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FIRST LOOK

Caruso St John reworks house in Swiss village

  • 2 Comments

Originally a restaurant-cum-hotel, this holiday home now includes a two-storey salon for use as an exhibition and concert venue

A traditional ’Strickbau’ – a ‘knitted’ timber building – in a village in Graubünden has been transformed into a four-bedroom house. Caruso St John not only restored the existing timber structure but also made extensive use of colour, painted pattern and trompe-l’œil to animate spaces and decorate the surfaces of newly designed built-in furniture, inspired by traditional local techniques.

397 n2 hires

397 n2 hires

Architect’s view

Located at the centre of a village in the Graubünden, the house for many years was Café Engi, a simple restaurant with rooms to rent. The original house, made in solid timber construction, had additions to the rear and at roof level to provide additional accommodation. Most of the old structures in Tschiertschen and in the surrounding villages are made in timber, in Strickbau, which directly translated means knitted construction. The houses use a finer assembly that keeps the weather out; the barns are looser, with the logs barely altered and with big gaps so that the interiors are well ventilated.

The café had ceased to operate several years ago, and the clients bought the house as a holiday home and as a venue for public exhibitions and concerts. Our project mostly avoided any structural modifications, and instead made a set of interiors that addressed the very different qualities found within the existing structure, and that made a new and more intimate character appropriate to a house in the mountains. The house has three floors, and each has more or less of the original Strick construction. The ground floor, which had previously been the restaurant, has been extensively modified and very little of the original construction still existed. Here we made a set of rooms using colour and timber panelling, to make a series of related and quite elaborate living rooms. At the rear of the house, where the addition had been made, we made a two-storey salon, where big dinners and concerts take place. The window openings looking out to the mountains in three directions, and at two levels, are all existing.

397 n4 hires

397 n4 hires

The first floor of the house was where the original Strickbau was best preserved, so on this level, which has a constellation of different sized bedrooms, we restored the original boards – the client carefully and arduously scrubbing each floor with lye to remove years of dirt. The top floor, which was an addition, had no Strick construction, so here we selectively repaired and replaced floors, and painted the existing wall panelling in green stripes, lending a precision and unity to the rooms.

Much of the painting used special mixtures of pigment and techniques, including trompe-l’œil. We also designed a lot of built-in furniture, as well as the beds and bedroom cupboards, that are inspired by painted furniture made by farmers that one finds in many parts of Switzerland. We also chose, with the clients, the loose furniture including some beautiful rugs from Isfahan.

Adam Caruso, co-founder, Caruso St John Architects

211 lñngsschnitt farbe 1 50

211 lñngsschnitt farbe 1 50

Project data

Start on site August 2016
Completion July 2017
Gross internal floor area 300m2
Gross (internal + external) floor area 376m2
Form of contract Private commission
Construction cost Undisclosed
Architect Caruso St John Architects
Client Private 
Structural engineer Ferrari Gartmann
M&E consultant Aldo Weibel, Ingenieurbüro Heizung+Sanitär; Soller Partner, Elektroplaner
Building physics Aldo Weibel, Ingenieurbüro Heizung+Sanitär
Quantity surveyor WT Partner AG
Project manager WT Partner AG
Painter Fontana Fontana AG, Werkstätten für Malerei
Cabinet makers B4 Möbel GmbH
CAD software used Archicad

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