C Haus Steurer Reuthe Bregenzerwald (c) Peter Rigaud
Climbing the grey minimalist staircase in the Steurer family’s home, you feel a little like you’re climbing a mountain path bordered by stony slopes. Because, right at the top of the stairs, a large patio window opens up a direct view of the natural landscape. Of whimsically undulating hills and dense forest that stretch almost up to the peaks. The last step finally takes you to the main area of the family’s residence but it doesn’t feel as if you have just made your way through a building – it’s as if you’d taken a stroll in a natural outdoor landscape.
The Steurer family sometimes calls its hallway with the exposed concrete walls a “canyon”. The structure’s proximity to nature, with its flat roof that has been reduced to the essential and that is situated on a slope in the small 600-strong village of Reuthe in the Bregenzerwald, does not immediately reveal itself, though. Surrounded by cosy gable roofs, it seems just a little out of place in a cool kind of way. A block made of reinforced concrete with parts of its exterior painted black and with others clad in rust-red aluminium to which a lot of glass has been added – that lets the Steurer family’s eyes gaze into the landscape to their hearts’ content. A 15-metre long panorama window stretches across the living area and the large kitchen like a widescreen television that only shows images of nature as it progresses through the seasons over the course of the year. You can see everything, the valley, the meadows, the majestic mountains beyond. “We wanted to build a house that would, on the one hand, open up the magnificent view to the east across the neighbouring village of Bezau and the mountains beyond,” says Paul Steurer. “While, on the other, we wanted to open up the west side of the build towards the steep slope with the forest’s edge.” Clever lines of sight make the views of the natural landscape that may be enjoyed from everywhere in the house the central point of focus.
It’s a very special location, with qualities that we wanted to exploit to the full.
“We definitely wanted our home to be characterised by a reduced style – both in regard to the material and the language of form,” says the young architect Paul Steurer and gives his happily grinning son Moritz a push on the felt swing that’s suspended from the concrete ceiling. Here, on the top floor, the staircase simultaneously constitutes the concrete core around which flexible living takes place: the large living room is located on one side of the staircase and the large kitchen with long dining table on the other while the discreetly separated sleeping area and bathroom for mum and dad are to be found beyond that. Ceilings and walls in the generous living and kitchen area have been realised in exposed concrete, while a calm and cosy white was intentionally chosen for the children’s rooms on the ground floor and the parents’ sleeping area.
All the sliding doors remain open while the family goes about its daily life, and the children are able to run endlessly and play catch across the rooms. In the evening, when a little more seclusion is required, a white curtain is drawn across the panorama window while a grey sliding door closes off the living area. The grey goes perfectly with the actual grey of the exposed concrete so that the door appears to seamlessly merge with the wall. Paul Steurer’s twin brother is a carpenter and provided lots of help with many of the details, from the staircase to the sliding doors.
It took two years for the architect and his wife Susanne to plan the many details of their house before they were able to commence building in 2007. And it’s not least in these details that a small tribute has been paid to handcrafted perfection, a quality that goes almost without saying in Vorarlberg, particularly in the Bregenzerwald.
We wanted our house to be reduced: both in regard to material and form.
Light flows into the kitchen from all directions and you can admire the landscape while standing at the sink. The panorama window is 15 metres wide
Paul Steurer with his son
The family intentionally chose a calm and cosy white for the children’s rooms on the ground floor as well as for the parents’ sleeping area and bathroom
The family previously lived in an apartment in Dornbirn before they moved to their house. It’s only 22 kilometres from the rural surroundings of the Reuthe district to Vorarlberg’s largest city. Which just goes to show how varied the landscape in Vorarlberg is and how quickly all its different facets – from lakes to high mountains – can be experienced. “We often spent time with the parents-in-law here at the weekends – they live right next door. We were immediately thrilled with the idea of building our own home in this place.” The green slope on the patio side means that the family is really close to nature here: the two kids only have to skip a few steps across the patio when they want to play in the natural garden – which is situated directly on the mountain meadow. Cows graze here in summer, the leaves radiate in the style of a magnificent Indian summer in autumn.
And the floor-to-ceiling windows allow us to enjoy the panoramic view at the front. Which means that we are able to take advantage of both.
Water trickles from a mountain spring directly into a concrete trough
Due to the fact that the ground floor extends into theslope and needed to be set in concrete, the Steurer family decided that the reduced wooden boxes that have long since joined the historic farmhouses and that have become a familiar feature across the landscapes of Vorarlberg were out of the question. They couldn’t see the point in building a concrete structure and then pretending that it was a house built from wood. “Wood would also have actually not been the natural choice because we aren’t surrounded by new or even historic wooden architecture,” says Paul Steurer.
The cellar rooms are located on the ground floor – half of which has been built into the slope. The bright children’s rooms, which have a view of the valley, are located directly opposite. And when the Steurer family wishes to breathe and hear nature in addition to looking at it on a nice day, all they have to do is simply open the patio door. Water trickles from a mountain spring directly into a minimalist concrete trough and the fragrance of the meadows fills the rooms. Particularly when the farmer has just mowed the grass. Nature and the ultra-modern have rarely looked so good together.
The house intentionally takes advantage of both situations: the direct proximity to nature afforded to it by its location on the slope and the breathtaking view on the panoramic side. It took the Steurer family two years to complete the planning of the details. The impression of genuine wood is visible across the walls made from exposed concrete, for example. The young couple wanted a minimalist home right in the middle of the countryside where the two of them had grown up. From a style point of view, less is always more: the kitchen was designed in such a way that you don’t get the feeling that you’re in a kitchen. Everything disappears behind reduced white elements. And all the technology usually to be found in living rooms has also been hidden away from view. The television and stereo system, for instance, have been elegantly concealed behind sideboards and cupboard elements.