Properties, Houses, Design
set in stone: a minimalist hillside weekend home

When a couple from Basel, Switzerland, began looking for a weekend home with a ‘discreet presence’ in a quiet location, it was only natural that they turned to the small, peaceful town of Morcote, a former fishing settlement nestled between Lake Lugano and Mount Arbostora that has been named ‘the most beautiful village in Switzerland’. The area, which is characterised by its picturesque setting, has few inhabitants, but the presence of numerous breathtaking palaces and chapels in its historic centre as well as the Romanesque-style church Santa Maria del Sasso makes it a popular destination for tourists and visitors.

The project requirements for the couple’s house on the slopes of Mount Arbostora were clear: a simple design, reduced sizes and an ‘almost invisible’ structure with a strong tie to the landscape. ‘We wanted a sort of retreat where we could isolate ourselves and unwind while surrounded by nature and views of the lake below,’ they say. ‘We had very distinct ideas, so all we had to do was find the right architects who could translate them into a design. We knew the Swiss studio Wespi de Meuron Romeo Architects of Markus Wespi, Luca Romeo and Jérôme de Meuron (nephew of Pierre de Meuron, the founder of renowned architectural firm Herzog and de Meuron), and we immediately sensed that we had a certain understanding and a common language.’

And they were right. At first glance, the architecture seems to be a subtle continuation of the land, and when viewed from the stone steps that lead from the road below, the only noticeable features are two supporting walls containing the abode within. ‘The uneven and rough exterior surfaces consist of stone and washed concrete in a warm, clay-like colour typical of the area,’ say the architects. ‘In addition to the green covering, this almost camouflages the facade’ – an effect that will be amplified over time as the materials are exposed to the elements. ‘The crooked walls and slightly pitched roof are dictated by building codes, which is why the layout is three adjoining bodies with a rectangular base around the entrance courtyard.’ Sheltered by olive trees and indigenous vegetation, the building merges seamlessly with its surrounds, offering a direct view of the landscape without any interference.

‘Once you reach the house, you no longer see any nearby buildings,’ add the architects. This unobtrusive design philosophy was also applied to the interior, which was deliberately left bare, with exposed concrete walls and floors. Huge glass sliding panels make up one end of the open-plan living room – providing an unrivalled vista as well as a connection to the scenic outdoors – while at the opposite end of the space, the kitchen’s position against the cliff face makes it feel as though you are cooking on the rock just beyond the window.

The rest of the building is made up of two bathrooms and two bedrooms, each with private loggias, and a wine cellar built against the side of the retaining wall. A minimalist aesthetic is present throughout, with a neutral colour palette punctuated by brief flashes of vermilion and yellow in select details. Every space has been carefully considered and features understated built-in cupboards and custom-made oak furnishings, most of which are based on designs by Wespi de Meuron Romeo architects. This subdued ethos provides the ideal backdrop for the home’s few iconic pieces, such as Henry Bertoia’s The Diamond armchair in front of the fireplace and an array of Eames Plastic chairs spread across the rooms.

The overarching intention behind this abode was to ‘turn off’ the various rooms to allow the landscape to be fully enjoyed. From the living room’s glass wall – which not only offers spectacular views but transforms the space into an extension of the outer courtyard when the panels are slid away – to the inclusion of loggias that allow the bedrooms’ inhabitants to relax both indoors and out, this unique weekend getaway is exactly what its owners wanted it to be – a discerning retreat that is completely at one with its natural environment.