A Creative Couple Build a Home and Art Studio on the Edge of a Brazilian Forest

Architect Rodrigo Simão gets carte blanche to design a home and studio for an empty-nester couple in Petrópolis.

The Atlantic Forest—Mata Atlântica—is an enormous South American forest that extends along the coast of Brazil, and inland to Paraguay and Argentina. It’s one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, rich in flora and fauna. It’s here, in the Vale das Videiras near Petrópolis, that architect Rodrigo Simão has created a weekend home and studio for the parents of one of his friends. Both buildings have been sympathetically crafted to fit into the surrounding landscape and encourage outdoor living.

The former owner of the land had reshaped much of the site, which is protected, and had gotten into trouble with the national environmental authorities. As a result, he had to put together a plan to correct the damage, which involved planting native trees on the site. It was an important part of the brief that these trees be retained.

The open-plan living space—which incorporates living, dining, and cooking areas—is the largest space in the home and it offers spectacular views over the lake and valley through a full wall of glazed doors. The doors and windows in the rear of the living space can be opened to provide cross ventilation.

"The site is embedded in a protection area in the Atlantic Forest, and surrounded by mountains and trees," says Simão. "This forest is very characteristic of Brazil—it is wild, beautiful, and diverse, and it inspires us in our daily life. There are birds singing, insects, many trees, and flowers like bromeliads and orchids. It is such a rich environment."

The stairs leading to the lake are made from regular pavement blocks that were purchased locally. The architect also used local builders and other contractors.

The clients, a writer and an artist, live in Rio de Janeiro and wanted to build a weekend home in Petrópolis. They found a beautiful location by a lake, and approached Simão to design the home. Due to the protected nature of the site, they were unable to reshape the land and native trees had to be retained. Working with the topography of the site, Simão situated the main home on a plateau in front of the lake. An art studio is located on a lower section of the site, on the foundations of a former barn.

A large veranda extends from the living space of the house, encouraging residents to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. "The veranda is for reading, eating, talking, and having coffee," says architect Rodrigo Simão. "This brings you closer to the lake, the native trees, and the grass."

The studio features a lushly planted terrace, which allows it to blend into the landscape. It shares the same low profile and roof structure as the home.

"They had no experience building anything, and they weren’t sure what to do," says Simão. "So, they left the challenge entirely in my hands. When I first visited the site, I made a sketch of the terrain and decided that the house should be set on a single floor and take maximum advantage of the views, as it is surrounded by a landscape of beautiful mountains and trees."

The shape of the home was informed by the existing plateau and the views. It is divided into three "wings"—a central block that looks directly over the lake, and two side blocks that have been rotated slightly so that they also embrace the lake views.

The house comprises three wings, each slightly rotated to offer the best views over the lake. This approach also allows for privacy, as the main bedrooms are located in separate wings.

The home needed to accommodate the couple as well as their adult daughter and son and their families when they visited. The solution was to divide the private bedroom spaces across the three wings, with an additional bedroom in the studio, so that everyone would have privacy when there were visitors.

The Feijão rocking chairs and Sol deck chair were designed by Rodrigo Simão using reclaimed timber. "I started making these chairs as a way to save construction waste," says Simão. "I like to put them in my projects as a signature—my relationship with design was born from a will to go further in a project than just the architecture."

The entrance to the home is through the central wing, which contains a large, open-plan living, dining, and kitchen space. "The main element of this home is the living space, with a big veranda facing the valley," says Simão. "It has large openings that make the space flow into the garden and encourage outdoor living."

The entrance to the house leads directly to the large, open-plan living space.

This living space leads to an office (where the husband writes), which can be converted into another bedroom when needed, and the master suite at the rear of the block. In total, across the house and the studio, there are five rooms that can be used as bedrooms and four bathrooms. "It’s a very compact house, and the bedrooms are very simple, as they are just for sleeping," says Simão. "The largest part of the home is the living area, which is designed to encourage social interaction."

From the living area and the veranda, the studio can be seen over the lake.

To help the home blend in with the landscape, Simão used natural, nonreflective materials and a neutral palette. Even the aluminum window and door frames are dark so as to disappear into nature. The metal structure allows the home to have a light presence on the site, without the need to dig deep foundations.

The roof structure was designed to allow a large native tree to grow through it. This was an essential part of the brief, as no trees could be removed from the site.

Similarly, the roof is a lightweight structure made from steel beams and cumaru timber floorboards topped with asphalt blankets to seal them. The use of timber boards in the ceiling and on the floor of the house brings a cosy, domestic sensibility. "The entire structure of the roof on top of the beams is just three centimeters," says Simão. "This means there is no space in the ceiling for birds, raccoons, spiders, lizards, or ants to inhabit."

The simple, lightweight timber-and-metal roof extends over the living space and out to the veranda. This was the most costly part of the build, but it was essential to achieving the architect’s vision. Initially, he had planned to use a green roof, however the clients were concerned about ongoing maintenance.

Inside, the material palette strikes an intriguing contrast between rustic, raw elements—such as the off-form concrete walls and kitchen island—and more refined elements. "The formwork concrete is very artisanal and humanizes the space, as it is a handcrafted solution," says Simão. "It also offers a counterpoint to the precision of the granite countertop and steel beams."

Exposed formwork concrete was used for the walls in the house. It contrasts with more refined elements, such as the steel beams and timber floors and ceiling.

Shop the Look
Eastvold Furniture Classic Side Table
Following the clean, simple lines of the Classic Coffee Table, the Classic Side Table is extremely functional and versatile. The thoughtful proportions of this honest side table make it perfect for pairing with the Classic Coffee Table in your living room or as a nightstand in your bedroom.
Heath Ceramics Multi-Stem Vase
A stunning still life piece with or without flowers. Display vases as a family, mixed and matched, or on its own — we’ll leave that up to you. At once versatile and understated, it makes a beautiful addition to any room. 9" H, 3.5" dia.

The kitchen island is made from formwork concrete, echoing the materiality of the walls, with a polished black granite top. "The countertop is very precise and sharp, which contrasts with the rustic concrete island," says architect Rodrigo Simão. "It’s a very interesting mix."

The studio was built prior to the house, and is located on a lower part of the site on the opposite side of the lake. It is on the site of a former barn, which was in ruins, and is used by the wife for creative pursuits. It also features a guest bedroom that can be used by the couple's son or daughter when they stay. The space features polished concrete floors, and Simão initially intended to use the same floors in the house. After seeing the studio completed, however, the clients decided to use more traditionally domestic timber floors for the main home.

The studio features polished concrete floors. "It is the same as the flooring used in parking lots and gas stations," says architect Rodrigo Simão. "It’s very durable, and I thought this would be suitable for a home located closely within nature."

Veiled skylights allow filtered natural light into the studio. Large, glazed doors and windows can be opened to provide cross ventilation, as both the studio and the house rely entirely on passive heating and cooling.

A view of the studio’s timber door. The clients planted the garden themselves using native plants. "It’s planted in a very natural way," says architect Rodrigo Simão.

"In this kind of forest location, we sought to create a home that brings you closer to nature," says Simão. "You can hear the birds and see the course of the sun during the day, and the stars at night. The clients are very happy here. Interestingly, during the coronavirus crisis, they have been living there almost full-time—so it is a weekend house that has become their main home."

The house is situated on a raised plateau, with stone steps that lead down the slope to the lake. The studio, which is used by the wife as an art and creative space, is located on the site of a ruined barn. "My favorite aspect of the house is the integration into the landscape," says architect Rodrigo Simão. "You don’t feel the weight of the architecture. It feels like it belongs to the place naturally, and like it has always been there."

Sketch of Vale das Videiras House by Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura.

Site plan of Val das Videiras by Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura showing the location of the House and Studio.

Floor plan of Vale das Videiras House by Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura.

Elevation of Vale das Videiras House by Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura.

Related Reading:

An Expansive Grass Roof Tops This Modern Brazilian Home

This Eco-Minded Home in São Paulo Raises the Bar For Prefab

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura

Builder and Structural/Civil Engineer: José Luís Peixoto

Landscape Design: Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura

Interior Design: Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura

Lighting and Cabinetry Design: Rodrigo Simão Arquitetura

Photography: Andre Nazareth


Last Updated

Get the Pro Newsletter

What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.