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
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 colour scheme of the residence stems from the surrounding nature. The dunes inspired the colour of the concrete, and the beige, orange and green hues of pine trees are reflected in the bricks.
The same seamless colour 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
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.
Over the past seven years, at our creative agency, Access, we have worked with a number of residential and commercial property developers from Abu Dhabi to Sydney, helping them with development and strategy.
Yet we see so often the sad sight of yet another mediocre building going up. We see city councils approving mediocre design and we see cities looking uglier because of it. We see property developers rushing to get their building up, wanting to make a quick sale and profit, and not really caring or thinking about the aesthetics of the building.
Does the building enhance the surrounding area or make it worse? Will the building still look great 10, 15 or 20 years from now? Will it become an iconic landmark and a beloved site, or will it become a dated gimmick?
What will the resale value be down the track? Will anyone want to live in or buy property like it?
Property developers — and city councils — need to wake up and realize their influence on the cityscape and take that role seriously. This is the case not just for residential development — the same applies to office buildings, hotels and all public buildings in general.
As a developer and as a city council, do you want to be known as an organization that values and understands design and creates iconic developments? Or will you be known as the ones who created eyesores, or worse, caused a devaluation of an entire area or neighborhood?
The aesthetic of a building should be the Number One priority. There is not much point in creating and promoting beautiful interiors when the exterior tells a different story. The whole building should tell a cohesive story.
So many developers do not see the value, or even think about the aesthetics of the car park, for example. Would it hurt to splash some colour and graphic design on the concrete? Would it hurt to make the lifts and foyer more like those of a great hotel and less like a jail or a warehouse?
What amenities does the building provide? Is there a café, a library, a car wash? Engage us and wow us to the point that we cannot wait to sign on the bottom line! Excite us enough that when you go to market, so much buzz has been created that the units sell in 24 hours and at the price you asked for.
If a building is desirable and unique, and offers something truly beautiful, trust us, consumers WILL buy. It’s a no brainer, yet so many buildings keep going up that do the absolute minimum. They may tick off a few boxes and get the interior right, but not the rest. It’s not enough.
Every day, I am inundated with material from PR people and developers about new projects. Literally hundreds of submissions a day. So, over the past seven years, I have seen everything. And believe me, so have consumers.
Your potential buyers, the couples and the mums and dads and even grandparents are design conscious these days. The internet has opened everyone’s eyes to what is possible. People browse sites all over the globe, they learn, they engage in design. Design is no longer a closed shop. It is everyone’s.
Kids growing up now understand that design plays a crucial role in everything they consume, from the car they buy to the clothes they wear, to the headphones they listen to, to the cookware they cook, to the hotels they stay.
My advice to developers and city councils: Save yourself a lot of money, time and headache, and get it right the first time! Take design seriously now and you will be glad you did. - Bill Tikos
Wirra Willa is a tiny, tranquil pavilion located in Somersby, NSW, Australia, on an 80-acre property that formerly operated as a citrus fruit orchard.
Designed by architect Matthew Woodward for his father, the pavilion is only 72 square meters (775 sq.ft) in size and it is surrounded by a 36 square meter (387 sq.ft) courtyard.
The villa complements the existing larger residence on the remote property and provides a special, separate place for reflection and rest. It can also be used as a self-contained guest house.
The architect’s inspiration was the Fansworth House designed by Mies van der Rohe in 1951. Just as Mies’s famous dwelling appears to be floating above the landscape, Woodward’s pavilion seems to float on the lily pond, creating a scene straight from a Monet painting.
Achieving the appearance of effortless floating became a particularly challenging aspect of this project. To gain the approvals of the local council, the building had to be raised twice during the building process.
The area is flood-prone and the finished floor level had to be half-a-meter above the “1 in 100 year” flood level although there is a dam with two overflow spill ways. In spite of the two forced raises, the structure has retained its feel of floating and the residents can still enjoy the sensation of walking on water.
Our eyes were drawn initially to the clean lines and basic materials - steel, concrete, glass, sandstone – with wood the dominant feature. Complexity is easy, but elegant, functional minimalism requires restraint and tact, both evident in this lovely villa.
We can imagine – and envy – the guests loving the relaxed, cool feeling of waking up in this pavilion, with the warm morning breeze gently shifting the white drapes. - Tuija Seipell
At first glance, the K House designed by Sydney-based Chenchow Little appears slightly dark and brooding. No windows or inviting embellishments, only angular planes of concrete and wooden slats.
But as soon as we see the view from the garden, the dwelling starts to appear like a protective burrow, a safe hideaway, an intriguing living space.
And when we later read about the clients’ brief, we knew the architects had achieved exactly what the client – a privacy-conscious family of two adults and two children – had wished for.
The house is located on the edge of Sydney Harbour (Vaucluse) overlooking the city skyline and the Harbour bridge. The northern edge – and the sun bathed side - of the site faces a public pedestrian walkway. To provide extreme privacy yet allow maximum sun exposure and openness to the views and the rear garden, the architects created a protective masonry shell and built an internal lining of untreated gum timber that will weather over time.
The internal views are light-filled and airy with none of the darkness or broodiness of the first-impression.
The total floor area of the residence (including decks) is 533 square meters (5.735 sq. ft). The site area is 788 square meters (8,250 sq.ft).
In their 10 years in business, Chenchow Little founders, Australians Tony Chenchow and Stephanie Little have become known for bold and distinctive residential projects. They are becoming one of our favourites, too. - Tuija Seipell
Balance. So difficult achieve as it requires the designer, architect and owner to know just where to stop – what is just enough but not too stark; what is just perfect for the building, for the space and most important, for the residents.
Andy Martin Architects has succeeded in balancing the angular and the circular forms beautifully in this large five-bedroom double-fronted mews residence, Mews 04, in London's Hyde Park.
The biggest alteration Martin competed for this residence was to replace the timber-framed faux Victorian-style conservator form the 80s with a beautiful three-waved, sine-curved glass structure.
The form language of this new conservatory was then elegantly repeated throughout the house allowing maximum natural light into each space and fitting the client’s existing furnishings in with the new and customized pieces.
Bronze, marble and oak are materials that fit perfectly with the classical styling of the residents’ original pieces.
From the rounded topiary at the entrance to the curved marble bath tub, the beautiful curved form brings sophisticated harmony to the entire residence. - Tuija Seipell.
We are scratching our heads, searching for new words to describe the attraction we have for buildings such as the Limantos residence by Fernanda Marques Arquitetos Associados.
The one-family residence of 820 square meters (8,826 sq.ft) is built on three levels on a steep 780 square-meter (8,395 sq.ft.) plot in the upscale neighbourhood of Cidade Jardim (Garden City) in the West Zone of São Paulo, Brazil.
What is it that so appeals to us in this? Yes, it is the clean, classic lines, the Miesian harmony between nature and the indoors, the understated elegance of less is more.
It is also the achievement of open-space opulence without pretentious pomposity. It is the complete lack of unnecessary ornamentation. Balance. Harmony. Air to breathe.
Maybe it is that the building just seems to belong. Like waves on the beach or mountains in the skyline, the building occupies its space as if it were meant to be there.
To avoid sounding overly pompous ourselves, let’s just say that we wouldn’t mind living in this house.
The house consists of 13 rooms: living, dining, kitchen, mezzanine, kids’ playroom, three bedroom suites, powder room, two staff suites, plus laundry and garage.
The family engaged Fernanda Marques to create a home – both the architecture and interior are by Marques - that functions well as an everyday residence for the active family, but also lends itself to frequent entertaining.
Marques achieved a beautiful balance between maximum transparency and privacy, and managed to insert the building into a challenging plot while preserving the existing trees.
Using glass, concrete and steel, Marques created a timeless house in the spirit of Mies van der Rohe who was the architect’s inspiration for this project.
The elegant, white spiral staircase, resembling the inside of a shell or a curled strip of paper, is our favourite detail of this beautiful house. - Tuija Seipell.
This is what we call breathing room! A room in which one can breathe. Where the sea breeze moves freely. Where the scent of the ocean is ever-present. And the best part? It is not in a deserted island far, far away, but in an urban setting.
This 300-plus year-old house is located in the ancient port city of Jaffa, the oldest part of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality in Israel.
The gorgeous renovation is by the Tel Aviv-based Pitsou Kedem Architects, already well known for their minimalist approach to architecture and design.
The single owner of the house asked the designers to maximize the sea view while keeping the historical feel of the building intact. The project team - Pitsou Kedem, Irene Goldberg and Raz Melamed - has achieved this beautifully.
The residence consists of a 100 square meter (1,076 sq.ft) living area (living, dining and kitchen) plus an additional 80 square meters (861 sq.ft) that includes the master bed room, a study and a guest room.
Our main attraction points in this cool sanctuary are the gorgeous arches, the exposed texture of the old stone, the subdued colour pattern, and the lovely balance between the old and the new. It looks so easy and natural, but it is very tough to achieve such poise.
There is an overall sense of peace and harmony that is a luxury in itself. Breathtakingly lovely. We are seriously envious of the owner. Tuija Seipell
Design team: pitsou kedem, Irene Goldberg, Raz Melamed
Photographer: Amit Geron
We are quite easily charmed. Or, perhaps more truthfully: When certain elements exist we are highly likely to take a second look.
Give us beautiful use of wood, minimalist approach, classic lines, incorporation of nature in design, and we are intrigued.
And, if you can add that elusive ‘something,’ that special stroke of genius that makes your design unique, delightful, quirky, even weird, and we will really take a really good look.
The Tree Snake House in Pedra Salgadas by Luís Rebelo de Andrade and Tiago Rebelo de Andrade fits the bill perfectly.
The Lisbon-based architect duo has worked in the spa town of Pedras Salgadas in northern Portugal for some time, creating an Eco-Resort in the park. The resort huts are little eco-lodges made of modular systems and built on stilts.
The two Tree Snake Houses have many of the same characteristics and the architects worked with the Modular System Company to come up with innovative ways to create the feel of a tree house.
Each Tree Snake House has a studio, a bathroom and a kitchen.
The architects are working on additional versions of the Tree Snake House for different environments and climates, including mountainside, riverbank, urban and sand. They expect those to be available to purchase to the general public.
So, we suggest you start saving up for your own Snake House now. We certainly have been snake-charmed and can picture our office in one of them one day! - Tuija Seipell
Photographer: Ricardo Oliveira Alves for TCH
See also Treelife by TCH