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The heart of the home

The heart of the home

The heart of the home

The Dorner family home on the Fluh above Egg is visible from miles away. Its simple, traditional form and dignified finish contrast with contemporary idiosyncrasies. The centre of the living area is a masonry heater with special raku tiles.

Good things take time: Due in no small part to a geologically challenging hillside location and a lengthy approval process, the designers at the Dorner family home on the Fluh hillside above Egg had plenty of time to consider every aspect of their planning process. The result is a compact, functional and well-designed home nestled on the steep slope. The structure itself boasts a pointed roof and a symmetrical window frame showcasing the picturesque village below.

The four-storey structure rests on a concrete foundation that has been firmly anchored on the slope. Meanwhile, the wooden top floor is an open attic area and the bedrooms are located one floor above the expansive, multi-purpose cellar. The next floor is the living level, which is accessible via a small forecourt from a gravelled side road. The ceiling above the entrance and the kitchen is 2.2 m high so that when you enter the living area, the open space extends all the way to the attic where a gallery (made of fir wood with an ash floor) overlooks the room below.

Thanks to a room-high sliding glass door, the large, unpartitioned and square windows profit from a loggia, which help keep the space open. While a minimalist glass balustrade offers a view to the side, this “open-air room” looks down towards the valley behind a strictly structured main façade. An additional window, which swings up to the ceiling, provides protection from the elements.

The interior, though barely four metres wide, is airy. The defining element is a central, dark grey stove with tiles, enlivened by curving decorative shapes. This is the beating heart of the home. An open shelf partitions the living room from the entrance and can be stocked from both sides. It also offers a view to the kitchen and further out to the street. Everywhere you look, modernity and traditional craftsmanship intertwine in this house. The design is carefully chosen in accordance with the surroundings. The stocky form suggests a middle-class building concept. Though compact, it is visible from afar.

When the shingles of the façade were still bright, nearly everyone in the village below took notice of the house. These shingles are a revival of old craftsmanship by contemporary Vorarlberg architecture. Square cut, they lend the house an elegant touch and feature a “finer profile” of just four centimetres width. In the meantime, these shingles have now become typically grey. In crafting the house, both the developer and the designer have shown a certain obstinacy: At least three teams were involved in the construction. In spite of their individually stubborn characteristics, they nevertheless succeed in contributing to a successful whole.

The building’s developer is a man who thrives on the tension between innovation and tradition. Lukas Dorner, for former sales manager of a sportswear manufacturer in the Rheintal valley, has been managing the Egger brewery since 2019. Surprisingly for some, the company is now a member of the Werkraum Bregenzerwald under his leadership. Dorner and his family wanted a cosy Swedish stove in the centre of their home with a view of the fire. However, Ewald and Simon Voppichler, who were enthusiastic about the design by the Innauer Matt architects, developed a basic stove made of clay-fired bricks that the family enthusiastically chose instead.

Tailored to the two-storey room and the energy-efficient house, it now functions to everyone’s satisfaction. The stove fitters had to integrate additional special wishes from the Dorner family, who requested Karak stove tiles, materials they had never used before. Tiles on a masonry heater were not considered “classic.” And yet the tiles, sourced from the small Sebastian Rauch factory in Schlins, which was in the ascendancy at the time of construction of the Dorner house in 2018, matched the uniqueness of the massive stove due to their high quality and the thickness of the material. They also provide a lot of creative energy. The generous floral pattern called “VeSta” was created in 2013 during a one-year process with the architects Loeliger-Strub for a high-rise building in Zurich. The simple but intricate pattern of VeSta, with double symmetry across the diagonals, allows for myriad combinations with a single tile. Ellipses, crosses and invisible axes combine to form large flowers. Such experiments are by no means business as usual!

Stove construction is mostly a traditional trade. Oftentimes they are one-man businesses that stick to the tried and true. Ewald Voppichler, on the other hand, has never shied away from trying something novel in his 45 years as a stove fitter. He belongs to a generation of craftsmen who started a dialogue with Vorarlberg architects in the 1990s and oriented their craft towards a new culture of design with a lot of verve and experience. At the Werkraum Bregenzerwald, he collaborated with like-minded people and advanced a persistent struggle for contemporary and functional forms as a pioneer in his craft. His son Simon, a mechanical engineer, changed careers and joined his father as a stove fitter. The in-house production of tailor-made metal inserts and the construction of ovens and grill ovens made of black steel are now part of the business. The small, young team around Ewald and Simon Voppichler installs about thirty ovens every year.

Architects Markus Innauer and Sven Matt designed a middle-class house for a family as opposed to a farmhouse, or a modernist sculpture. They deliberately avoided the usual shape with a loggia cut across the corner. Instead, the gable, a showcase façade that stands out as a striking element even from a distance, is the defining feature. The shingles, rectangular and made of silver fir, with a width of five to six centimetres, cost a little more, but manage a more elegant appearance.

Markus Innauer and Sven Matt are products of the Bregenzerwald design world. Before opening their own architectural firm, they worked for well-known architect Bernardo Bader, among others. These days, they manage their own office in the former Hiller photo studio in Bezau, one of the first buildings designed by local architectural legend Leopold Kaufmann. When Kaufmann died in 2019, the two realised that they had more in common than just shared working quarters. Kaufmann was also recognised for the stubbornness with which he approached each project, a character trait that he blended with craftsmanship and modernism – albeit under much more adverse circumstances and in a different time. The Innauer Matt architectural firm quickly won numerous competitions, completed residential buildings on a larger scale and attracted a great deal of attention with striking one-of-a-kind buildings. In doing so, they have nevertheless retained a relaxed attitude in line with a generation of designers who have honed their craft, operate with foresight and seize opportunities.

Issue: Winter 2020-21 Bregenzerwald Travel Magazine
Author: Robert Fabach