written by:
photos by:
January 19, 2012
Originally published in Inspired Renovation

This family of cost-conscious Hamburgers (freshly back in Germany after years abroad) converted a kitschy turn-of-the-century villa into a high-design home.

Minimal modernist home renovation in Germany

A family of cost-conscious Hamburgers converted a kitschy turn-of-the-century villa into a high-design home with a strict budget in place. To unite the quaint masonry of the original villa with the squat, ugly add-on built flush against it, the architects decided to paint the old-fashioned facade graphite gray and then covered the box next door in plain, light-colored larch. Photo by Mark Seelen.

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Modern spacious dining room with concrete flooring

An LC4 lounge by Le Corbusier for Cassina keeps company with a trio of large planters and a surfboard in the space between the kitchen and the dining room.

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minimal modernist home renovation in Germany
High Contrast

The question of the facade was a big one: How to unite the house, with its quaint old villa, and the squat, square, ugly minimart add-on built flush against it? Instead of trying to minimize the discrepancy, the architects emphasized it. They kept the old-fashioned facade intact and painted it graphite gray using RAL color 7024, made by Brillux, and then covered the “box” next door in plain, light-colored larch. brillux.com

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neutral colored dining room with concrete walls and floors
Idée Concrète

To get a concrete look for the floors throughout the house, the team first considered Pandomo flooring, a slick treat-ment that would be even more expensive than a standard finish. Instead, says Winterhalder, they experimented with raw materials. “I’d call the suppliers and say, ‘Do you have something grayer?’ They thought I was crazy.” In the end, instead of a concrete look, the couple went with actual concrete—at a fifth of the price. pandomo.de

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Library room with a minimal muted color palette
Three’s Company

Inspired by the minimal color scheme of a hotel they stayed at in Bali, Winterhalder and Ehlers decided to limit their palette to three colors: anthracite black, concrete gray, and a light larch wood. The first move was to paint the backyard wall gray. Next up for a coat of dark paint was the villa’s old-fashioned wooden staircase, which the couple didn’t like but didn’t have the budget to replace. The consistency works to unite the different styles found in the house. “Somehow,” says Winterhalder, “it all fits.”

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Peter Janke inspired garden landscaping
Glass Houses

Though the original plans called for a frameless wall of glass in the back, it turned out that it would eat up most of the budget. Instead, they installed three wood-framed windows made by Fecon. fecon.de

Cut and Plant

For the landscaping, the couple literally took a page out of somebody else’s book. Winterhalder says their garden was lifted from page 38 of Peter Janke’s Kleine Gärten (Small Gardens), published by Becker Joest Volk Verlag. bjvv.de

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Disposable unit area by kitchen
Bring In the Trash

With an eye for the industrial, Winterhalder built the garbage area in the kitchen around two standard-issue plastic trash cans common in German cities. One is orange; the other, green. These in turn inspired her to start adding color accents around the house.

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Red locker storage with hanging E27 pendant lamps
Happy Accent

Now that the interior’s palette is firmly in place, Winterhalder has slowly been adding splashes of color. E27 pendant lamps from Muuto in the kitchen and guest room have red cords; one wall in the guest room is also red, with matching red locker storage. The inside of the front door is painted bright green. “For me, they’re kids’ colors,” she says. “I just love them.” muuto.com

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Modern children's room with cute wall decals
Sticker Shock

Though colorful dashes here and there certainly enliven the sober interior, little adds a dose of whimsy like the wall decals found in the kids‘ rooms. The owl over Jonne‘s shoulder is available from Raumgerecht and the branch leaves are from the Dutch company Inke. raumgerecht.de, inke.nl

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Square-shaped area guest bedroom home office
Boxy Rebellion

“I like simple shapes, and for a house,” says Winterhalder, “a box is very good.” The two downstairs bathrooms are located in freestanding larch-covered cubes; the kitchen island is resoundingly rectilinear; and a square-shaped area in the guest bedroom serves as a home office, where Winterhalder designs UV-blocking children’s beach wear for her label, Beach Heroes.

Measure Twice

When determining the height of the concrete blocks that form the outer wall of the kitchen island, the couple took a hands-on approach. “We measured our coffeemaker and a bottle of oil, and that’s how much higher we made the concrete blocks than the counter,”Winterhalder says. The blocks themselves were made to measure by a concrete supplier.

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Minimal modernist home renovation in Germany

A family of cost-conscious Hamburgers converted a kitschy turn-of-the-century villa into a high-design home with a strict budget in place. To unite the quaint masonry of the original villa with the squat, ugly add-on built flush against it, the architects decided to paint the old-fashioned facade graphite gray and then covered the box next door in plain, light-colored larch. Photo by Mark Seelen.

Project 
Black Villa

When Hinnerk Ehlers and Katja Winterhalder moved their family to Hamburg, Germany, after seven years abroad in Canada, they knew what they wanted: a supercool, minimal, modernist house. Ehlers and Winterhalder were after lots of light, lots of functionality, and something durable enough for the kids to run around in. Ideally, they'd also get a chance to implement some of the ideas for better everyday living they’d aggregated over the years. Integrating state-of-the-art energy efficiency was nonnegotiable. Everything they found, however, was too old-fashioned, and it was all too expensive. So the couple—he works for a large frozen-foods company; she was a creative in an ad agency—went back to take a second look at a tiny 1907 villa in a great location they had dismissed the first time around.

Modern spacious dining room with concrete flooring

An LC4 lounge by Le Corbusier for Cassina keeps company with a trio of large planters and a surfboard in the space between the kitchen and the dining room.

Their initial reaction was understandable. In the 1960s, the two-story, 1,070-square-foot villa with pea-green faux masonry had been all but swallowed by an L-shaped addition that once served as a minimart. The whole thing—2,200 square feet between the two structures—had since been carved into three separate living units. Only two rooms were inhabitable; the rest were filled to the brim with electronics parts and junk. “It was the black sheep of the block,” says Winterhalder. But the price was right, and an S-Bahn transit station, a school, and a bakery were each a minute’s walk away. So, even though the family couldn’t do anything to change the odd layout without giving up space under new zoning ordinances, they decided to take a chance.

With just a few months to go on their temporary housing’s lease, Ehlers and Winterhalder had to get to work. For assistance, they drew on the know-how of Berlin-based architect Frank Drewes, of the firm Drewes+Strenge Arkitekten, whose father designed the modernist house Winterhalder grew up in.

Library room with a minimal muted color palette
Three’s Company

Inspired by the minimal color scheme of a hotel they stayed at in Bali, Winterhalder and Ehlers decided to limit their palette to three colors: anthracite black, concrete gray, and a light larch wood. The first move was to paint the backyard wall gray. Next up for a coat of dark paint was the villa’s old-fashioned wooden staircase, which the couple didn’t like but didn’t have the budget to replace. The consistency works to unite the different styles found in the house. “Somehow,” says Winterhalder, “it all fits.”

While Drewes’s high-end, high-drama, high-design work fit right in with the cool Asian flats pictured in Winterhalder’s inspiration scrapbook, one issue remained. “We told Frank, ‘We have a small budget and no time,’” says Ehlers. “He said, ‘That’s a problem.’” They had spent two-thirds of what they could afford on the property, and the remaining third had to cover all the major renovations, repairs, and energy-savings measures required, leaving almost nothing for stylistic flourishes. Instead, the cool had to be built in from the beginning, along with the new walls and wiring.

With the help of Volker Schmidt—a laid-back, experimentally minded local who served as the construction architect—20 debris boxes to haul away junk, and lots of hours clocked on the Internet looking for the right raw materials, the team made it happen. A mere six months after signing the purchase papers, Ehlers, Winterhalder, and their two kids, Jonne and Oona, moved into a truly modernist miracle.

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