Modern Marvels

Originally appeared on sothebysrealty.com.

“Less is more.”

That was the edict of one of modern architecture’s patron saints, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and is still a guiding principle for many contemporary practitioners. Geometric shapes, a lack of ornamentation, open, efficient floor plans, and seamless indoor-outdoor living are hallmarks of modern masterpieces. But above all, materials—glass, steel, and concrete—shape the designs.

Van der Rohe himself was a glass-and-steel devotee, as evidenced not only by his signature glass box skyscrapers (such as the Seagram building in New York), but also the private homes he designed.

One of his most famous is the Farnsworth House, a one-level glass home, framed in white metal. Located about an hour from Chicago, it was completed in 1951 and is now a site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Van der Rohe, born in Germany and part of a migration of architects to the U.S. before World War II, was part of the International Modern school. But other styles, such as Dutch De Stijl architecture, also incorporated many of the modern elements.

One example is the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht in the Netherlands. The residence was designed by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld for the woman he loved, Truus Schröder, and her three children, according to Natalie Dubois, curator of the house, which is now a museum. Rietveld was inspired by the Dutch artistic movement De Stijl. Fluid transitions between interior and exterior, clean lines, and the use of primary colors next to white, gray, and black (think Piet Mondrian, who was one of the leaders of the movement).

But Schröder had ideas, too, and wanted a home that was less constrained than most traditional builds.

“It’s based on the way she wanted to live,” Dubois says. That meant a glass facade, which was new at the time, open interior spaces with sliding walls, little to no ornamentation, and built-ins and furniture that have multiple uses. Visitors to the home often compare it to a houseboat, mobile home, or modern tiny house, where everything is multifunctional and compact, Dubois notes.

Many of the design elements seen in these homes are still popular with today’s architects. Take the Lost House in London by architect Sir David Adjaye, winner of the 2021 Royal Gold Medal, an award approved by Her Majesty The Queen and given to those who have had a significant influence on the advancement of architecture.

The 4,000-square-foot residence gets its name from its simple entryway, according to listing agent Guy Bradshaw of United Kingdom Sotheby’s International Realty. “It’s literally just a front door,” he says. “You could walk by it every day for 10 years and not know it’s there.”

The Lost House in London was designed by Sir David Adjaye. It looks understated from the outside, but is architecturally sophisticated inside

£6,500,000

Property ID: MFL5LR | sothebysrealty.com

United Kingdom Sotheby’s International Realty

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But beyond that door is an open living space with textured black walls and three light wells that create glass-encased interior courtyards and flood the space with sunlight. One of those light wells is at the center of the space and features a fishpond, while the others create gardens within the home.

The Lost House interior, has black walls and three light wells.
The Lost House interior, has black walls and three light wells

 

“This home was created in 2004 effectively out of nothing,” he says. “It was an old storage yard, and Sir David Adjaye created this incredible U-shaped home with volume, space, and the clever use of light.”

The three-bedroom, three-bathroom home, listed for £6.5 million, also features an indoor pool, a large office above the garage, and a lime-green sunken entertainment room that brings color to the otherwise dark palette.

In Spain’s Balearic Islands, the color scheme is decidedly lighter. There, affluent foreign buyers are looking for minimalist homes with views, clean lines, and outdoor space, says Alejandra Vanoli, managing director of VIVA Sotheby’s.

One such property is a newly completed four-bedroom, four-bathroom villa in Palma de Mallorca. The white box structure is like a modern version of Van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, but with mountain views. And although there are floor-to-ceiling windows, it is also partially covered by Iroko wooden cladding that brings warmth to the minimalist architecture.

“The construction is very solid with a lot of noble wood,” says Vanoli, adding that home automation allows owners to control and monitor the residence from afar. There’s a pool and lounge area, outdoor fireplace, oak flooring throughout, travertine marble floors, and radiant, underfloor heating. The property is listed for €3.5 million and is represented by Sandra Cosio of Mallorca Sotheby’s.

A white box home in Palma de Mallorca, nails indoor-outdoor synergy
A white box home in Palma de Mallorca, nails indoor-outdoor synergy.

The preferred materials of modern architecture, exposed steel, concrete, and lots of glass, are also on display at a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom home on the market in Seattle. Like the Mallorca home, it incorporates natural elements to take the edge off the minimalist design.

“The materials, while restrained in the home, are still very rich and so well defined,” says listing agent Moira Holley, the founding director of Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty and a co-founder of the firm’s resale division. “The use of the materials is really exquisite.”

Double-height windows in the center of the residence, asking $2.45 million, allow for far-reaching views of the Puget Sound, Bainbridge Island, and the Olympic Mountains. The main floor has an open-floor plan with a fireplace surrounded by cold-rolled steel and walls lined with bookshelves.

Designed by Seattle-based Eric Cobb, one of the top-five contemporary architects in the Northwest U.S., the residence has two terraces that extend the living space outside, Holley notes. On the upper level, the outdoor space is adjacent to the primary bedroom suite and features a spa with “the most incredible view.”

In fact, Cobb’s ample use of glass means there are vistas from almost everywhere in the house, including the garage.

“Luxury equals a view for your car,” Holley jokes.

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Property ID: 9RE8SE | sothebysrealty.com

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A white box home in Palma de Mallorca, nails indoor-outdoor synergy

THE A-FRAME REIMAGINED

THE CLASSIC STYLE IS UNIQUE, BRIGHT, AND MAKING A COMEBACK ON THE HIGH END

Appeared in RESIDE Magazine.

Few building styles are as distinct as the aptly named A-frame.

Starting in the 1950s, these triangular homes became staples in ski towns and other resort areas around the U.S. and Canada. Although interest faded for some time, the efficient design wasn’t lost on modern architects and homeowners, and the A-frame has seen something of a renaissance over the past decade.

“There’s a lot more interest in postwar design in general,” says Chad Randl, author of the book A-frame and a visiting professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture & Environment. “The quirkiness appeals to people.”

In Victoria, British Columbia, Sotheby’s International Realty agents Winston Chan and Logan Wilson are offering an almost 4,500-square-foot double A-frame for 6 million Canadian dollars (US$4.6 million).

The structure was recently updated, keeping the old-school look while adding modern amenities. It has the same footprint as the original home, but was brought down to the studs for the renovation, Chan says.

The current owners didn’t want to lose the historic A-frame shape, he adds. “It’s of an era. It’s almost like a vintage watch.”

A-frames, with their soaring ceilings, allow natural light to flood the home. The Victoria home is no exception, and there are views of the Satellite Channel, with Salt Spring Island in the distance. “It allows for some beautiful sunsets,” Chan says.

The 1.21-acre gated estate also features a second, newly built modern guest house, a fully finished tile garage perfect for showcasing several automobiles, and state-of-the-art technology to control and monitor the home from near or far.

Nearby, in Sooke, British Columbia, a 2,907-square-foot original A-frame home is being offered at C$6.75 million by Sotheby’s Glynis MacLeod. The five-bedroom, three-and-a-half bathroom home dates to 1969, and both the home and the extensive acreage surrounding it have been meticulously cared for by the original owners.

“This is one of those rare properties preserved by a family who care for the land and respect the environment,” MacLeod says. The home sits on 150 acres of virtually untouched forest, with waterfalls at the ocean and access to a dock in a sheltered bay.

Designed by German architect Tony Burkhart and built by European craftsmen, the home has a 1,360-square-foot deck cantilevered over the water and almost 2,000 feet of ocean frontage on Sooke Basin, plus a protected dock.

The double A-frame has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, providing an ever-changing light show that is the source of constant entertainment, says co-owner Virginia Wyman, whose father had the home built. “It’s a cathedral of light,” she says. “Every hour of the day brings a subtle difference.”

Tall ceilings and efficient design are drawing homebuyers to A-frame houses

 

Most potential buyers are keen to update the historic abode, rather than scrapping it to build anew. “This home is sited closer to the water than current zoning would probably permit, so it is definitely worth keeping,” MacLeod says. “Instead, potential buyers have talked about keeping the existing footprint, and extending the house behind it.”

A-frames, with their severely pitched roofs, make great vacation houses in wintry areas like Canada. “Snow is unlikely to collapse the roof,” Randl points out.

Ski resorts—Squaw Valley and others near Lake Tahoe, for instance—are known for A-frames for this reason, as well as because the peaks of the roofs echo the peaks of the nearby mountains. But Randl says they were popular at other resort areas established after World War II, including places in Oregon and the Adirondacks in New York.

“They were playful and whimsical. They were different than the everyday,” he says.

An elegant home with an A-frame focal point is for sale for C$6 million in Victoria

 

The design was out of favor by the 1990s, but now that playfulness is popular again.

Kim Schneider and Tracey D. Clarke of Sotheby’s Sunset Strip sold a three-bedroom A-frame in Hollywood Hills, Calif., built for swimwear designer Fred Cole. Constructed in 1958, architect Harry Gesner also made good use of glass and the soaring ceilings to let light into the almost 3,500-square-foot house. Just minutes from the Sunset Strip, it was recently restored by the seller and features Brazilian cherry wood floors, a pool, and expansive views of the city.

The home was listed for US$3.5 million, and was sold in an off-market deal earlier this year.

 

The house in Victoria, shown in the top two images, has lots of garage space, and lots of windows.

 

Meanwhile, Davinci Haus, a German company, is bringing A-frames to the Hamptons with its custom-designed four-bedroom, four-bathroom homes starting at US$2.5 million.

Working with local architects and homeowners, the company promises a modern A-frame that is energy efficient and features amenities like standard triple-glazed glass and optional Wolf, Viking, and Miele appliances and Ciuffo cabinetry. Sotheby’s John Healey works with the Bridgehampton, N.Y.–based team to bring these contemporary A-frames to the Hamptons.

The quirkiness many enjoyin A-frames can still be found. David Benford of Landmark Sotheby’s International Realty is marketing a 2,800-square-foot A-frame in Hampstead, N.C., with a decidedly Polynesian look.

Sitting on two acres, the home overlooks the Intracoastal Waterway. Palm trees outside and dark wood inside add to the island vibe, and the distinct triangular home also features a Jacuzzi in the master suite, an outdoor kitchen, and a private deep-water dock. It’s being offered at US$1.3 million.