Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat

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By Jenny Xie / Published by Dwell
An artist couple from Amsterdam convert a neglected farm in rural Germany into a sustainable and modern vacation village.

When Marieken Verheyen and Martin Hansen found a dilapidated vicarage in the state of Brandenburg, Germany, after three years of searching for the right property, their friends warned them against purchasing it. Dating back to 1870, the farm—a home, barn, and two stables situated at the edge of a national park—featured overgrown gardens, derelict buildings, and haphazard repair work done by inexperienced builders. The artist couple from Amsterdam, however, were determined to realize their dream of creating a sustainable holiday destination that would celebrate simplicity and modern architecture. Despite their many challenges and a constrained budget, Verheyen and Hansen took the plunge, emboldened by their personal experiences. "As artists and former squatters," says Verheyen, "we were used to finding creative and unusual solutions when we had to build our living spaces and studios in old warehouses and industrial buildings."

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 1 of 9 - Built in the haylofts of former stables, three loft-style apartments with ample windows and clay plaster walls each have their own personality. Stable North, pictured above, sleeps two in the bedroom and two others in a mezzanine space.

Built in the haylofts of former stables, three loft-style apartments with ample windows and clay plaster walls each have their own personality. Stable North, pictured above, sleeps two in the bedroom and two others in a mezzanine space.

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 2 of 9 - A well-equipped kitchen allows guests to prepare meals with seasonal vegetables harvested from the farm's own garden.

A well-equipped kitchen allows guests to prepare meals with seasonal vegetables harvested from the farm's own garden.

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 3 of 9 - A hammock hung between beams, accessible from the mezzanine, provides a sunny spot to lounge.

A hammock hung between beams, accessible from the mezzanine, provides a sunny spot to lounge.

It took three years for the couple to transform the complex into Re:hof Rutenberg. There are eight accommodations dotting the property in addition to a multipurpose barn, sauna, and farm shop. Committed to high ecological standards—the "Re" in the name refers to "recycling"—the couple constructed a plant-based water filtration system, installed solar panels, and reused materials whenever possible to reduce waste. "We wanted to set an example and show our guests that living sustainably doesn’t mean you have to miss out on anything," says Verheyen, "that it can be very satisfying to abdicate from certain things and enjoy the simple life."

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 4 of 9 - Merging modern architecture and traditional clay construction, the sauna consists of a shower room, meditation room, and a steam cabin. A glass facade offers orchard views.

Merging modern architecture and traditional clay construction, the sauna consists of a shower room, meditation room, and a steam cabin. A glass facade offers orchard views.

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 5 of 9 - Stacked firewood powers the wood oven that heats the sauna to 70 degrees—a warm, enveloping temperature that is gentler on the circulatory system.

Stacked firewood powers the wood oven that heats the sauna to 70 degrees—a warm, enveloping temperature that is gentler on the circulatory system.

During their property hunt, Verheyen and Hansen had had time to refine their concept and address the questions of how to respectfully and authentically renovate a historic site, and what kind of clientele they wanted to attract. These concerns piqued the interest of architect Peter Grundmann, who helped develop their ideas and designed one of the summer houses on site, Salix. "It was difficult to find an architect who wanted to work so closely with the builders and owners in a big project with an extremely low budget," says Verheyen. "He had the guts to do so. His radical approach to architecture led to distinctive elements and very simple solutions."

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 6 of 9 - The three summer houses at Re:hof Rutenberg are nestled in blackthorn shrubs and enjoy idyllic meadow views. Summer house Salix, shown here, was designed by Peter Grundmann. A retractable screen opens up the space to a triangular porch.

The three summer houses at Re:hof Rutenberg are nestled in blackthorn shrubs and enjoy idyllic meadow views. Summer house Salix, shown here, was designed by Peter Grundmann. A retractable screen opens up the space to a triangular porch.

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 7 of 9 - Beginning with a 36-square-meter living room, Grundmann added glass cubes that function as living spaces as well as windows. 

Beginning with a 36-square-meter living room, Grundmann added glass cubes that function as living spaces as well as windows. 

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 8 of 9 - "Modern architecture often defines itself by using a set of design icons like the Barcelona chair or the furniture of Le Corbusier," says Verheyen. "For us it was a challenge to get rid of this way of defining a place and search for solutions which were specially made for our site."

"Modern architecture often defines itself by using a set of design icons like the Barcelona chair or the furniture of Le Corbusier," says Verheyen. "For us it was a challenge to get rid of this way of defining a place and search for solutions which were specially made for our site."

Rescuing a Historic Homestead, Two Artists Create a Rural German Retreat - Photo 9 of 9 - Suspended over the meadow, the bedroom boasts a large glass pane, while the transparent screen door allows the surrounding trees to cast playful shadows across it.

Suspended over the meadow, the bedroom boasts a large glass pane, while the transparent screen door allows the surrounding trees to cast playful shadows across it.

For Verheyen and Hansen, the former vicarage is an ongoing project. Says Verheyen, "We now have set up the basic structure, but Re:hof is not finished yet. We will continue to add and change things with the aim of creating a kind of gesamtkunstwerk." 

Prices start around $100 per night. Re:hof Rutenberg is closed for the winter and will take reservations starting on March 31.