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 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 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.
"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 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 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."
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."
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.
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."
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."
Shop the Look
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.
"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."
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
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