‘At the still point of the turning world… there the dance is,’ wrote the English modernist poet TS Eliot in one of his famous Four Quartets. His words are a wonderful description of, among other things, the revitalising experience of ‘finding one’s centre’ by taking time away from a modern world that so many people find so stressful.
The antidote to that ever-busy everyday reality is, for fortunate homeowners Claus and Kirsten Bjarrum, a tranquil holiday home situated in one of the quietest parts of Mallorca: the small village of Alquería Blanca on the eastern side of the island. Located in a predominantly agricultural area, the village is not far from the sea (this is a small island, after all) but it is definitely not at the coast, and its atmosphere is rural. This Mallorca home is a place where the pace of daily is life still governed by old-fashioned rhythms and rituals. An architect who has worked on both private and public buildings in his native Denmark, Claus describes the renovation of the boxy, traditional sandstone structure as a process of ‘opening, simplifying and finding a contemporary take on the vernacular’.
WORDS Robyn Alexander | PHOTOGRAPHY: Greg Cox
‘The entrance hall in Mallorcan homes,’ says Claus, ‘is always an open, welcoming space, and it always has a staircase in it.’ Here, he has removed the ceiling that originally existed in this space ensuring the visitor’s eye is drawn immediately up that curvaceous staircase to the old stone archway at the top of the building, and to the lofty, vaulted ceiling, which like the rest of the interior is painted white.
Also instantly eye-catching are the floors: exactly the same throughout the entire interior, they are made from poured cement in a soft, creamy colour. Cool, smooth and very welcoming they were created using a traditional technique for Mallorcan flooring, in which poured cement is mixed with a little of the reddish local sand to give it a unique colour. They did 13 samples, says Claus, before finding the perfect shade. The other surfaces are all also tactile and sculptural: some parts of the walls are clad in plaster and painted a refreshingly pure white, while in other areas the traditional sandstone has been left unplastered, exposing the contrasting rough-hewn structure.
The ground-floor rooms feature typical Mallorcan exposed wooden ceiling beams, placed parallel to one another in neat rows. On the first floor are several beautiful vaulted ceilings, created using a very old, traditional Mallorcan technique that was demonstrated to Claus during the renovation and that ‘every local bricklayer can do,’ he says. ‘You take concrete beams and lay them over the area to be covered with the ceiling. Then you place glazed ceramic vaulted pieces across the spaces and plaster them into place from above, using a plaster that expands slightly as it dries. This creates a perfect seal and results in a ceiling that is both very attractive and budget-friendly.’
These ceilings have been mostly painted white, with one section left with the original glazed ceramic finish to add visual interest and reveal the process of their making. The material needed to add height to the stone walls up here did not have to travel far: the sandstone excavated to creates the swimming pool in the courtyard garden behind the house was used for this purpose.
The roof terrace affords a sweeping view of the outskirts of Alquería Blanca and the surrounding countryside down to the nearby Mediterranean, and is the ideal place to while away a warm summer evening. Its plain wicker furnishings are echoed in the almost monastic simplicity of the bedrooms and pared-back bathrooms.
In the bedrooms, furnishings are kept to an absolute minimum. A single plain white wardrobe in each one hides clutter, floating shelves on each side of the bed serve as bedside ‘pedestals’. The bathrooms are even simpler: in each, a frosted glass panel encloses the shower area, and there is also a wall-mounted basin and concealed-cistern toilet. Plain mirror panels, simple stainless-steel mixer taps and a Mallorcan basket or two complete the minimalist picture.
Previously broken up into a series of small rooms, the ground floor is now an equally uncluttered space in which the entrance hall and living area (with an adjoining guest bedroom) flow smoothly through into the kitchen-dining room. The section of the building in which this room is situated was originally the stables, which had at some point had a small bathroom inserted into a section of it.
It’s now both simple and elegant: a long, fairly narrow room, it features a cast concrete countertop that runs all the way along one side of it. The extended countertop functions to elongate the space still further while the cupboards below the countertop are fronted by slatted wooden doors, which echo the exterior shutters in form.
The house’s exterior shutters were designed by Claus and are perhaps its most obviously contemporary element. The slats are carefully designed so that when the sun is higher in the sky (in the middle of summer) the doors provide maximum shade and protection from it, and when the sun is lower, sunlight enters through them, helping to warm the interior spaces.
The main living space opens onto the garden behind the house via typical, traditional wood and glass doors, with a built-in couch stretching along the entire length of the opposite wall of this space, and a white String storage unit hugging another wall. The decor is a useful demonstration of how well traditional furniture and crafts work in conjunction with pared-back modern pieces. The wood and metal desks designed by Claus, for example, perfectly complement traditional wooden Mallorcan chairs.
Outdoor living is centred on a rectangular salt-water swimming pool with a raised surrounding wall and a blue mosaic interior. The water-wise garden that surrounds it features a veritable mini-forest of lavender, as well as the large lemon tree that gives this beautiful, peaceful ‘still point’ of a house its equally lovely name: Ca’n Limon.
This piece originally appeared in est magazine issue 24. Read the entire magazine online here.