Artist and sculptor Othmar Prenner converts an old farmhouse in the mountains of his native South Tyrol and realizes his vision of an alpine dream home—between craftsman tradition and modern art.
Othmar Prenner lounges by the spectacular panorama window, looking out into the pristine nature of South Tyrol. Modern fiberglass lines allow him to work up here, straight across from the massive, snow-capped peaks of Italy’s Vinschgau.
Technology and nature don’t contradict one another, if you ask the artist and sculptor. On the contrary. The Internet enables him to be in nature while developing new art projects and designing furniture and objects made of wood.
It is here, in his native South Tyrol, that Prenner found his way back to his craft and rediscovered the joy of creating something new with his own hands.
Every corner of his remodeled farmhouse, completed in 2011 and internationally published more than twenty times, is filled with tools, paintings, finished and unfinished pieces of furniture, and all sorts of arts and crafts. The home is vivid, and it’s cozy in front of the black steel fireplace—a focal point—suspended from the ceiling. Othmar Prenner loves the open flames, the feeling of sitting by a campfire in his living room. He dismisses ovens with glass doors and generally has his own and very clear ideas about architecture and interior design.
He helped build an atelier and gallery near Zurich, Switzerland. “I only do things I like 100 percent,” Prenner says. “That’s why I’m not interested in collaborating on big projects, where you have to make 1000 compromises.”
This was far from the case with his very personal project, the mountain retreat at home in South Tyrol. Here, the almost fifty year old was able to realize his design vision one to one and create a refuge that meanwhile has become his primary residence and studio. Rarely does he drive back to his apartment in Munich these days. “I never thought I would leave the city. I’ve lived there for twenty-two years,” he says. “My focus is here now. I love living in nature and don’t need the city.”
“My focus is here now. I love living in nature and don’t need the city.”
Art in the city, craft in the country
Prenner bought the old house in his native region near Mals twenty-five years ago. The property is part of a small hamlet that is still being farmed in a steep valley on the Reschen Pass near where Prenner grew up. In his stube, which is nontraditionally located on the second floor and combines the kitchen and dining room, he tells me he spent many childhood hours carving wood and that he has always wanted to become a sculptor since he was a young boy. His parents had little understanding for his artistic ambitions but agreed to a cabinetmaker apprenticeship. Prenner strived for more and afterward studied in Innsbruck and later in Munich. Today, his calling has become his profession, a mix of sculpture and designing furniture and objects for the home. “During my Munich years, it was definitely the arts, now I’m balancing both,” says Prenner, who recently returned from Salone Internazionale del Mobile, the furniture show in Milan where he introduced the lathed containers and boxes he sells under the brand Like a Box. The response to the boxes made from Swiss pine, the turned salt and pepper mills, and the forged knifes was incredibly positive, he reports. Even Vitra showed interest. Traditional craftsmanship is back in demand, and Milan showed it.
The dream of paradise
In his own alpine domicile, Prenner takes his love for wood to the extreme. The large window reflecting the mountain peaks pops out against the buildings homogenous, light exterior. The words “Der Traum vom Paradies” (the dream of paradise) are stamped into the minimalist fine wood facade. In the back of the small house, the roof was cut open to add a floor for the new living room. The house’s exterior as well as the interior of the grand stube are almost entirely clad in wood. A total of 250 square meters (2692 square feet) of finest parquet were installed. The larch wood came from the valley here and was specially cut so the pattern of annual rings would run ever so calmly and evenly. The wood was processed by Prenner’s brother, who still owned a carpentry shop at the time and was capable of delivering on Prenner’s discerning specifications: “Many craftsmen merely do custom Ikea nowadays, craft and industry become more and more intermingled. Unfortunately, the sense of artisanship gets lost.”
Wood as the central element was an obvious choice for Prenner. Many other details developed over the course of the building process, he tells. “It’s like working on a sculpture. Many people want to plan everything in advance and then execute one to one. That’s why I don’t like collaborating on other architecture projects.” Prenner likes to be inspired as his work unfolds. The entryway, for example, was so dark you could hardly find the doorknob. So Prenner, without hesitation, tore open the ceiling to create light, which now floods the hallway from the stube and living room above. The white marble floor brightens up the foyer still more. The stone was quarried 30 kilometers (ca. 19 miles) from here, in Laas, and counts among the hardest and whitest marble stones. “It should be self-evident to use materials from the region, and not stone from India,” Prenner notes. “There’s a new aspiration. People want to know where things come from, where materials are sourced. Things of permanence provide comfort in uncertain times.”
“There’s a new aspiration. People want to know where things come from, where materials are sourced. Things of permanence provide comfort in uncertain times.”
The former stube, where the original, 200-year-old wood paneling has been completely preserved, was converted to the master bedroom. After all, the house’s central theme is the view to the outside—and the ground floor affords prime views. Thus, the classic arrangement of stube downstairs and bedroom upstairs was simply flipped on its head. The master bedroom’s ensuite bathroom marvelously harmonizes the white marble and the larch wood. The freestanding wooden bathtub is the focal point.
Prenner preserved the old stone staircase—or its remnants—as decorative element and a nod to the old structure of the farmhouse. The modern, floating wooden stairs and the bridge—or wooden walkway—to the living room on the second floor create the contrast. “During construction, a wood plank led across there, and I found the open crossing over the hallway interesting,” Prenner reveals.
The old roof joists were preserved and support the pitch of the roof, where the living room is. Five steps lead to a narrow loft Prenner installed along the gable wall with a long panorama window, again providing spectacular views to the outside. From his desk, the artist can see the cows grazing on the lush meadow.
And the light. Prenner often missed the light when he was in Munich, particularly during the long, gray winters, he remembers. Blue skies and the special light only snow can create—here, in his house in South Tyrol, he integrates it, plays with it, lives with it.
Work and art live together
Paintings and other art objects are piled up in the living room. “This is intentional,” Prenner says. “I wanted work and art to mix. I cannot separate them anyway.” Still, he is currently building an atelier on the premises. Before, when he lived in the city, he primarily created prototypes. But now, he likes to be more hands-on in the production, together with his partner, Ingrid Seebacher. The wood for each container, which is blackened in the fire, comes from a particular tree Prenner photographed beforehand and numbered the wood sections. The photo of the marked spot from where the wood was cut is sold together with the respective object—one of the artist’s many ingenious ideas. You can discover them all over the house. Art objects made from wood waste. Leftovers from a series of chairs you assemble yourself from four pieces of wood, and which Prenner became known for. These clever chairs don’t require glue or screws. In Prenner’s home, they are part of a group of miss-matched chairs around the large dining table and around the cozy stube. “In the old days, there was no ugly furniture because it was all made from solid wood,” Prenner contemplates. “But a lot is happening now. People are sick of cheap stuff made in China.” Prenner regards sustainable and organic as standard, which shouldn’t need to be pitched on a label. Sitting by the fire, he talk about the region here around Mals, soon to be the largest community in South Tyrol that is completely pesticide free. He tells about a baker who has re-sown old spelt ears from the eighteenth century and is now selling spelt bread. Stories like this are fitting for the stube and the beautiful, pristine landscape. Looking out the window and at the mountains, I can appreciate that one man’s dream of paradise has come true here. △
“In the old days, there was no ugly furniture because it was all made from solid wood.”
Othmar Prenner was born in 1966 in Schlanders, South Tyrol, Italy. After an apprenticeship in carpentry, he studied sculpture at the HTL Innsbruck, Austria, and later at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Munich, Germany. The website Dinge und Ursachen lists Prenner’s many projects and exhibitions. You can purchase his Swiss pine boxes and containers from the online shop Like a Box.