01 Dec 2017

Priceless views

Villa Geef is one of Damilano Studio Architects’ most recent residential projects. Nestled in the charming town of Sondrio, Italy, this exquisite build replaces an area that was once used as a break-out space for employees of a nearby electric company. Here, i-build talks to Villa Geef’s homeowner and Principal Architect of Damilano Studio Architects – Duilio Damilano himself.


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The homeowner:

What inspired you to embark on your own project?

Our passion and interest in contemporary architecture triggered the inception of this project. We looked to designers such as American-German Architect Mies van der Rohe and American-Austrian Architect Richard Neutra to inspire the design of Villa Geef. Looking through architectural photographs from various internet sources of structures from these two notable architects motivated the modern aesthetics of our new home.

What were your requirements for Villa Geef?

At the time, we lived in a three-storey house, however, we wanted a single-floor home with open spaces to the garden; a big part of this project was to bring the outdoors in.

The main focus surrounded the living area; we required large, bright spaces with uninterrupted views of the surrounding mountains and vineyards. Other necessities were large bedrooms for our children, as well as a kitchen where we could dine and take in the views of the garden. We also wanted a small guesthouse so we could invite our relatives and friends over for lunches during the holidays.

Were there any challenging aspects of the project and build?

The ground on which the house is built contained poor soil, therefore, we had to recover the substrate under the foundations with crushed rocks and stones. We also had to waterproof the entire foundation due to underground waters nearby.

Did you project manage the build yourself?

No, we needed someone expert and professional advice to handle the whole project and construction. The team of architects have followed us throughout the entire process – from project inception and realisation all the way down to the internal choice of furnishings. We approached material and product selection with the help of our designer’s specifications, all the while using local materials.

Did you install any renewable systems?

Yes, the underfloor heating and cooling system is supported by a geothermal energy generator, supplemented by solar panels for hot water and photovoltaic panels for power generation. The interior spaces enjoy an air exchange system. The house’s energy system is supported by solar photovoltaic panels.

How long did the project take and was it in the timeframe that you originally predicted?

If we exclude the time for approval for the masterplan, the timescale for the design was extremely short; one month for the preliminary project – one month required for municipal permit requests – and one month for the executive project.

Can you describe the interior and exterior finished space?

The interior spaces are very practical, bright and open up out onto the garden, which is very relaxing.

The house is divided into three blocks, one to live in during the day (kitchen, living and dining spaces), one for the evenings and homework, and one for our children.

Externally, the plot integrates well with the garden and the daily living space. While internally, the area is separated by a sleeping space – our daughters’ rooms are also separate areas.

The guesthouse and garage are disparate elements. Moving outside, the garden has a large patio for dining outdoors which is complemented by a water fountain.

How does Villa Geef respond to its surrounding landscape?

The new house fits seamlessly into the area without being invasive despite the dimension and stylistic diversity relating to the surrounding houses. I think the build has considerably improved the entire area, enhancing the neighbouring environment which had been abandoned and degraded.

What does the local community think of your property?

The neighbours seem all pleasantly satisfied. With the area available, there was an opportunity to build a multi-storey, wider house, however, we made a non-invasive choice with this single-storey design.

What’s your favourite thing about your new home?

The brightness and scenic views are the things we appreciate most about Villa Geef. Dining while taking in the wide views of the mountains is priceless.

Is there anything that you would have done differently?

Some elements are very beautiful, however, they’re ever so slightly too delicate – such as the smooth walnut floor. Perhaps the garage could be a little bigger.

What was your vision for the landscaping and how have you achieved this?

The garden has been conceived as an open space in front of the house – many plants have been preserved prior to the new construction. Most plants are native and are strategically placed to mask some unpleasant buildings and ensure maximum privacy inside.

We selected some plants and shrubs that have been recommended by our gardener. The garden is very relaxing with plenty of space. We find that it fits well with the surrounding context.

The furnishings within the garden have been minimised, and we used local stone for the paths. A water mirror with a small waterfall echoes the sound of water from the nearby valley – making the atmosphere very tranquil.

What advice would you offer to anyone looking to self-build?

Choose a professional and experienced design team that will follow you on every aspect of your design.

The architect:

How would you describe the design of Villa Geef?

Minimal with some aspects of local and natural materials that make it softer, allowing the build to seamlessly blend into the surrounding environment.

The overall plan for Villa Geef is quite flexible and free-flowing. Was this minimalism part of the brief?

Yes. The home is very fluid and clearly divided into two areas: the living area and the sleeping quarters. In the sleeping area, there's a private section devoted to the main bedroom. And, the guest quarters are separated from the residential section by a patio.

This was not a specific request, however, the homeowners has a requirement surrounding functionality and the distribution was designed by us.

The concept of a single-storey building is also a design choice. The house is on one level for both comfort and respect for the surrounding landscape.

You have made use of multiple materials for the facade. Could you talk us through the different material treatments and textures seen throughout Villa Geef?

Glass, wood, stone and plaster. These are the four materials that repeat both externally and internally and are the ‘guiding thread’ of this project.

The colour palette chosen is rather neutral. How do you then bring colour into a project like this?

Through colour, we tried to highlight the opaque parts of the glass windows, therefore, we chose white and stone. Dark colours are injected for pure aesthetic pleasure.

How did you approach designing the decor?

Much is related to instinct. Paintings were already owned by the homeowner and we have made a gallery-like area resulting in a unique space.

How can we see Damilano Studio Architects’ design philosophy in the Villa Geef residence?

Minimalism in the purity of the lines and the organic concept in the choice of materials. The project is inspired by the mountainous region of Sondrio which is surrounded by vineyards.

What were the architectural and design challenges of the project?

It was the idea of creating a horizontal building without altering the surrounding landscape – both from the outside and the inside.

How involved were your clients in the design process?

Only in terms of living needs. Our client approached us because they knew of our published works and loved the minimal architecture. We have led them from the severity of minimalism to a more organic language.

Further information....

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