Designer couple create wild Austrian forest home to find work/life balance
We visit the environmentally friendly live/work base of Volkmar and Catharina Weiss of ‘agency for sustainable communication’ vald, an escape nestled deep in the countryside of Austria’s Waldviertel region
Designers and husband-and-wife team Volkmar and Catharina Weiss were working with several established companies and high profile clients like BMW and Austrian Airlines from their main base in Vienna, when, a couple of years ago, they realised that their work/life balance was becoming skewed. Seeking a way out of this, the couple decided to make the big move; relocate their family and business – vald, their ‘agency for sustainable communication’ – to their holiday home, an extraordinairy escape in the countyside of Austria’s Waldviertel region, to create a live/work headquarters that is healthier, closer to nature and more sustainable.
This was not about going big – their new home is only 90 sq m. But taking a sustainability minded approach was important to the Weiss’s both from a personal and a professional angle. ‘[Our vision was] to live and work with(in) the nature,’ says Volkmar. ‘Our worklife did not match our daily family routine and how we wanted to live. We love living in town but we felt the need to retreat in nature, where we can also draw inspiration for our work.’
‘And – of course – we wanted to build the house ecologically, in harmony with the surrounding woods,’ he continues. ‘That was also the reason behind the black, charred larch wood cladding that gives the house its distinct character. It’s not only a Japanese tradition [the burnt wood technique of Shou Sugi Ban]; farmers in Austria – a long time ago, in the Alps – also fired their wood huts’ exteriors to make them more durable and better against the harsh weather here.’
The pair worked with Vienna based architects Backraum on the design, although they had a clear idea of what they wanted to create, right from the start. ‘We looked at many architecture books and the house is for us like the best combination of all these books and blogs – taking into account our finances of course,’ says Catharina. ‘We wanted a house that fits within the natural forest around the site, so using timber was important. We also love functional design and the approach of the Scandinavian architects of the 1930s, 50s and 60s. We wanted to have cupboards, benches, shelves, the bed, all integrated into the house. The furniture needed to be part of a holistic design.’
So now, the larch exterior is complemented by spruce wood inside, matched by bespoke timber furniture and fittings. The structure sits on a concrete base consisting of two walls and a floor. The same material also expands to form the fireplace in the main living space, which is the heart of the home. A master suite is placed under the roof, on a mezzanine above it, and a second bedroom is underneath, opening out into the garden.
The project’s main challenge was the steeply angled site, which is set by a lake and within woods, accessible only via a small, narrow country road. But careful planning and a highly skilled team of contractors helped them through it, and now, the Weiss’s home and escape, Haus Thurnberg, is nestled comfortably in the slope, looking out towards the water. ‘We are surrounded by trees and meadows, where we can let the grass grow for our own bees and enjoy the greenery and wildlife, while working,’ they say. §