“I had always fantasized about building my own version of the Grand Budapest Hotel,” explains Berlin-based artist and designer Jordan Soderberg Mills of his atmospheric abode. Trained in art history in Toronto, architecture in Chile and design in London, the globe-trotting creative – known for his glass sculptures that explore light and optics – finally chose to settle in German city after a chance discovery of this long-abandoned residence.
“The property was constructed at the turn of the century as an Italianate Villa in the middle of Germany, so it always felt a bit odd stylistically, with some weird anachronistic features,” he says. “I’ve been faithfully restoring the original plasterwork, oak paneling and parquet flooring, while modernizing things like the kitchen, the windows and all of the removable features, with a bit of a nod to Italian and German design — from Bauhaus to Memphis.”
Polished travertine floors demarcate the entrance to the palatial home, complimented by an eclectic mix of art objects – including a landscape painting by the former owner. On the wall “a small painting by Chilean artist Adrian Gouet depicts a nuclear explosion” while the sculptural seat (originating from the Democratic Republic of Congo) was carved from a single tree stump. “I picked it up at Paul de Grand Antiques in Bruges,” he says.
The library holds the designer’s growing assortment of books and vintage objects, as well as his own body of work. Originally conceived for an exhibition at Toronto’s Power Plant gallery in 2016, the technicolour mirror is framed by a full-height shelving system built by Soderberg Mills. “I welded these bookshelves in my studio using hinges found in the basement of the property,” he says. “The house was originally given as a gift to Werner Dirks, landscape architect to the Kaiser, so the hinges were hand-forged for gates in the local parks.” His collection of German radio tower models (on the coffee table) add a “space-age touch.”
Boasting soaring ceilings and rich oak paneling, the central Great Hall is the core of the home. In the raised illuminated apse, chairs by Charles and Ray Eames for Herman Miller surround the original dining table that riffs on the forms of the nearby columns. Flanked by the library as well as the newly added kitchen, the nave-like space is further lined with sombre blue paintings by Dirks. “He would paint the landscapes in oils before sitting down to draft the plans,” Soderberg Mills explains of the picturesque scenes. “I love that they’re a part of the history of the house.”
A deep blue, majolica-tiled fireplace (left) provides a bold counterpoint to the ornate wooden bones of the space, further complimented by a carefully curated selection of designer furniture and artwork. “I love these granite maquettes by Francisco Gazitua, the Chilean sculptor with whom I apprenticed as a blacksmith a few years ago.” The three vessels rest atop the mantle (right), while other furnishings, such as a coveted vintage Knoll chair – “I want to be buried with [it]” – round out the vignette.
During the renovations, Soderberg Mills converted what was once the smoking room into this generous, airy kitchen located immediately off the Great Hall. It was imperative that the historic house and the new interior would feel connected – physically and conceptually. “I colour-matched the cabinetry with the fireplace,” he says. “I used only lower cabinets, with some affordable Ikea cabinetry” finished by a local automotive painter. Polished Carrara marble countertops and backsplashes capture the natural light coming in from the large windows as well as a glow from the delicate pendant above – crafted by the designer in homage to Michael Anastassiades. “I am so sorry if you’re reading this, Michael,” he laughs. “I promise to buy one when I can.”
While the home’s striking interiors are enough to make any design-minded guest envious, the garden is equally as covetable. Just ask Cheese the dog.
Immediately off the kitchen, the wintergarten (left) features ample windows perfectly suited for basking in the morning rays, while the minimal bathroom (right) – finished with white subway tiles and flooded with ample natural light – similarly departs from the rich, atmospheric quality of the public spaces.
The objects in Soderberg Mills’ bedroom capture both the history of the house and its inhabitants, past and present. A small painting of the Belgian city of Antwerp (one of his favourite countries) hangs above a steel maquette of Gazitua’s Split Rock Gap, a public artwork in Toronto’s Liberty Village neighbourhood by his former employer. Of the tubular metal lamp by German manufacturer Peill & Putzler he jokes: “It reminds me of those floating light orbs from David Lynch’s Dune.” In the corner sits an original drawing of a park designed by Herbert Dirk, the son of the original owner and a landscape architect in his own right, discovered in the attic, which now functions as his studio.
Step inside Soderberg Mills’ kaleidoscopic Berlin haven here.