Mario López-Cordero -- Interior Design, 10/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Perhaps in architecture more than anywhere else, geography is truly destiny. Many an innovation has been prompted by the topographical challenges of the property—Frank Lloyd Wright's cantilevers at Pennsylvania's Fallingwater come to mind. And in the case of this residence for the Orenes family, built by Xpiral Arquitectura in the outskirts of Murcia, a city in southeast Spain, location dictated everything. "It's a difficult site," says Xpiral principal Javier Peña Galiano, "a north-facing hill that drops some 40 feet from its highest elevation at a steep grade." Coupled with those physical constraints was the issue of over-building. Though the pine forest surrounding the house is indeed beautiful, neighboring residences sullied the best views. But clever design is often the product of the most unpromising circumstances, and the structure Galiano devised is the architectural equivalent of extracting limonada from limóns.
"Although it's thought that Spain is always sunny," the architect continues, "winters can be quite gray. And the Oreneses live here year-round." To combat the disadvantage of a northern exposure, Galiano planned a 4,800-square-foot, C-shape structure straddling the hill with a central cantilevered curve that faces south, is fronted in glass, and embraces a multilevel terrace. "The internal courtyard allows the sun to penetrate inside the house," he notes.
The tiered terracing, which includes a swimming pool on the topmost level, helps blur the awkwardness of the elevation and, by introducing different geometric planes that coincide with the interior living areas, gives the illusion of one continuous space. And the vistas from inside the house to the surrounding countryside are carefully edited. These views are not panoramic but restricted by precisely shaped windows that selectively puncture the facade, itself clad in iridescent iron panels that reflect and blend with nature. Most fenestration is placed unusually—very high or low or off to the side—to frame only bucolic, unpopulated vistas. "Even though this area is well developed, these views make you feel as if the house stands alone," Galiano says.
The long, narrow kitchen, between the dining and living areas and office, capitalizes on this technique. It boasts a single 10-foot-wide window, which appliances and cabinetry are arranged to emphasize: Everything but the refrigerator and freezer is situated in a tidy row below it; the greenery can be appreciated while scrubbing pans or stirring sauce. A stainless countertop reflects the window's light; toffee-brown ceramic wall blocks warm.
In fact, that same material makes up the walls in the living and office areas. But the wall surface changes to limestone in the dining area, and the floor is dark-green marble in the living area; elsewhere, including the office, the bathrooms, and the outdoor decking, it's ipé. Classically modern furnishings help tie these seemingly disparate public spaces together, though, with pieces by such heavy hitters as Antonio Citterio, Eero Saarinen, Louis Poulsen, and Charles and Ray Eames.
Galiano's generous plan includes a master suite plus three bedrooms to accommodate his client's three children. Each bedroom has an en suite bathroom paneled in a waterproof material in a vibrant color, from canary yellow to candy-apple red. Each also has a clear view outdoors through an entire wall of glass, a deviation from the windows in the public spaces. Though the bathrooms are equipped with aluminum louvers that can be pulled for privacy, they're best left open: "The trees can be seen from the shower," Galiano says. "It's like washing your hair in the forest."
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