Hide and seek
In the Berlin apartment of architect Olaf Kunkat, luxury is defined by what you don't see
Otto Pohl -- Interior Design, 10/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
In the kitchen of architect and real-estate developer Olaf Kunkat, what appears to be a grid pattern scored into one wall is actually the reveal between the cupboard doors. Built to Kunkat's specifications, each pops open when pressed, eliminating the need for handles. The only one in the entire kitchen is the refrigerator's—since its door is too heavy for a push-touch latch. "It's really easy to tell guests where the fridge is," he says. "Just pull the only handle you see."
That scenario sets the tone for the whole apartment, the top floor of a 19th-century factory building in Berlin's central Mitte district. On a purely functional level, the 3,350-square-foot space serves as a home for Kunkat, co-owner of Kunkat Holding; his political-consultant wife, Cornelie; and their three children. To the architect himself, however, the interior is much more than that: It's an exercise in the use of complex design to create the appearance of complete simplicity.
The most subtle of visual cues defines the walnut-floored hallway that ushers guests from the entry. As this passage proceeds past various doorways, steps up or down inhibit or encourage foot traffic. The hallway branching off to the bedrooms is up a step; the way to the public space down a step.
Kunkat's pristine kitchen flows into the open living and dining area to form the core of the apartment. To one side, flush-mounted white-lacquered folding panels conceal a large study. Opposite, identical panels hide access to a roof deck. "Windows or doors would have ruined the room's symmetry," he explains.
With the main space stripped of the extraneous, attention focuses on the carefully selected furniture. Some is name-brand, but much is not. "Don't forget," Kunkat says, "that whatever is especially in then goes especially out." In the dining area, Verner Panton's namesake plastic chairs surround a rectangular oak table that Kunkat built himself. In the living area, defined by a plain white wool rug, an Antonio Citterio sofa faces three German 1950's armchairs.
A grouping of wire-based Charles and Ray Eames stools stands in for a cocktail table, because Kunkat has never found one that he likes. Besides, he's not sure he even wants one. "Too much zoning," the architect says. "Too bourgeois."
His brand of rigorous understatement carries through to the apartment's private zone. The master bedroom's walk-in closet lies behind a discreet white-lacquered wall panel, and a folding door off the entry hallway hides an entire bedroom. In the bathrooms, custom vanity counters and cabinets are finished in a lacquer generally used for shipbuilding. The guest and children's bathrooms got white; there's clear lacquer on the walnut counter in the master bath.
While banishing visual clutter, Kunkat also worked to reduce noise and energy use. He stashed the washing machine, dishwasher, and extra refrigerators in a utility room behind the kitchen and eliminated the need for air-conditioning by building internal walls of Poroton bricks, cooled by cross ventilation at night. Except for two small radiators, all heating is installed beneath the floor, whether the walnut of the hallways, the wool carpet in the bedrooms, or the smooth, dark concrete of the public space. "Natural stone would have been too opulent," Kunkat says. "If we had that, we'd probably have to start buying porcelain vases."
The Kunkats do collect contemporary European and American art, however, and the visual simplicity of their apartment allows them to place anything anywhere, even in a bathroom. A moody figurative chalk on canvas by Troy Brauntuch, for example, doesn't compete with Jenny Scobel's upbeat acrylic of cartoon birds, although both pieces hang in the living area.
The apartment's overall composition is fresh and spacious, not cozy—but that's exactly the point. "I don't need cozy," Kunkat says. "And the kids don't need cozy either."