Annie Block -- Interior Design, 3/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Firm: Rahel Belatchew Lerdell
Site: Nacka, Sweden
Rahel Belatchew Lerdell is an international woman. Born in Ethiopia, she moved to Sweden with her family when she was 6. She completed her master's degree at the École Spéciale d'Architecture in Paris, then worked as an architect in Luxembourg and Tokyo. She's fluent in four languages including Amharic, her mother tongue.
When asked what inspired this spec house in Nacka, a suburb 15 minutes by car from Stockholm, she responds, "It's a sum of different architectural influences. Swedish is pragmatic, French sensual and tactile, and Japanese experimental." It helped that the developer gave Rahel Belatchew Arkitektur carte blanche in building the 2,100-square-foot three-bedroom on its gently sloping ¼-acre lot.
"We did an extensive study of the site to ensure that the house would meld with surrounding greenery and take advantage of the afternoon sun," she continues. To make the U-shape structure look as if it's growing out of the earth, the upper wing is built into the hill, while the lower wing's roof angles down even farther at the end to meet the ground. She calls this slanted segment "an extra facade."
Moss covers the entire roof surface. "It's my first green roof," she says. Geothermal heating further raises the project's eco profile.
An appreciation of nature is part of the Swedish soul, she notes, and leafy Nacka has become an increasingly popular area. (She and her family live there, too.) Envisioning the eventual occupants of the spec house—who ended up being a couple with two children—she assumed that they would want as much exposure as possible to the outdoors. So the central courtyard is surrounded on all three sides by sliding glass doors.
Inside the split-level house, Swedish practicality reigns. Lines are straight; materials are true; storage abounds. "No space is wasted. It's a very rational floor plan," she says.
The living area fills the base of the U. She placed the eat-in kitchen in the wing on the street side. "It's nice to see and be seen while cooking," she says. The more private wing, four steps up, contains the TV corner and the bedrooms and bathrooms.
With walls and floors covered entirely in large sand-colored ceramic tile, the three skylit bathrooms pick up on the house's pale palette overall, with chrome fittings to add sparkle. The master bathroom, which has its own door to the courtyard, also features a sauna and double sinks, generous white ceramic basins. Similar but smaller, the two other bathrooms have additional mirrors to compensate.
In Sweden, much like the U.S., the kitchen is the social hub of the home. Here, the island's raised front ledge becomes a bar where guests could sit on stools to chat with the cook. The table attached to the side of the island eliminates the need for a separate dining room.
Gray limestone flooring warms up the gleaming white Corian and lacquered MDF that epitomize her no-fuss sensibility. "The most important thing for a kitchen is that it work well. To me, that means plenty of counter space for food preparation and cabinets and drawers for storing cooking equipment," she says. "Cupboards are discreet, without a lot of knobs sticking out. The higher ones are great for stowing items that are rarely used, like holiday cookie cutters."
She's speaking from experience. Her own house, which she also built, has a kitchen that's nearly identical.
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