An Architect Turns His Small, Dark Apartment in Buenos Aires Into a Bright and Airy Home

Add to
By Nicolas Kedzierski / Published by Dwell
A strategic renovation maximizes a small apartment in Buenos Aires.

After living for four years in a small, dark apartment in the Palermo section of Buenos Aires, architect Hernán Landolfo and his girlfriend, Lucia Gentile, were looking for a new home where they could eventually start a family. They had rejected a number of options when they found an opportunity they couldn’t resist: an apartment on Melián Avenue in Belgrano R, a residential district characterized by British architecture, thanks to its proximity to the railways and train station, which were built mainly by English immigrants. "This neighborhood is a total anomaly in the city, a place that recalls another time," says Hernán. "Melián is one of the few cobblestone avenues where there are still beautiful uncut Tipa trees. We were hoping to find something here."

There were drawbacks, however. At 720 square feet, the apartment was only about half again as large as their previous one, and it wasn’t much brighter. Located at the back of a 1960s building, it was originally intended for the doorman. It had been modified countless times and the layout was labyrinthine, with too many corners and small rooms. "The home was shuttered and in total darkness," recalls Hernán. "The flow was inefficient and it was difficult to see what was going on around the house."

"When everything was demolished, the space was completely open, and we didn’t want to divide it. We found a freedom that we didn’t want to lose." —Hernán Landolfo, architect

But the apartment’s relationship to its surroundings, the peacefulness, and the sense of privacy outweighed any doubts the couple had. "When we came in for the first time, we had two memorable moments," says Hernán. "The first was when we saw the flowering green wall on the back of the building that can be viewed from what is now our bedroom. The other was noticing the sense of calm and silence, two characteristics that are a luxury in a city like Buenos Aires." 

Hernán also had ideas about how to make the apartment feel much larger than it is and to give it the flexibility to accommodate the couple’s needs now and in the future. He began by tearing down all the interior walls, leaving an open floor plan. "The only way was to rebuild and reconfigure the space, minimizing certain areas like the living room, dining room, and office, and moving the kitchen," he says. "At the moment these are one large integrated space, and in the future it can be converted into another, which was the spirit of the renovation." The office, for instance, is slated to become a child’s bedroom when the time comes. 

Another key to making the apartment feel dramatically bigger and brighter was to enclose the end of the kitchen in a steel and glass structure with a folding wall that opens to the patio. The glass serves as a smooth transition between indoor and outdoor living while bringing much-needed sunlight to the interior. "The easiest way to project outward was by using glass," Hernán says. "It allowed us to be sheltered in the kitchen and at the same time it created a kind of greenhouse." 

During demolition, Hernán discovered the home itself had something to say. "As we undressed the apartment, threw down the walls and the plaster ceiling, things started to appear," he says. For example, they found an original, flawless wood ceiling that had been covered up for no apparent reason. Leaving it exposed added height and texture to the space. The same occurred with windows, walls, and the wood floor. "One of the staircase walls that was badly damaged during demolition ended up having such a strong character that we decided not only to keep it, but to enhance it with lights," the architect says. 

Material choices divide the public and private areas of the apartment. The communal spaces share a continuous concrete floor, while the wood floor defines the private side. A sleek box separates the bedroom from the rest of the home. The seven-foot-tall volume, which is covered in Paraiso plywood, holds the bathroom. The bedroom lies behind it, furnished with simple handcrafted pieces, also made of Paraiso.  

"Our goal was to change our way of living and improve our quality of life," Hernán says.

Get a Daily Dose of Design

Sign up for the Dwell Daily Newsletter and never miss our new features, photos, home tours, stories, and more.