When young architect couple Marcos Franchini and Nattalia Bom Conselho were looking for an apartment to buy several years ago in Belo Horizonte—the sixth-largest city in Brazil—they were deterred by high property prices. Instead of compromising, they approached Franchini’s parents, who owned an empty block of land nearby the protected natural area of Serra do Curral, and made a deal—the couple would design a home for themselves that featured a commercial space for Franchini’s father to teach wine tasting classes.
Casa Comiteco, as the home is known, is situated on a steep site, and due to the proximity to a protected area, the footprint had to be relatively minimal. Instead of seeing this as a disadvantage, however, Franchini and Conselho saw it as a possibility to arrange the different functions of the building over two levels, each with their own street entrance.
"The idea was to have a residential floor and a commercial floor," says Franchini. "Each floor has its own distinct identity and use." The upper residential floor features a bedroom, open plan living, dining and kitchen space, and a bathroom; while the lower floor, where Franchini’s father teaches night classes three times a week and hosts meetings during the day, can accommodate up to 14 students and has a large wine cellar and a kitchen.
The residential and commercial spaces are accessed by separate concrete promenades that double as parking garages when needed. These openings in the brutalist concrete street facade cut completely through the building, framing views of the city at the rear. The upper level view is framed by the pergola, which hints at the large balcony that runs the full length of the living space and is the entrance to the home.
"The house converses mainly with the view," says Franchini. "The entrance facade is opaque, sober and closed, whereas the rear facade is predominantly transparent and open."
The interior space on both levels is almost completely open, with the various living spaces integrated. A bespoke double-sided timber joinery unit—with entertainment cabinet on one side and wardrobe on the other—separates the bedroom and living room, creating a degree of privacy without completely separating the two spaces. "Although we have a fully integrated space, it keeps its singularities," says Franchini. "Each corner of the house is particularly related to a different city view and this fascinates us."
A major challenge was keeping the project within budget. To do so, the couple utilized industrial style systems for the lighting, which could be quickly assembled on site, and chose affordable, durable materials, such as concrete and ceramic tiles. In wet areas, such as the bathroom and kitchen, the architects used neutral finishes, including glass, marble and white ceramic tiles, that are easy to clean and reflect light into the interior.
Color and further character is introduced through personal objects displayed throughout. "We believe that objects give life to the environments and tell stories," says Franchini.
The home has been designed so that it can be easily reconfigured should the couple decide to have children. The in-built timber joinery can be altered to further divide the existing space, or a third floor could be added. The full-length angled skylight above the living area not only introduces a diffused light into the interior, but also creates an opening in the slab where a connecting stair or ladder could be easily introduced if necessary.
"We have no children yet, but the spatiality of the house has been thought of with this possibility," says Franchini. "Designing open spaces, with well established infrastructure—such as bathrooms and laundry—without forming barriers for future development of the floors was the key strategy for enabling flexibility."
The lower level commercial space operates as a wine tasting room completely independently from the residence. Although a separate entity, it shares the same durable material palette and functional approach as the upper residential space.
A bright yellow brise-soleil system, comprising five large perforated metal screens, protects the lower level interior from the harsh northern sun without obstructing the defining views of the urban landscape. These pivoting screens can be adjusted throughout the day with the sun’s movement. On the upper level, eaves and the pergola protect the northwestern façade.
"In the southern hemisphere, we have to pay close attention to the northern facades as they have the highest solar incidence," says Franchini. "This façade, however, has the best view of the city and neighborhood, so we wanted it to be glazed. It was therefore necessary to create a system that would provide good thermal performance."
"As a couple, flexibility is the element that reassures us about our home," says Franchini. "It is not a static space, but completely open to the changes that we will surely undergo in our lives."
Builder: MG Construções
Structural Engineer: N Engenharia
Landscape Design: Felipe Fontes
Lighting Design: Zenaide Aparecida
Cabinetry Design: ED Móveis
Building Performance Consulting: Vert / Luciana Carv
Electrics and Hydraulics: Guepardo ltda.