An unalterable footprint in rural Holland led Studio Prototype to imagine a new type of family house.
Nineteenth-century barns are everywhere near the coastal town of Schoorl in North Holland. Their monumental roofs and facades, made of black-tarred planks, are inextricably linked to the landscape here. Another barn-like structure has appeared on the horizon, its silhouette clad in aluminum panels and blue steel.
The multi-faceted house is the work of Studio Prototype, an Amsterdam firm run by Jeroen Spee and Jeroen Steenvoorden. They’ve made a name for themselves over the past decade with their clever residential renovations and extensions, especially remarkable for the custom elements and details – “prototyping,” as the architects call it. Completed in 2015, the impressive house was built for a young couple looking to escape big city life.
That their building would be a “shed,” was decided even before the plans were drawn. “The zoning plans in the Netherlands are strict,” says Spee. “The new house was not permitted to exceed the contours of the structure that previously sat on the lot.” This presented challenges, because there was also an extensive wish list on the drawing board: sitting room, kitchen, study, library, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and storage space.
The restrictions sparked creativity, says Spee. “Our clients wanted openness with private areas. This, combined with our aversion to dormers, gave us the idea to create ‘mini-homes’.” The result is a house arranged like a small village. From the entrance, a “street” leads to the various little “houses,” with the kitchen in the middle serving as a “village square.” From there, two stairways lead to the bedrooms on the second floor, via a large landing that doubles as a work and play area.
Each of the four mini-houses has a different character. For the library, a dark-stained wood bookcase extends to the full height of the house. A multimedia room feels distinctly introverted, with walls lined in sound-absorbing felt and just one small window. By contrast, the workshop is open and offers an oblique view of the garden.
“From the outside, we wanted the image of a dark barn; inside, a bright, warm atmosphere,” says Spee. To achieve this, the architects played with material and tone-on-tone colour. Smooth concrete floors play against rough-finished ceilings, where the relief of the irregularly arranged casting planks is left visible. The cabinetry in the kitchen and the bookshelves in the library are made from the same blue steel as the entrance facade, while the roof and many of the built-ins are lined in maple.
Interestingly, the black walls of the stairwells appear to be made of steel, too, but on closer inspection they turn out to be clay plaster, thanks to a Moroccan finishing technique called tadelakt. “Occasionally, we like to put the observer on the wrong track,” says Spee, smiling.
What stands out are the details, even down to the invisible joints of the bedroom doors. “We were trained in the conceptual SuperDutch era,” says Spee. “Rem Koolhaas, MVRDV, Mecanoo – they were our inspiration. But to be honest, after visiting their buildings we were usually disappointed. What looked great in pictures was in reality often poorly finished – sometimes even diametrically opposed to the concept. We want to do it differently. We want to come up with good concepts, and then build them in such a way that they stand the test of time.”
The quality of finishes is indeed high. The steel plate for the front facade – a single piece, with a coating specially developed for this project – is a prime example. “It has surprised us,” says Spee. “Sometimes, certain things turn out not to be feasible. Here, everything has turned out exactly as we hoped.”
Location: Schoorl, The Netherlands
Size: 400 square metres
Firm: Studio Prototype, Amsterdam
Structural Materials: Anodized aluminum, western red cedar
Other features: Custom shelving, kitchen cabinets and counters
by Studio Prototype, manufactured by Soons Interieurbouw