This was not Ester Bruzkus’s first rodeo. When a top-floor unit in her Berlin apartment became available, the architect jumped at the opportunity to revisit a design challenge as an even more seasoned designer. Like her first apartment in the building, the new home features warm wood and bright colors—but takes bigger, more emboldened chances when juggling contrasting hues, materials, and scales.
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Moving to a top-floor unit not only afforded a large, rooftop terrace, but also gave Bruzkus the opportunity to take a new approach to the open loft interior.
"The design strategy was to introduce ‘boxes inside boxes’—object-like architectural volumes of various scale, color, and material that are in active dialogue with each other," says Ester Bruzkus Architekten. These volumes define the separate living areas in the open loft without cramping its 861 square feet. A varied palette of terrazzo, oak, and soft colors harmonizes with the industrial bones. In several instances, Bruzkus pairs the materials to surprising and playful effect, creating a sense of discovery in the small space.
Where do you spend most of your time at home?
Ester Bruzkus: Where we spend most of our time depends on the season. The apartment has inside and outside rooms, so we aren’t just limited to staying between the walls. In spring, summer, and early fall, we spend a lot of time outdoors on the rooftop. Our roof garden is a little Garden of Eden! Besides seeing sunrise and sunset, we grow vegetables and fruit— potatoes, cauliflower, strawberries—and we even have an apple tree! When the weather is nice, we cook and relax and entertain there. We have panoramic views over the city, so it stretches our sense of space when we are home. Even in the winter, we have balconies that spread across the entire east and west sides of the apartment with full-height glass, so we always have abundant natural light and a sense of what is going on outside.
What’s one item that always makes your space feel like home?
We designed the home for ourselves, so we put a lot of our own personality into it. The apartment is a bit like us: it’s precise, but fun. It’s rigid, but flexible. It’s restrained and opulent, too. It can be formal, and it can be relaxed. It’s full of contrasts, which is how we like it. It’s also full of surprises—for example, the apartment is designed as a dialogue between two room-sized boxes of restrained materials: one of light oak and the other of a cool gray. We love working with surprises, so inside the cabinet doors you find bright colors from Le Corbusier—blue inside the gray cabinet, yellow inside the coat closet, pink in my wardrobe, green in the kitchen. And the bathroom is a surprise of terrazzo and Japanese wallpaper.
What is your favorite piece of decor, and why?
I had the chance to design everything in the apartment, so when it came to the sofa, I made it exactly how I wanted it. It’s the perfect place to dream and chill. With it, I had some fun: it is wrapped with lush velvets in three tones of red and pink—and the colors change as your eye picks up the direction of the weave under different lights.
What qualities does any home of yours have to have?
A good room results from dialogues of space and light, color and material, fine craftsmanship and careful detailing. The challenge is to find the right balance of restraint and exuberance.
What do you see as the best investment pieces for the home?
Good architecture always adds value to a place. The investment value of hiring a designer enhances what is possible in a raw space. The most interesting transformation happens when you introduce a rich dialogue of color and material and careful planning into a space. A good design takes on a life of its own. I always know the design is right when I feel butterflies in my stomach.
What are your favorite places to shop, locally or online?
Of course, Studio Coucou: our own hand-picked, curated shop! After opening a new hotel or a restaurant project, people often ask where I got the furniture or the decorative things: "Where did you get that lamp from?" Or "Can you buy this rug or chair somewhere?" With Studio Coucou, we can finally say yes.
What was the biggest challenge in designing this space, and how did you overcome it?
The apartment building was one of the very first ground-up buildings built in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of East Berlin after the fall of the Wall…it is a very interesting building designed and built by a former professor of mine: flexible and open lofts with a palette of bright blue epoxy floors, wood doors, and exposed concrete. The building got a lot of press at the time because it had raised platforms at the windows that suggested flexible ways of using the space.
But the space was too open-ended, and the sense of material was limited, and the floor was…blue. My first apartment in this building totally transformed that original idea, and I introduced a series of fixed boxes made from rich materials and colors: white marble, warm woods, pinks, blacks—all contrasted with the exposed concrete. But when an apartment opened on the top floor, I revisited the exact same design problem in a completely different way—so I could also get a roof garden! In the years between the apartments, I grew as a designer and the recent apartment is more nuanced—more a juxtaposition of color and scale and material contrasts; contrasts of curved and straight, rough and smooth, common and opulent, colorful and restrained, thick and thin, playful and serious.
Where did you find inspiration when designing this space?
I find inspiration in lots of places…films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light, and shadows. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: "It’s not where you take things from—it’s where you take them to."
Get the Look: Shop Architect Ester Bruzkus’s Berlin Loft
More My House:
Builder: Gorskovs Bau
Lighting Design: PSLab
Cabinetry Design/Installation: Holzmanufaktur Richter GmbH