From the street this house in semi-rural Austria looks much like its neighbours. Step inside and it's a miracle of modern interior architecture and design!
The sleepy Austrian town of Hafnerbach (pop. 1,500) didn't know what hit it after Swiss architect Elisabeth Mann was commissioned to slip a Trojan horse of a modern home design over the Alps and into an otherwise sleepy neighbourhood characterised by a conventional architectural look, the kind of neighbourhood where eyebrows are raised when a hedge is left untrimmed, or indeed when a little personal extravagance rears its head above the fenceline. We're talking a rural township a healthy hour west of Vienna that is home to a good number of city-commuting professionals (whom you might expect to like a little moderne with their comfortable middle-class), but is nonetheless traditional in that rather uniform, cookie-cutter contemporary sense… You may scoff, but it was important for von Mann Architektur to respect the conservatism of the community and built environment surrounding the property.
It still doesn't know what's hit it. Thankfully, Elisabeth keeps her office in a town almost as small – she understands the vicissitudes of such a locality – the curiously named Egg (pop. 8,500). A cool half hour from central Zurich, peopled by affluent, national-conservative and right-wing populist-voting citizens, its a community also likely to scorn an ostentatious modern intrusion into its monotonic residential landscape.
Enter Von Mann Architektur's design philosophy. Thought-provoking, considerate and confident, it's a philosphy that accepts that it might not always be appropriate to take
everyday situations as an opportunity to make the new and unconventional arise, instead acknowledging that it is possible to innovate without overt iconoclasm. This balanced approach is summed up in the company's assertion that
it often takes detours to break conventions.
The trick with this single-family house was to keep the flair hidden behind a facade that's handsome enough, stands neatly in line alongside its neighbours, but hardly lets on that some really incredible design manoeuvres have been performed behind and inside, hidden from the street and public sight.
Let's take a look at what an bureaucratic- and social-regulations-bound newbuild can do with a little ingenuity and a lot of freewheeling inspiration built into the very foundations by a well-chosen commissioned architect.
We chose not to head up this homify 360° home tour with the daytime photo of von Mann Architektur's single-family home taken from the street. That's the shot in which the house shuts its trap, when it puts on an innocent look and becomes just another house in Hafnerbach, a house that you could very easily walk on by and not think for moment that it housed an interior architecture that's a veritable portfolio of mouth-watering domestic design ideas.
We've chosen instead to showcase the house by night, when its simple gable roof structure and the oblong structure to the right (garage, carport?) are lit up a little and begin to flirt with those with a good eye for surreptitiously seductive design. Let's start with the windows peeking out at ground level to the right…
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Sunk into the ground beneath street level, this stylish studio workspace is the first secret we're going to reveal behind the modest frontage of the house. A modern, minimalist desk and table are flanked by a couple of pieces of vintage furniture – a nicely-carpentered table whose edge is visible to the right and a plain wooden cupboard – offsetting the airy minimalism of the room as a whole. At the far end, full-length sliding glass doors provide a private entrance from the garden to the studio and visitors (or clients – the space can function as an working office and reception) are greeted by a welcome cup of coffee from the espresso machine sat atop a low-lying benchtop-cum-shelving-unit.
The concrete walls are left in their industrial and unfinished state besides a light polish, the floor is composed of roughly scrubbed and finely joined pine boards, and a spiral staircase leads up to yet more divine interior design…
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Climbing the spiral staircase from the studio/office beneath you reach this stunning semi-mezzanine space overlooking the garden and sharing in the light from the huge window-wall that reaches up from below to fill an entire side of this secondary structure attached to the main body of the house. The walls are again left in the raw, slightly polished concrete that reflects the verdant green outside in an unusual, muted acid-green, an industrial vibe finished by flooring colored a brooding slate-gray.
The cool neutrality of the look is leavened (as in the studio) with a few pieces of carefully chosen furniture – bed, chest of drawers, and a large church candle cupped by a dish of weather-smoothed driftwood – built from natural timber, and (like the studio) it's a multiuse space – it's kitted out here as a bedroom, but could just as easily function as a second living room or an extension of the workspace below.
It's got an ensuite bathroom, too!
And we're still not finished with what the most unassuming external structure of house is actually up to. Below is a basement-level mixed-use studio and office space topped by an awe-inspiring gallery room, an equally inviting blank-slate of a space for sleeping, living, working or studying.
Up top, the secondary building's every spare square meter of external surface area is put to excellent use as a rooftop terrace and patio open to the heavens (but pretty well shielded from the street), with a simple double-pair of weatherproof outdoor chairs and tables balustraded safely in by some low-maintenance pot-plantings of lavender and bamboo.
It's even sexier given that egress between terrace and the interior of the house is granted via an impressive glazed wall that stretches up to replace the gable and meet the eaves, seen here all lit up at night. Who could have known?
We've made an unusual way into this house – but then respectfully snubbing convention is what this house's design does so well. After stepping through the glass door set into the floor-to-ceiling window-wall we're standing at the top of the staircase that leads down into the body of the house's central structure.
The stairwell balcony itself is guarded by a length of reinforced plate glass – a very contemporary gesture – but somehow the visibility of the pitched roof, slanting down above the entrances to one of the upstairs bathrooms and a bedroom, offers the comforting presence of tradition amidst the design's indulgence in modern novelty.
The upstairs rooms are generally positioned so some section of the gable roof intrudes on the space. Here at the rear of the house a dormer has been set into the roof for a bedroom that's far more in sway to traditional domestic architecture than other parts of the house. The furniture still speaks Scandinavian minimalism, with the notable exception of some rather rococo armchairs upholstered in emerald green… hung with diaphanous curtains there's more than a familiar whiff of grandma's attic at work up here, and we love it just as much as we love her.
Simply routing traffic between the upstairs (bedrooms, bathrooms, rooftop terrace) and downstairs (soon to be revealed) is only the function of this striking staircase. Beautifully designed and built, the stairs themselves are fashioned from blonde pine and appear to levitate behind the subterranean extension of the glass balustrade above. Mirrored below by another flight of stairs leading down to the basement, with the whole area generously and diffusely lit and raised above the ground level proper as if on a dais, these floating stairs provide a stunning, artful spine to the house.
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Von Mann Architektur swear by the Asian aesthetic-spiritual concept of feng shui in their architectural designs – if you like these stairs you'll like this before-and-after transformation of an older home in Japan and this Japanese house that revels in the Zen of wood.
Now that we're finally downstairs we can step back and take a look at the incredible centrepiece of this modern-on-the-inside, modest-on-the-outside home – a combination kitchen, dining room, and living room complete with a wraparound corner fireplace whose flue extends right through the core of the building for added thermal efficiency.
Entirely hidden from the street – the space is sunk down from the level of the street but on the same level as the garden – this communal area is private and flooded with light.
Out the back of the house we can see just how thoroughly a traditional gable roofed house has been broken down a refashioned into a modern masterpiece without breaking the boundaries that define the conventional form of such a building.
The structure is clad in thin-slatted weatherboards made from durable modern materials, and almost the full lateral length of the lower floor is punctuated with floor-to-ceiling windows, admitting light and simultaneously granting a superb view of the green outdoors and access to a side-slung patio.
It's a deconstructed approach to home design that whispers rather than shouts about itself, and we adore it.
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If you're interested in modesty when it comes to design, check out another unassuming suburban house with modern miracles on the inside!