Same building, similar floorplan, but a totally new design experience. When architect Ester Bruzkus moved to a new apartment, she was excited to redefine the room having already experienced the building’s characteristics and quirks. The apartment is in an Estradenhaus, one of the early apartment buildings built in the Prenzlauerberg district in East Berlin, built after the fall of the Berlin wall. The space has a loft-like quality to it, a single flexible open plan room sectioned into spaces by cabinetry color blocks. Spectacularly, a narrow raised platform leads out to floor to ceiling windows and a gorgeous patio.
“I designed the home for myself and my partner,” explains designer Ester Bruzkus. “So I put a lot of my own personality into it. The apartment is a bit like we are; it’s precise but fun; it’s rigid but flexible; it’s restrained and opulent too. It can be formal and it can be relaxed. It’s full of contrasts, which is how we like it.”
Doing the design for yourself, as a designer it can be tricky not to spend all of your time trying to get it just right. “It’s also full of surprises – for example, the apartment is designed as a dialogue between two room-sized boxes of restrained materials – one of light oak and the other of a cool gray. We love working with surprises so inside the cabinet doors you find bright colors from Le Corbusier – blue inside the gray cabinet, yellow inside the coat closet; pink in my wardrobe, green in the kitchen. And the bathroom is a surprise of terrazzo and Japanese wallpaper.”
The sofa section was designed for the space and exactly how the designer wanted it. It offers reds and pinks in rich velvet tones, fancy fringes and a come-hither appeal set against the cool grays of the living room wall. Striking in balance and well styled.
What are the design inspirations for the home?
Bruzkus: I find inspiration in lots of places… films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things FROM – it’s where you take them TO.”
What was the site like before the project started?
The apartment building was one of the very first ground-up buildings built in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of East Berlin after the fall of the wall. It is a very interesting building designed and built by a former professor of mine: flexible and open lofts with a palette of bright blue epoxy floors, wood doors and exposed concrete. The building got a lot of press at the time because it had raised platforms at the windows that suggested flexible ways of using the space. But the the space was too open-ended and the sense of material was limited and the floor was blue. My first apartment in this building totally transformed that original idea and I introduced a series of fixed boxes made from rich materials and colors: white marble, warm woods, pinks, blacks: all contrasted with the exposed concrete. But when an apartment opened on the top floor, I revisited the exact same design problem in a completely different way – so I could also get a roof garden! In the years between the apartments I grew as a designer and the recent apartment is more nuanced – more a juxtaposition of color and scale and material contrasts.
What are the most interesting parts of the project for you to work on?
Because it had been an empty rectangular box, we had the opportunity to plan it exactly as we wanted it. So I got to play with risky ideas for myself that clients may be less likely to explore without certainty; contrasts, surprises, intricate planning and detailing. My style is exactly that – exacting and precise but fun and unpredictable.
“My style is exactly that – exacting and precise but fun and unpredictable.”
I love working with straight lines, precise planning, material contrasts – and plenty of surprises. Our style is all about contrasts: of thick and thin, sharp and soft, curved and straight, rough and smooth, common and opulent, colorful and restrained, playful and well-resolved. I also had the chance to design everything in the apartment so when it came to the sofa I made it exactly how I wanted it. It’s the perfect place to dream and chill. With it, I had some fun: it is wrapped with lush velvets in three tones of red and pink – and the colors change as your eye picks up the direction of the weave and in different lights. It is big and comfortable and you can sit or lie on it by yourself or with someone else.
The Roof Garden
“Our roof garden is a little Garden of Eden,” describes Bruzkus. “Besides seeing sunrise and sunset, we grow vegetables and fruit – potatoes, cauliflower, strawberries – we even have an apple tree! When the weather is nice we cook and relax and entertain there. We have panoramic views over the city so it stretches our sense of space when we are home. Even in the winter, we have balconies that spread across the entire east and west sides of the apartment with full-height glass, so we always have abundant natural light and a sense of what is going on outside.”
The outdoor furniture was designed to feel just as much like the indoors, with the platforms and zoned spacing. There are platforms, built-in furniture bits and other furniture that can be moved around. “The downstairs space is made from dialogues of color and material and scale – and so are the roof garden rooms. The only difference in the roof garden is that we have to protect the cushions from the rain by putting them in custom water-proof drawers designed just for that purpose,” explains Bruzkus.
“One of the really special things about designing a project for yourself is being able to customize the storage for exactly what we have, Cabinets that maximize every single square centimeter of space. And that works great.” says Bruzkus. “But we have to make choices about what you can and cannot fit – so one of the choices was to have an induction cooktop.”
Happy with her new home, the apartment is a beautiful balance of spaces and makes great use of the loft-style style setting. Bruzkus and her partner are really enthusiastic about the space, and it’ll be a pleasure to see the next project!