White Nights pix
Inspired by the surrounding Alpine scenery, architect Gus Wüstemann creates a snowscape of a loft in Lucerne, Switzerland
Otto Pohl -- Interior Design, 7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The way Swiss architect Gus Wüstemann sees it, most apartments forfeit valuable square footage when kitchens, stairways, entrance halls, and other utilitarian areas are restricted to their specified functions. "Why waste 40 percent of your space on activities you do only once a day?" asks the principal of his namesake firm. So it's no surprise that his plans for a loft conversion in the attic of a historic house in Lucerne, Switzerland, involved integrating many normally discrete functional elements into a seamless whole.
Wüstemann's penchant for multipurpose spaces fit perfectly with the project's biggest design challenge: how to take advantage of its idiosyncratic layout. The glory of the property was a 200-square-foot rooftop terrace with spectacular Alpine and downtown vistas. However, the living quarters on the floor below had tiny windows, no views, and received most of their natural light through a single, small skylight.
Inspired by the glaciers in the mountains that ring Lucerne, Wüstemann connected the terrace to the apartment with a staircase of cascading white-lacquered particleboard blocks wide enough to lounge on. This abstract river of ice reflects light into the open-plan loft below and draws the eye up to the terrace. Most important, the space that would have been lost to a conventional staircase has been turned into a sculptural centerpiece on which to climb, sit, or even sleep. "It isn't a staircase," says Wüstemann. "It's a landscape."
The base of the glacierlike structure is flanked by two equally abstract white forms that house the kitchen facilities. On one side is a Corian-topped rectangular block containing storage cabinets and the oven. On the other, a Corian lid slides open to reveal a cooktop while providing additional counter space. A corner of the wall adjacent to the stove swings aside to expose the sink. Closed up, the kitchen almost vanishes. The living area lies beyond, and the lounge is opposite.
Separated by nothing more than a white cotton curtain, the master suite occupies a single volume next to the kitchen. A massive honey-colored OSB wall hides the bathroom from the rest of the 2,150-square-foot loft while the sleeping area is tucked behind a white block of floor-to-ceiling closets. A gap between the OSB wall and the closets allows access to the suite; the top half of the bathroom wall can be slid across this entrance, providing privacy in the sleeping area while exposing the bath to the loft's public areas.
Luckily, the lack of internal doors doesn't translate into a lack of solitude. The curtains and sliding partitions offer adequate seclusion according to Kai Semmler, who shares the residence with his partner, Diana Hora Siccama. "There are a lot of areas to retreat to," he says. "We never get on each other's nerves."
Wüstemann further intensified the apartment's snowy ambience by finishing the floors in a lustrous white polyurethane that resembles a frozen mountain lake. The ' surface, shiny as an iPod's shell, reflects not only the daylight streaming down the staircase but also the indirect lighting installed throughout the loft. Recessed fluorescent strips, for example, illuminate the bottoms of the custom kitchen cabinets and the bedroom's closet wall.
"Lights in the middle of a room close off the space," explains Wüstemann, since they throw the periphery into undifferentiated darkness. By installing lighting at its edges, however, "a room starts to live from the outside in." The architect uses an even more theatrical strategy to animate a long plaster wall that runs down one side of the living area. The gray expanse, up-lit by strip lighting, is concealed behind full-length white cotton curtains. The soft luminescence creates the illusion that the apartment extends well beyond the wall.
For some walls, the architect specified OSB or plaster, coated with nothing more than clear varnish. These surfaces offer a rugged contrast to the smooth white finishes that dominate the apartment and prevent it from appearing too ethereal or icy. "A painted wall is just a painted wall," says Wüstemann. "Raw materials have depth, character"—not to mention economic advantages that helped him complete the project in two months on a $150,000 budget.
It's difficult to believe that before the renovation, the loft stood unoccupied for two years because it was too gloomy. "Now, it seems lighter when it's dark outside," says Semmler. "It glows, as if you're in a cloud."