On family property, architect Lionel Ballmer builds a compact home almost entirely out of wood.
“I built this house for my wife, my cats, and me,” says Swiss architect Lionel Ballmer. “We wanted to live in a small place, surrounded by trees.” The roughly 860-square-foot project occupies a piece of land in Haute-Nendaz, Switzerland, shared with the parents of Lionel’s wife. Its design—a maze-like succession of connected spaces that create worlds of their own— is like “a child’s dream of living in a tree house in the backyard coming true,” he says.
Small House Nendaz’s minimalist material palette is an homage of sorts to the homogeneity of materials used in the historic mountain buildings of the area, creating a strong contrast with the surrounding vegetation. The choice of wood was an obvious one, says Lionel, thanks to its aesthetic and thermal qualities.
Built in just five months in 2021, the house was constructed using wood from local trees: Larch slats were used for the roof and facade, and cross-laminated timber made of locally sourced spruce make up the home’s skeleton, including the interior walls, floors, and furniture.
Municipal regulations restricted the home’s height, but a central staircase—the project’s backbone—serves to amplify the limited space by linking a single bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, and dining room. The connectivity creates a feeling a spaciousness that belies the relatively small dimensions.
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The structure’s five half-levels, each of which houses two distinct spaces, are oriented toward unique vistas. Rooms reflect the same materials used throughout with custom-made, built-in furniture and lamps—but somehow each feels like a sphere of its own.
In a space between the house and workshop, another secreted-away spot awaits the residents—a garden that’s close to the property’s main home but feels far removed and private thanks to the surrounding woodlands. “We were lucky enough to build our house among the trees,” Lionel says. “Usually people wait for the trees to grow for 30 years before they can make this dream come true.”