September 12, 2013

The Hills Are Alive: A Cozy Vacation House In the Austrian Mountains

Slopes or sea? When Italians opt for a vacation house, it’s one or the other, and an Udine engineer and his lawyer wife chose the former for themselves and their two children. Hohenthurn is a mountain village a little more than 50 miles northwest of Udine, just over the Austrian border. “That way, they don’t spend most of their weekends in the car,” GEZA Gri e Zucchi Architetti Associati‘s Stefano Gri begins.

Then he segues to the tale of the couple’s fortuitous find. Exploring Hohenthurn by bicycle, they spied a caretaker putting up a for-sale sign on the gate to the property. A preliminary deal was inked that very day.

The brief was brief: simple, open, joyous, and big enough for guests. Gri and Piero Zucchi took it from there. Since weekends and vacations often mean lots of cooking and socializing, the architects put the kitchen at the heart of the 1,300-square-foot house.

“That’s the true Italian manner,” Gri goes on. “People can gather for meals, an aperitivo, or preparing prosciutto.” Accordingly, GEZA blocked out the kitchen as, well, a block. Lacquered glossy black and matte fire-engine red, this block offers just about everything on a cook’s wish list, from a stainless-steel counter and dual sinks to an enviable amount of cabinets.

The kitchen anchors one end of a great room that, like the house overall, speaks the language of an Alpine retreat. “It has a haystack typology,” Zucchi says. At the same time, this is clearly a contemporary addition to the landscape, with minimal materials used to maximum effect.

Slate and birch are the signatures, unifying the interior. The former, as floor tile, is pervasive. The latter clads the walls and the cathedral ceiling. GEZA also chose birch for an L-shape banquette, wrapping a corner in the dining area, and the top of the table, which extends to seat 10. In the bedrooms, birch paneling cleverly conceals closets-with plenty of room for stuff to be stowed, a minimal environment can be kept just that.

Injecting a touch of levity, the architects played with a Piet Mondrian palette. Along with the sides of the kitchen block, the balustrade of the staircase down to the basement sauna is red. Doors are painted crimson or lemon yellow, bookshelves azure.

Green, figuratively speaking, also abounds. The house isn’t connected to the municipal gas pipeline, relying instead on a geothermal pump that draws enough warmth from the earth to heat the water in two 80-gallon tanks supplying the three bathrooms and the radiators. Meanwhile, solar louvers can be operated remotely via telephone.

Does GEZA subscribe to tenets of sustainability as a rule? Gri’s response surprises: “It’s an abused word. First, attention must be on architecture. If it’s green, so much the better.”

As for the furnishings, they’re virtually all off-the-shelf cheap chic at the couple’s behest. The main exception, standing in the living area, is Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni’s Arco lamp. “We try to use it in every project,” Gri notes. “It’s quasi perfect.”

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