‘The greatest challenge in building a house lies in weighing up and finding a balance between architectural aesthetics and the personal wishes of those who live there.’
So writes Gennaro Postiglione in the introduction to The Architect’s Home. Indeed, most architects will understand the need to curtail artistic expression to adhere to a client’s wishes.
So it is interesting when architects design houses for themselves – when they are their own clients and have the freedom (subject to the usual restraints of cost, space and regulations) to design in keeping with their artistic principles.
Using the work of 100 architects, Postiglione offers not only a micro-history of 20th-century architecture but also an insight into the characters and needs of these individuals, given indulgent rein to create their own private spaces.
Victor Horta is a good example – the house he built in Brussels in 1898, complete with sinuous balustrades, enamelled brickwork and rich wooden furniture, was all in keeping with much of his professional work at the time.
But the house also reveals glimpses of his personal life: his love of parties was badly served by the house’s small footprint so he created the impression of space through a wide stairwell covered by a stained-glass roof. And in 1906, he extended the house to create an extra bay on one side, providing a larger room for his daughter who had suffered through her parents’ troubled divorce.
Unable to build his own property, in 1938 Carlo Mollino created a surreal personal space in a two-room flat in Turin through perspective-corrupting mirrors, coloured drapes and unique pieces of furniture chosen for symbolism rather than utility. The flat served as a testing ground for the Surrealist turn his professional designs would take and a model for the home of a character in his novel L’Amante del Duca, written while he lived in the flat.
The artistic and the personal combine in all the homes examined in Postiglione’s book. Although he writes of ‘opening a new window on the history of 20th-century European architecture’, he rightly orders the book alphabetically by surname rather than chronologically, falling squarely on the side of the personal.
The Architect’s Home
Taschen, 2013, 480 pages, hardback, £27.99