Feature: Caroline Rodrigues (Grand Designs Magzine)

A natural choice


After many years abroad, the Neumanns wanted to come home to north Germany. Michael, a former CEO of a chemical company, now training as a health consultant, and Gabi, a former travel agent, asked Baufritz for a modern eco-friendly two-storey house with natural timber cladding. Set in a wooded landscape, their charming home has become the ideal spot to settle down, enjoy the art collection they’ve amassed and be closer to nature. 

What made you decide to move here and build a house?

We were both born in north Germany although in a different area. After 10 moves in 30 years, both in Germany and abroad for career reasons, we had decided to settle back ‘home’ and wanted to be close to an attractive city - Hamburg is wonderful. We’d self-built once before and knew this was the only route to creating something individual.

How did you find a plot?

We searched quite intensively in the summer of 2018 and got lucky in November 2018. We’d  booked a flight from our home in Zürich to Hamburg to view a potentially interesting property. On the evening before, we checked online again for properties close to Hamburg and found one that had been newly-listed that same evening. We called the estate agent, made an appointment for the following morning, drove there directly from the airport and were the first people to view it.

What did you think of the plot?

Despite it being a dark, foggy, rainy day, we felt the magic of the place. We even had some ideas about how to position the house. Although we visited the other property in the afternoon, we knew this was the one for us. The 12,500 sqm plot is close to the forest and coast and has trees, a small pond and several pathways. After a follow-up viewing the next day we left with a handshake agreement and flew back in the afternoon.

What sort of house design did you have in mind?

We had firm ideas about building a modern, eco-friendly timber home that would bed well into the landscape. Large glazed doors opening onto the garden were important and the house had to be dog-friendly, for our labrador, Sam, and viszlador, Charly. A library was a top priority, and we wanted to display our art collection.

Why did you choose Baufritz?

At first, we thought about using an independent architect but it just didn’t feel right. So we checked various house building companies and were very positively surprised about how modern Baufritz had become. We liked their eco credentials and it was a plus that their headquarters was close to our home in Zürich.


What was the design process like?

It was surprisingly quick and straightforward. When we met our Baufritz architect Stephan Rehm he got our ideas immediately. Within two hours we got the first sketches and our house today is very close to these. Originally we had wanted a bungalow, but the local planning restrictions required a two-storey building. Stephan did an excellent job of translating our ideas into concrete building plans. Plus, we got to touch and feel the materials at Baufritz’s visitor centre. Altogether, we visited four times, comparing everything from kitchen and bathroom fittings to flooring, skirting boards and door handles. We weren’t fazed by the huge number of options. We’re fast decision makers and were well prepared.

How did the build go?

We got Baufritz to handle the whole build which was the best decision as we were living in Switzerland. Also, during the construction phase travel was difficult due to the Covid pandemic. Baufritz’s partner firm Glatthaar laid the concrete foundations in August 2020. We then went along to see the house go up in October 2020, which took just three days. It was impressive to see our ideas become a three-dimensional reality. The timber frame, insulated panels and many of the fixtures had been prefabricated in the Baufritz factory. In another six months the house was complete.

What layout did you choose?

The 201 sqm house has the downstairs arranged as an open plan kitchen diner and living area, with a separate library, shower room, laundry room and plant room. At first we considered a partially separating the kitchen from the living room but Stephan persuaded us against it and the result is a very open, welcoming design -  plus there are wonderful views into the garden. The terrace faces west and due to the large trees we have a nice play of shadows as the sun moves during the day. Upstairs we have a bedroom and dressing room, a second bedroom used as a home gym and a shower room. We have a green wildflower roof, too.

Why a library?

A library was always a must. Michael loves to read - everything from history to politics, science fiction, health and well-being and thrillers. In addition, we love listening to music. It’s a great place to relax. Baufritz recommended the specialist company Noll to supply the joinery for the shelves and cabinetry – and they delivered superb quality. Noll also built the cabinets in the entrance, dressing room and bathroom, and created a place for the dogs.

Why was lighting so important?

Since we have many art works, including paintings and sculptures, lighting was especially important to us. We commissioned a couple of paintings especially for the house. Baufritz recommended a specialist company for the lighting design. All the fittings are energy-saving LEDs, with individual designs to highlight each art work. During the construction phase we had a site meeting just for this, where we used large photo printouts to determine the final spot for each painting. Since the paintings are colourful, we didn’t need much background colour so decided on clear white for the ceilings and a neutral tone for the walls.  

Is the house energy efficient?

We relied on Baufritz for suggestions for achieving this. The house is triple glazed and as the weather is rather mild in our area we decided to go with medium insulation for the walls. We have an air source heat pump, a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system and underfloor heating We also have energy saving LED lights throughout. This season, everyone’s energy bills have increased and ours is up by 35% but overall we are very satisfied with the efficiency of the house.

Which features do especially love?

We love the views of the surrounding nature from each room. On long summer evenings we entertain friends on the terrace and on winter evenings we can sit in the warm downstairs and look out at our new acquisition – a buddha statue. After dusk it is lit, along with the trees, by a specialist outdoor lighting scheme.   

How has your home developed since you moved in?

The timber cladding was left untreated so that the house will blend into the surroundings. Now the weathering has started the light grey tone looks very natural. We haven’t changed anything inside – the house is just the way we like it. Our home has made us even more nature conscious than before. Our aim is to protect the environment and develop the biodiversity to help insects, frogs and birds. Michael completed two large bee-friendly herb beds last year. After an intense storm in February 2022 when we lost over 13 trees, we planted 16 new ones that will be more robust against climate change.

Would you build again?

In principle yes, but we don’t need to - our dreams have come true with this house. It’s our permanent home.