For the folks at this southeastern Spanish house by Martín Lejarraga, it's all about the swimming pool
Mario López-Cordero -- Interior Design, 11/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Luxury is subjective. One man's reinforced concrete is another's Carrara marble. Client A might put a library at the top of her wish list; for Clients B and C, it's a swimming pool. Or make that Clients B and M. When Albert Burgos and Fuensanta Morales, professors of economics at the Universidad de Murcia in southeastern Spain, hired Martín Lejarraga to build a house for their young family, he explains, "The extravagance wasn't about materials or grand spaces. There wasn't a huge budget. It was to be a simple house with a functional layout. . .and a pool."
A nimble realist, Lejarraga is known for his adept use of standard materials, resulting in an elegance that transcends mere components. "There isn't as much money in Murcia and Cartagena as there is in Madrid or Barcelona," he notes. "But quality doesn't have to be dictated by money. I prefer to use basic concrete or galvanized metal to achieve the same levels of function, proportion, and light as luxury materials can."
Martín Lejarraga Arquitecto even managed to make a virtue out of the budget-minded fact that the pool is above ground. It abuts the house to the north, providing a bulwark against chilly winds. Plus, despite being the project's star feature, it's built entirely of Lejarraga's beloved concrete. "I used the lowest grade allowed by law," he says. If those sound like the makings of a dismally stingy result, they aren't. The pool is exactly what it was intended to be: a turquoise oasis overlooking the scrubby terrain, with oval portholes through which swimmers can see the front yard.
He constructed the shell of the 2,350-square-foot three-bedroom house almost entirely of concrete except for the west-facing window wall, which is shielded on the upper level by perforated steel panels and on the lower level by the deck connecting the house to the pool. Just as bare-bones, the interior is a refuge from the Mediterranean summer sun, with light and shadows dancing across the ground level's polished-concrete floor and galvanized-steel ceiling.
The latter doubles as the subfloor of the second level, and—in another instance of Lejarraga making the most of the minimum—the central staircase appears to be little more than one of those galvanized-steel ceiling panels, angled downward to become the stringer. "I constructed only the necessary elements," he says. He built the balustrade at the top from scaffolding bars and chicken wire, cleverly scrimping on materials where it didn't matter in order to spend more where it did: Stair treads and flooring upstairs are African iroko wood, as is the deck.
He adapted his original plan to accommodate a kitchen built around a modular system of cabinetry by John Pawson that Burgos and Morales, equally thrifty, had bought at a liquidation sale and kept in storage for five years. The kitchen and the living-dining area, all open, share the ground level with a study that can be closed off. Up the staircase, the layout likewise hews to Lejarraga's philosophy of spareness. Three bedrooms flank a central hall, the young daughter and son's rooms on one side facing the master suite on the other. Their pocket doors "can be closed at night, but they're open most of the time," he says. "You can see from one space to another." In the master bathroom, the shower stall's clear glass box furthers the airy feel.
Most of the furnishings came from the family's previous home. Most certainly doesn't mean a lot, however. Burgos and Morales are "practically monastic," Lejarraga says. "There's nothing extraneous. In their bedroom, they have only the bed and an armoire." This strict approach suggests its own definition of luxury, one in which the value of a space relies not on rarefied or costly components but on how those components are deployed.
It's a style of living that Lejarraga finds himself perfectly in sync with. "I'm not an architect of great theories and reflections," he says. "I'm more interested in the process of construction and the way it can transform any material into a thing of beauty. I'd much rather work with lead than gold."
FROM FRONT OBUMEX: CABINETRY SYSTEM (KITCHEN). UNIFOR: TABLE (DINING AREA). B&B ITALIA: DAYBED (LIVING AREA). ALTRO: SINK, TOILET (MASTER BATHROOM).