hides beautiful, snail-like curving walls, and in spite of being mostly underground, the residence is filled with light and openness.
Pit is definitely not the word we’d use to describe this wonderful structure, but perhaps that name is part of that honesty we so love about Maeda. - Tuija Seipell
It seems that every day we come across yet another beautiful example of elegant use of wood and, more often than not, the architects and designers turn out to be Aussies! Watch out Scandinavians and Japanese!
Stephen O’Connor and Annick Houle, partners at O’Connor and Houle Architecture, are responsible for designing this stunning residence in Blairgowrie on the Mornington Peninsula in Melbourne, Australia. The Pirates Bay House is an L-shaped, one-storey, 200 square-meter (2152 sq. ft.) home for the two architects themselves and their twins.
Because this is an assignment they can fully control, the partners were able to indulge in all of their favorite features, They value slow life and harmony with nature. They also emphasize the various ways in which the residents interact with their living environment – the play of light on the walls and through windows and doorways, the feel of materials and textures, the breezes and airflow throughout the building, and of course, the views and vistas at different times of the day and during different seasons.
The optimal use of sunlight, rainwater and other natural resources, and the selection of landscaping features and native plants that require minimal maintenance or watering, are all part of the owners’ quest for sustainable living. Non-toxic materials, low-energy appliances, recycled timbers were also selected for the same reason.
The result is an elegant, minimalist house that makes us think of self-sufficient Finnish summer houses with no running water, no electricity, no indoor plumbing, yet with all the pleasure. - Bill Tikos
Shrouded House is a discreetly opulent residence for a young, design-aware family of four (plus a Labrador retriever) in Toorak, considered the most prestigious neighborhood in Melbourne, Australia.
Inarc Architects was in charge of the architecture and interiors of the project, completed in February, with Allison Pye Interiors consulting on the interior design and furnishings.
The 13-room residence consists of the 850 square-meter (9,150 sq. ft) main house plus the 300 square-meter (3,330 sq. ft) basement, and the 70 square-meter (753 sq. ft) poolside cabana. The previous house and the earlier landscaping on the site were demolished. The new landscaping replaces most of the removed trees, and responds to the needs of the new house and its residents.
The project gained its moniker Shrouded House from the main feature: the effective screening of the slightly twisting and turning exterior from the adjoining properties and the street by bronze aluminum battens. Used throughout the exterior, the battens give the structure its homogenous coloring and its sense of lightness.
Bronze, steel and glass give the residence its contemporary sculptural presence yet they also allow light and clouds play on, reflect and penetrate the structure, which makes the entire building appear smaller and less monolithic. The effective use of these materials also helps connect the exterior to the interior spaces.
As the structure is also broken up into smaller-scale components, the sizeable house does not appear overly imposing or grandiose.
The interior is open, warm and light-filled with white, sandstone and oak surfaces linking the spaces together.
We love the understated way in which the designers have interpreted the family’s needs of privacy, warmth and openness through timeless, understated architecture. - Tuija Seipell
Much architectural jargon has been lavished on this Tribeca warehouse loft renovation but we just like the look of the cool, dynamic, elongated space.
This is not exactly a cozy home but its brutalist strength fits an old Manhattan warehouse well.
The Inverted Warehouse Townhouse has received numerous U.S. awards. It is the creation of Dean-Wolf Architects of New York, where architect Charles Wolf and designer Eunjeong Seong were in charge of the project.
We like the visible stairs that create a sense of lift and movement upward. We like the large surfaces of brick, steel and glass. We like the visibility between floors and from space to space that solves the potential problem of dark boxy rooms inside a windowless warehouse.
It is an impressive conversion of a loft (of 10,500 square feet) within a vast warehouse that covers the entire lot, leaving no room for outside space, garden or patio.
The main achievements of Dean-Wolf's work are cutting the roof open to let the natural light in and then using glass panels to let it shine into the dark centre of the expansive structure.
By doing this, they also created "outdoor" space inside, making the residence feel like it has a courtyard. They also created a large garden deck off the main living room.
To open up the key areas of the residence to this natural light, the main entry, via an elevator, is now on the fifth floor where public spaces and the bedrooms, playrooms and study are located. In a more typical townhouse, this "parlor" floor would be accessed through the front steps of the building. - Tuija Seipell