If you tried to mark the epicentre of Mallorca on a map, it’s likely that your inky cross would land on top of where this stripped-to-its-essence house has been built. This isn’t the landscape that people usually think of when the island is mentioned: there are no beaches in sight; the Mediterranean is off stage. Instead there is a long view of stoney wheat fields, almond trees that will fleck with white blossom come early February and isolated fincas, all rolling away to the mountainous horizon. As dusk pushes away the sun, the dry harvested fields begin to redden and have hints of the savannah about them; a herd of zebra would look at home here. It’s a calming, soothing view.
It’s this landscape and the farms that sit on it that have shaped this home, designed by Jaime Oliver and Paloma Hernaiz of Palma-headquartered architecture practice Ohlab (you may remember their work for the Can Bordoy hotel; see issue 120). The client is someone they care about and while their commissions are getting bigger, more important and a bit more high-specced these days, here they wanted to make a home that would come in on a tight budget and take much of its richness from the view. But both are proud not just of the outcome but also the process. “The exercise of taking scissors to a project leaves you with what is important,” says Oliver.
The single-storey house is 6 metres wide and 31 metres long. At one end there is a guest bedroom; at the other, two more bedrooms. But the key space sits in the middle of the house: a living area that’s open to the kitchen and has doors that can slide away, front and back, to allow air to charge through the room. This opens up the room to become as-one with the terraces on both the north and south sides of the house. Adding continuity to this indoors-outdoors arena is the pinky concrete slab that extends throughout and the cane roof – the material starts on the outdoor canopy at the rear of the house, runs across the lounge ceiling and then into the extended canopy at the north-facing front of the house. These shaded areas, and the through-air, have helped make this a house where you don’t have to turn on the air-con – even in the summer. Sustainability is central to the pair’s thinking.
To frame the incredible view the duo built the opening at the front with a cinematic flair. “With the doors slid back the opening is the same ratio as the screens that we had in cinemas when we were kids; when you are in the house you are sort of making a movie of your life,” says Oliver.
To keep costs in check Ohlab used modest materials: tiles left over from another project and concrete sinks (in the bathrooms) that they found on sale at local company Huguet. The roof supports are also concrete and of a type that’s often used to erect agricultural buildings.
But they couldn’t – and didn’t want to – avoid some important costs. The planning consent made clear that this would have to be a home that settled into the traditions of the area’s vernacular architecture. So colours were prescribed, shutters had to be attached to windows and how the roof overhangs the walls was set out to the centimetre.
Hernaiz, Oliver and their children got to stay in the house this summer. The kids loved the long pool that stretches across the front and would vanish into the fields and woods to play. These youthful architecture fans did have one complaint though: they felt it was slightly unfair that their parents hadn’t made this house for them.
The building may be modest, quiet and restrained but as we watch the light fade and the butterflies take a final nectar dip on the wild planting that has been added, all feels very good in the world. In this tucked-away spot the landscape, which shifts dramatically across seasons, has joined forces with Ohlab to make you think about what’s important. To make you stand still, look and think: forget their kids, why isn’t this mine?
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