SEPTEMBER 01, 2014
This eclectic Alpine estate is the realization of a couple’s high hopes
When an entrepreneur and his wife sought to build a home in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, they set their sights on one designer. “They said, ‘Can you possibly come over here and have a look at what we are trying to do?’ ” says Anouska Hempel, recalling how her friends—the couple are frequent guests at the Hempel-designed Blakes London hotel—went about inviting her to visit the then empty parcel.
Hempel obliged, and she and her namesake London firm then spent more than two years on the architecture, landscaping, and interior design, the latter of which entailed creating most of the home’s custom furnishings. Ultimately, the team translated the husband and wife’s affinity for Hempel’s eclectic style (think Blakes, where every room is unique and accented by pieces from her far-flung travels) into an 11,200-square-foot house, on a 13,400-square-foot lot, that stands tall against a backdrop of the central Alps.
Hempel’s approach to the five-bedroom, six-bathroom home was cohesive. “It’s about a total look, creating a life and style from the inside out and the outside in,” she explains. “Otherwise it doesn’t work.” Thus, from the painted steel windows punctuating the gray cement facade to the custom, couture, and antique furnishings gracing the interior, nothing whispers new. Myriad classical touches, such as cast-iron elements and trompe l’oeil detailing, are a unifying force inside the house, which includes living and dining areas, a study, a subterranean wine cellar, and a walled terrace.
The rendered and handpainted concrete columns just outside the home’s main entry resemble marble—“You don’t have to spend a fortune on everything,” notes Hempel—and the oak doors (her design) are an opulent 11 feet high. “I have to do a huge door everywhere,” she says.
Inside the entrance hall, a sandblasted slate fireplace sits opposite the room’s grandest features: custom pendant lanterns that plunge 13 feet from the ceiling, over slender stairs. Crafted of burnished steel, the bespoke railing has been “polished within an inch of its life,” Hempel says.
Located directly behind the entrance hall’s slate fireplace is its twin hearth in the 460-square-foot living area. The space’s slate-and-oak floor and mottled trompe l’oeil–style plaster walls, the latter of which were painted by one of Hempel’s in-house artisans, set a neutral stage for the space’s timeless furnishings. A screen of beveled glass and black lacquered wood sets off a sitting area, which benefits from three pairs of French doors. (“She is Swiss-French,” says Hempel of the wife, “so many elements are very French.”) Adorned with the designer’s ceiling-to-floor-length, rust-colored taffeta curtains (the fabric is from the Anouska Hempel Design collection), the doors’ mirrored shutters, which fold back from the panes of glass, reflect sunlight and the mountain views—an old trick Hempel credits to the Venetian people. “They would capture light on the water and send it back into the rather dark and cavernous palaces of that time,” she says. In the study , similar richly hued curtains complement two antique leather club chairs sourced by the home’s owners.
In the kitchen and its dining area, which Hempel describes as “Swiss-Austrian,” wildlife-themed accents lend an air of whimsy. The antique chandelier that hangs above the slate-and-pine dining table bears moose antlers and feather lamp shades. At the end of the custom granite-topped island, dish towels can be slung through the nose rings on two iron bull heads. The designer chose the towel rings from a collection of antique fittings that she has amassed during her travels over the years.
On the walls, doors, ceilings, and cabinetry, knotted American pine has an understated patina obtained through the use of talcum powder and chalk. “You just rub [the wood] down, and it gives a very lovely dusty aspect to it—as if it’s been there forever,” says Hempel. “It’s something I really want to tell the world: Do not get out the old varnish brush and dirty it up. It is not the right way to go about [creating] something authentically aesthetic to a certain period.”
Back to the Future
Hempel often delves into the past to add unique layers to her projects. For this home, that meant exploring the traditional use of overmantels and ultimately reimagining the adornments in the form of gilded glass, or verre églomisé, murals mounted above oak doors. “They’re very old-fashioned but people seem to love them,” Hempel says. One of the house’s overmantel-type designs crowns an open-door view into the entrance hall, where two low-back, wool Greta Garbo chairs from the Dutch firm Eichholtz provide a resting place for the homeowners or their guests. The églomisé panel features a floral-arrangement-like design created by the wife. “You are not looking through a door at all,” says the designer hyperbolically, to underscore the artful effect, “but through something like an art department or a gallery.”
The decor is similarly artful but more futuristic in the home’s 4,800-square-foot subterranean level, which houses a wine cellar, guest rooms and maid’s rooms, and a garage. Deck chairs made of leather and stainless steel impart a midcentury modern feel to the basement staircase, where Hempel’s Yardstick lamps look like hovering UFOs. “You buy your lamps by the yard and order them as high as you’d like or as small as you’d like,” Hempel explains.
The layered dark- and light-gray hues of the home’s common areas give way to airy shades of white and pale wood in the 560-square-foot master bedroom. The space, which is situated on the house’s second level, incorporates a notable find: a pair of 500-year-old chests of drawers with mother-of-pearl inlay that Hempel acquired in Damascus. “They were very, very dark, and I stripped them blond with an acid,” she says. The drawers served as her muse for the king-size four-poster bed, which she created to match, in American white oak inlaid with mother-of-pearl. The muted-white silk curtains that canopy the bed also suspend from above three French doors, and the marble floor, which the designer describes as “dusty, not shiny,” is inlaid with pine. “It is all very chic and elegant without being flashy,” she says. “I can’t do flash.”
From Anouska with Love
Carefully siting the house on its lot helped to separate the property from a country road. Hempel artfully employed a bi-level terrace framed by walls of lead, stone, and cement; 26-foot-tall hedges; and a trellis overgrown with wisteria. The furnishings on the terrace are all Hempel’s creations, from the steel pendant lanterns over the cement-and-Belgian-stone tables to the teak benches, decorative cement balls, and lead planters.
The property’s wood-burning outdoor fireplace is prominently placed opposite the home’s main entrance. Like the two fireplaces inside, it is fronted by a segment of sandblasted slate flooring that has been polished “to look like an oil slick” reflecting the fire’s glow. “It’s like what the Romans used to have: You got out of your carriage and were warmed up by a fire usually in the walls, wherever you were,” says Hempel. “It’s part of being a great romantic. I pick up things from everywhere and try to bring them into other people’s lives.”