May 20, 2024


Giving your Home a new Option

Dortmannhof by Sigurd Larsen Design & Architecture

When musicians Milena and Max Schmiz purchased the Dortmannhof—a heritage-listed German farmhouse built in 1791—for their family of four, the young couple must have known that their new home would be a work in progress. Despite uneven floors, drafty windows, and strict historic preservation laws that restricted changes, the Schmizes succeeded in turning the 200-year-old farmhouse into a charming, art-filled abode. But the home’s lack of daylight on its northern side still remained a problem.

Located in the urban area of Essen, Germany, the historic Dortmannhof building typifies 18th-century half-timbered hall houses. Pictured is the bright blue front door located on the west side of the building.

While living in the Dortmannhof for several years, Milena and Max Schmiz cultivated a lush garden around the house with help from their two young children.

In search of a solution, the couple contacted Berlin-based architect Sigurd Larsen after seeing images of his Roof House, a Copenhagen home designed for daylighting.

“Getting enough daylight into the house without removing the historic facade was a major challenge,” says Larsen. “Since the building is under monument protection, all original walls and ceiling beams had to be preserved. We were only allowed to add two small skylights on the eastern slope of the roof.”

The front door opens up to a 16-foot-tall dining room that doubles as the entrance hall. Historic elements are mixed with new additions—the original stone floors ground a custom-made Faust Linoleum table fitted with Thonet chairs thrifted from eBay. A wood-burning soapstone stove is located at the heart of the room.

The stairs to the right lead up to the family bedrooms. Directly ahead is the new music room—one of the three additions completed by Larsen in 2020.

The design constraints inspired Larsen to adopt a “house within a house” approach and insert three new cross-laminated timber volumes into the northern half of the building that originally housed the barn. These additions, which Larsen calls “oversized inhabitable furniture,” are designed for easy installation and removal in compliance with local historic preservation regulations.

A view of the north-facing part of the home, which was originally used as the barn. The barn doors now open directly to the glazed music room.

The Dortmannhof rises to 39 feet—a lofty height that informed the dimensions of the new music room.

“They are a family of musicians, so a larger space to rehearse music around the piano and a working desk was the main feature,” says Sigurd of the central volume, a 36-foot-tall gabled music room with a north-facing window wall. The smaller, gabled volume to the east contains a new guest house with a separate entrance, while the flat-roofed volume on the west end houses a large bathroom.

“The inner surface of the original roof is a beautiful structure where they insulated tiles with hay,” says Larsen. “If we insulated the entire barn from within, this surface would no longer be visible. Therefore, we decided to build smaller houses within the house so only the necessary spaces were insulated. And then the beautiful, old structure would remain visible.”

The new volumes are made of cross-laminated timber painted with white chalk to match the building’s exterior.

“The building’s new spaces grow tall and narrow like the surrounding crops,” notes Larsen. The music room and guest house were designed with very tall ceilings to take advantage of morning light from the two new skylights.

A new skylight on the eastern slope of the roof brings additional light to the music room.

“The piano room is 11 meters high and has great acoustics,” says Larsen. “I think high spaces are fantastic, and I was very happy to see how the daylight washes down the big white wall surfaces in the morning.”

A wall of windows floods the music room with northern light.

The building’s original stone floors from 1791 have been preserved and are used in the new music room.

The three additions, which total 860 square feet, were painted with white chalk inside and out in homage of the historic facade.

A ladder leads up to a loft space that serves as an office. White curtains can be drawn to hide the door to the entrance hall.

A side door in the music room opens up to an adjacent volume that houses the new, brick-floored guest suite on the ground level.

“Large, north-facing windows allow additional daylight to stream through the old, perforated walls which were originally meant to ventilate the hay,” adds Larsen. “The historic building is comprised of several entrances and internal connections which allowed for various farming activities to occur simultaneously. These features have been retained, allowing family life, creativity, and work to coexist in a similar spirit.”

Conceived as a “house within a house,” this gabled volume on the east side con
tains the new guest suite.

Once used as the stable room, this space now serves as the entrance to the new guest suite. The old watering troughs have been preserved.

A peek into the new ground-floor guest bathroom, which is finished in pink paint.

A spiral staircase provides access to the guest bedroom.

The guest bedroom is furnished with a plywood desk. The original timber beams provide a rustic contrast with the new plywood additions.

A north elevation view of the Dortmannhof model.  

As with most 18th-century half-timbered hall houses, the Dortmannhof was constructed to combine the living quarters, cowshed, and barn under one roof. In this wooden model, the historic and current main living spaces are housed on the left side, while the new additions (in white) are on the right side where the original barn and stables were once located.  

A model shows the three new insertions. From left to right are the guest suite, the music room, and an enlarged bathroom with a double tub (not pictured).  

Dortmannhof exploded axon diagram

Dortmannhof ground-floor plan

Dortmannhof first-floor plan

Dortmannhof upper-floor plan

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