January 1, 2011

A Different Slant: Moneo Brock Crosses a City Loft and a Mountain House

What do you get when you cross a city loft with a mountain house? A little bit of everything, apparently. For a family spending summers in the pine-covered foothills north of Madrid, the combination meant modern comforts in a wood-beamed aerie with views of historic landmarks. Moneo Brock Studio’s married principals, Belén Moneo Feduchi and Jeff Brock—who moved to Moneo’s native Spain after a decade or so in New York—conceived the house to nod only vaguely to the local vernacular.

Starting with the entry at the top and stepp­ing down to ultimately reach a patio shaded by a wide cantilever, the house hugs its sloped site. The 4,400-square-foot structure is built on a nine-square grid, the central segment being a glassed-in courtyard. It’s surrounded by strikingly original interiors for an Iberian chalet, bearing witness to Moneo and Brock’s experience designing artsy, metro-casual living environments.

As a counterpoint to the heftiness of the concrete elements, green-slate slabs, and oak planks that unite the house with the rugged landscape, the kitchen is bright, light, and minimal. Delicate counters of white solid-surfacing, with integral sinks, run above cab­inets faced with acid-etched mirror-backed glass and pulls of extruded aluminum. Of the six bathrooms, the open bathing area in the master suite exhibits the most experimental tendencies. The focal point here is the 6-foot-tall panel of translucent striated resin that separates the bed’s headboard from the tub. The latter has a surround of the same resin, punctuated by integral shelves handy for books. Turn left, and mirrors flanking the window above the double-sink vanity bring the pines directly indoors.

These novel flourishes have not gone unnoticed. BD Madrid picked up the kitchen system and produces it under the name Glasé, and the bathroom has drawn interest from critics and clients alike. This success reflects Moneo and Brock’s ample experience with New York lofts. “We use a lot of Plexiglas and other translucent materials. In fact, we’ve done several baths just in Plexi, with lights behind. So we’re experts,” Moneo says-with only a touch of irony. Brock adds, “New York was great training for the rigorous use of materials and finishes, with attention to texture and color.”

In terms of the design lineage of the mountain house, one senses the influence of Moneo and Brock’s past work at U.S. firms known for surprising juxtapositions and urbane details: Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects and Robert Marino Architects, respectively. Moneo and Brock have also worked on the experiential, expressive buildings of her father, Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Rafael Moneo. In 2009, Moneo Brock made a big splash with the Termas de Tiberio, an Interior Design Best of Year Award-winning spa in the Pyrenees. That project was rendered in freely curving alabaster and marble. As a counterpoint, the current house relies on a carefully controlled orthogonality that makes a strong reference to Andrea Palladio’s Villa Rotonda outside Venice.

Still, despite the right angles and straight lines, the house feels fluid, roomy, and imaginative, a sensibility that brings Moneo­ and Brock back in touch with their urban heritage. Is this purely design influence? Or a perhaps a wistful look back at?their formative years?

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