Design Diary

A personal review of design creations.

Concrete On The Rocks


On the Greek island of Karpathos, a concrete house has been naturally integrating itself to the local landscape. The result is a spectacular multi-layered 200sqm home.

The Swedish architects of OOAK (One Of A Kind Architects) were recently given the challenge to create a retreat of peace on the windy island of Karpathos. The client is a French-Swedish couple who spent a long time finding their perfect spot with a direct views on the beach Afiarti.


The sparse, untamed and dramatic landscape was the starting point for the design. Every manmade alteration would be visible in this unique lot with its textured cliffs that descend into the grand Aegean Sea. The question became how to introduce an alien object such a house into this spectacular landscape, enhancing its qualities without altering its character. Rather than trying to mimic the landscape, the house is gently placed on the site as an object, leaving the surrounding landscape as untouched as possible.

Landscape and building are perceived as two distinct elements that together create a new entity – much in the way a perfect shell merges with a rock over time and gradually becomes part of the rock formation. Two contrasting objects, living in symbiosis, enhancing and complementing each other.

The site has two natural plateaux, one higher and one lower. In order to take full advantage of the views and reach closer to the sea, the building extends beyond the higher plateau, hovering over the landscape. This cantilever effect has a strong presence that augments the full experience of the site both from the inside and out. From the inside, it creates the illusion that the house is hovering over the sea, whilst from the exterior it further accentuates the contrast between the manmade and the natural.

The owners dreamt of a sanctuary in this beautiful yet rough landscape; a place where they could fully experience the magnificent surroundings and a shelter from the strong Karpathian winds. The main programme is arranged in a single story around an inner patio. A series of different voids blur the limits between inside and out, and an open void through the building connects the house with a large outdoor terrace on the lower plateau of the site. Part of the single-storey-volume is raised to accommodate height differences on the site, creating an independent wing for guests.

The building's structure is cast in-situ reinforced concrete. The exposed concrete exterior is contrasted with a soft and light interior. The interior makes clear references to traditional Karpathian architecture combined with Scandinavian furniture and a wide palette of materials. The windows, which are of different sizes and character, are carefully placed to frame unique views of the sea and the surrounding landscape.

Pictures courtesy of Yiorgos Kordakis and Åke Eson Lindman

That Little House On The Hill

Zumthor_1_1000 Hero.jpg

Peter Zumthor has finally conquered the UK. For his first building on the British isles, the Swiss architect teamed up with Living Architecture and built this stunning house in South Devon.

I guess it is already time to plan for your Summer holidays. Should you look for something different and quiet unique, you may consider browsing the catalogue of Living Architecture, a collection of homes for rent by world-class architects.


‘Secular Retreat’ by Peter Zumthor flaunts five bedrooms and hosts up to 10 guests over 375 square meters. It was actually the very first acquisition of Living Architecture founder Alain de Botton back in 2006. It took ten long years to come to completion. 


Taking over what was once a demolished home from the 1940’s, several details from the original structure have made their way into Secular Retreat, including the kitchen area, a hexagonal patio, and several Monterey pines soaring over 20 meters high.

Peter Zumthor followed in the footsteps of Palladio. He said the goal of the project was to emulate the maestro’s incredible presence of materials, mastery of space and his use of light and shadows that revolutionised the Venetian countryside.

The flooring is custom-made in limestone with resized tiles from a quarry in Somerset and the concrete walls give this residence a striking character. Zumthor also worked and produced most of the furnishing including the small pink stools in the bedroom and the wood dining table with upholstered seats in violet fabric and camel-colored leather.


 “It has become rare to be able to sit in a house and look out at a beautiful landscape where no trace of another building interrupts the lines of the rolling hills,” says Zumthor. “I could not resist to try to create this house.”

Each bedroom has its own bathroom and is situated on either side of the residence. At the intersection where these two areas meet, a large living area incorporates a custom-made kitchen, a lounge situated around a cozy fireplace, and relaxing areas where guests can sit down to unplug with a book.


Reservations at Secular Retreat are set to open this month.

Pictures courtesy of Jack Hobhouse/Living Architecture

Mantab, A Glamourous Workplace

48178-main_3903-1_48178_sc_hero copy.jpg

In Kuala Lumpur, the complete internal overhaul of an existing bungalow has proven that a workplace can combine efficiency with a beautiful interiors.

Mantab Group Sdn Bhd, a local property development company in the Malaysian capital has commissioned S/LAB10 to not only design a workspace for its growing team but also think of a series of spaces for hosting and entertaining their clients. The goal was to have a gleaming corporate hub seamlessly integrating business and leisure.

It starts with a bold façade. Looming over the quiet suburban street, the gold-copper alloy façade rises up from the building’s ground level in shielding its interior furtively. The triangulated facets of the matte- and highly polished finishing of gold-copper alloy are seemingly arbitrary–but in essence are conceptually extrapolated from the corporation’s name and brand. “Mantab” in Malay means solidity; an unshakeable integrity.

The designers likened this to the hardiness of a diamond—with no single facet on the jewel alike, yet abound with impeccably hardy beauty. Inspired as well by the Malaysian shophouse vernacular of folding iron shutters, the gold-copper alloy clad folding panels are hinged and operable. Whether angled half-shut with its interiors peeking out to its suburban extents, or closed in entirety for privacy and to keep out the glare of tropical light out—the façade is eye-catching and captivating, with the allure of it leaving many a visitor guessing what lies within. 

Inside, S/LAB10 was tasked to include offices for the company’s three directors as well a display gallery and numerous leisure spaces for hosting clients. In place, is a dexterous play of cantilevering volumes, contrasting surfaces, materials and texture, as well as the considered use and design of intricate details throughout. The consolidation of the building’s existing structural framework with a bold play of surface and volumetric elements culminates in a strong, sensual spatial experience and language throughout. And subsequently, a confident, bold architectural presence and visual identity for the client prudently set within the existing building’s typology. 

Contrast was a key design strategy employed by the designers. A strong theme of bold yet methodical contrasts, or as the designers put it: “intentional mismatches”, is evident throughout, as articulated in the design’s volumetric handling of spaces as well as the contrasting play of colours, textures, materials and, in particular, its complementary custom detailing.


The division of spaces are considered. One such example is the centrally positioned conference room on the white epoxy-floored first level. The room is surrounded by heavy but lush emerald-green privacy drapes. Left open when not in use, the curtains provide a flexible use of space that opens up the heart of the level rather than further segmenting it. 

On its borders are a pair of slender-framed, arched translucent screens that further aid in framing the open space. Uniquely designed and detailed for the scheme, these translucent panels of varying soft neon hues are encased in a thin black steel frame that double up as feature display shelves and add visual interest and depth to the space when viewed from different orientation derive different outcome, at times stacking of multi-layer colours or silhouette of translucent colour foreground merged with the background surrounding materials and finishes. 



In another instance, the top two floors of the building are prominently cast in operable bright gold-copper alloy panes. Once shut, the broad gold-copper panes make way for a spaciously appointed lounge beyond, concealed behind tall curtain glass panels. To the left of this is a slighter single timber-clad volume—this marks the main entrance and balances the entirety of the façade’s composition.

Contrasting in size and clad with locally sourced recycled timber, the protrusion was designed for dramatic effect. Hovering over the ensconced double-height lounge space are the glass-encased directors’ offices.

Generously washed with natural light, the offices and lounge are cast in a soft, warm glow. Along the south-western edge of the building here, the designers have incorporated an outdoor green terrace—dubbed the “bamboo terrace”—on the first floor.

Pictures courtesy of Heartpatrick.

Tiny Home For Great Holidays


How to turn a 55sqm home into a holiday retreat? i29 interior architects and Chris Collaris have found the solution in the middle of the Dutch countryside…

Everyone knows that small is beautiful but when it comes to living, we tend to associate space with luxury. I have a fascination with tiny spaces turned into cosy interiors.


This is what i29 interior architects (Jaspar Jansen and Jeroen Dellensen) and Chris Collaris have managed to do with a holiday home with footprint of only 55 m2 in Vinkeveense plassen.

This compact home is built for a family of four, including a living room, a kitchen/dining room, a patio, three bedrooms, one bathroom and two toilets. The layout is developed from the inside-out, the smart arrangement of functions make use of every cm2. Situated on an elongated island plot close to the lake, the positioning of the building volume is related to the views on the surrounding water and the orientation on the sun. By dividing the volume into four parts, the panoramic views and the invading sunlight become very specific.


On the outside the diversity in size and the interconnected positioning create a sculptural image, looking different from every angle. In order to intensify this sculptural quality, all facades have a minimal design with invisible roof endings and window frames detailed behind the wood facade. All volumes have big windows or sliding doors which can be opened completely to fully merge the inside with the outside.

On the inside, the dimensions and ceiling heights of the different volumes clearly articulate the separate areas and functions in the house. Long sightlines crossing the outside patio provide a visual connection. By opening up large sliding doors of the patio the volumes of the kitchen and living are physically connected.

Custom furniture and integrated cabinets accentuate the graphical quality on the inside. The design team made use of simple materials like natural oak wooden panels -or stained black to combine with the rough pinewood facade- and a continuing polished concrete floor. They strived for a design strategy in which architecture and interior come together in a model combination. Each volume has its own program.

By linking interior components to the architecture and vice versa, the result is a high-quality project not dependent on expensive materials or technical show. In every detail, they aimed for the ultimate space-efficient solution. Every aspect of the design is approached to produce a pure and unified experience to leave a strong impression.

Photography: Ewout Huibers