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Schnabel residence, Berlin
Report

Light for a life with art

  • Schnabel residence, Berlin
  • Architect: Ingenbleek Architekten, Berlin
  • Photographer: Edgar Zippel, Berlin

At a residence in Berlin, which presents itself as unconventional in every respect housing a collection of large-size artwork, ERCO spotlights demonstrate once more their quality and versatility in use – even for unusual requirements. Lawyer and art collector Gunnar Schnabel, an internationally recognised specialist in art restitution, took us on a tour of his home.

It is arguably one of the most extraordinary structures in the German capital – the house in Berlin’s Tiergarten district, which lawyer Gunnar Schnabel built for himself, his wife, his art collection, and his office. Situated in a quiet street off Potsdamer Straße, the structure suggests neither luxurious villa nor capricious house that draws attention from afar.

Erected on a plot which previously had lain idle for decades, the building looks rather inconspicuous from the outside. Integrating harmoniously with a neighbourhood defined by Wilhelminian style tenement buildings, it gives the impression as if it had always been here. Its dark clinker façade makes reference to the surrounding properties, while the bay projecting from the first floor out into the air space over the pavement is reminiscent of traditional tenements in Berlin.

Schnabel residence, Berlin
Schnabel residence, Berlin

The free-standing elevator block stretches up through the living quarters. The light of the wallwashers underlines the dimension of the room and draws attention to the paintings.
A single spotlight illuminates the elliptically shaped top of the large conference table on the office floor.

Rooms for art
Who would guess behind such a façade to find but a single residence of some 900sqm extending across six floors – the upper level set back in penthouse style? And who would suspect that – apart from the floor accommodating the bedrooms and bathrooms – each of these levels practically consists of a single room? The dimensions are remarkable and a far cry from what you would commonly expect spacious living quarters to be. In the old days, it would have been referred to as a parlour, or a gallery.

Schnabel residence, Berlin
Schnabel residence, Berlin

The open design of the staircase with the elevator allows a view into the living room. The LED light lends a glow particularly to the bold colours of the paintings.
The wallwashers accentuate the artwork and add sufficient ambient lighting to the room.

The enormous size of the rooms is motivated primarily by the owners’ desire to live with the mostly large-size paintings of their art collection. That this does not evoke the feeling of stepping into a museum is attributable to the pleasantly informal character of the rooms. It reminds of a loft and is owed to their ample width and ceilings up to 4m in height, but equally to the materials used. Ceilings and walls are finished in fair-faced concrete; the flooring is in parts elegant screed, in parts untreated oak parquet. The association – by all means intentional – with a loft is reinforced by the open design of the staircase with an elevator shaft set up as a free-standing feature on some of the floors. No question about it: Art in this house – predominantly paintings in the Neue Wilde style of the 1980s – goes beyond the scope of an ordinary home and is given a setting here in which it can unfold its aura in the most ideal manner.

Schnabel residence, Berlin
Schnabel residence, Berlin

Owner Gunnar Schnabel – an internationally recognised specialist in art restitution – in front of paintings from his personal collection.
The light gives structure to the large room. Spotlights above the dining table and the sofa corner define central living zones.

The issue of lighting: living and staging
The ideas which Gunnar Schnabel had for his residence were so precise that the architects were responsible essentially for the implementation of largely structural challenges and for quality control. Constructions had already commenced when the issue of adequate lighting for the rooms sprung up. The main concern for Schnabel was appropriate illumination of the wall-mounted paintings – which was to be efficient yet also exude a cosy and warm atmosphere. Further light sources were needed to illuminate objects in the room – the large oval conference table on the office floor, for instance, or the sizeable round dining table in one of the sparingly furnished yet confidently styled private areas.
“You cannot use ordinary living room lamps in these rooms. They are simply not up to the task – you would end up with a completely heterogeneous lamp shop in here,” Gunnar Schnabel relates. When his electrical engineer suggested considering ERCO, he set out to visit the ERCO showroom in Berlin in order to find out more about the products – and was delighted.

Schnabel residence, Berlin
Despite the diversity in the requirement profile, the choice of ideal lighting tools boiled down to a single one: Light Board. Its appeal lay in the variety of light distributions which can be achieved with this LED lighting tool, but also in its variable light temperature and efficiency. Its clear, bright light gives structure to the rooms, draws attention to the art with brilliant accent light, brings out the colours in the paintings and highlights the delicate texture of their surfaces. With all its analytical clarity, however, it avoids any hint of coldness that would mean a considerable loss of indoor environment quality in the private ambiance.
Schnabel residence, Berlin

Integrating harmoniously with its neighbourhood, the new building looks rather inconspicuous from the outside. The bay with striking vertical ribbon windows houses the staircase.
The large, almost room-high window openings of the backyard façade allow a view into the brightly lit house.

Passionate perfectionism extends to the lighting
“I had a look around for alternatives,” Schnabel admits. “But ERCO offers a standard of quality that is second to none – unless you are prepared to compromise in other aspects.” This is not the style of someone who pursues his building project with great personal involvement and an overt penchant for perfection. “Would you believe,” he continues still appalled, “some of the mechanical fans I saw were actually rather noisy!” Thanks to efficient passive thermal management applied to all ERCO luminaires, Light Board, in contrast, works without a cooling unit. Designed with a compact shape, the luminaire discreetly adds style to the room while remaining entirely unobtrusive. Its simple yet striking design corresponds with the architectural style of the house. Schnabel, with a keen eye for design details, came to appreciate the formal quality of Light Board – as much as its energy-efficient and innovative LED technology. “It allows the occasional festive illumination of the whole house without immediate concerns about energy consumption,” he says visibly pleased.