Three whitewashed volumes deliver daylight and improved functionality to a creative family’s historic home in Essen.
When musicians Milena and Max Schmiz purchased the Dortmannhof—a heritage-listed German farmhouse built in 1791—for their family of four, the young couple must have known that their new home would be a work in progress. Despite uneven floors, drafty windows, and strict historic preservation laws that restricted changes, the Schmizes succeeded in turning the 200-year-old farmhouse into a charming, art-filled abode. But the home’s lack of daylight on its northern side still remained a problem.
In search of a solution, the couple contacted Berlin-based architect Sigurd Larsen after seeing images of his Roof House, a Copenhagen home designed for daylighting.
"Getting enough daylight into the house without removing the historic facade was a major challenge," says Larsen. "Since the building is under monument protection, all original walls and ceiling beams had to be preserved. We were only allowed to add two small skylights on the eastern slope of the roof."
The design constraints inspired Larsen to adopt a "house within a house" approach and insert three new cross-laminated timber volumes into the northern half of the building that originally housed the barn. These additions, which Larsen calls "oversized inhabitable furniture," are designed for easy installation and removal in compliance with local historic preservation regulations.
"They are a family of musicians, so a larger space to rehearse music around the piano and a working desk was the main feature," says Sigurd of the central volume, a 36-foot-tall gabled music room with a north-facing window wall. The smaller, gabled volume to the east contains a new guest house with a separate entrance, while the flat-roofed volume on the west end houses a large bathroom.
"The building’s new spaces grow tall and narrow like the surrounding crops," notes Larsen. The music room and guest house were designed with very tall ceilings to take advantage of morning light from the two new skylights.
The three additions, which total 860 square feet, were painted with white chalk inside and out in homage of the historic facade.
"Large, north-facing windows allow additional daylight to stream through the old, perforated walls which were originally meant to ventilate the hay," adds Larsen. "The historic building is comprised of several entrances and internal connections which allowed for various farming activities to occur simultaneously. These features have been retained, allowing family life, creativity, and work to coexist in a similar spirit."