If you could build the house of your dreams, what features would you include?
An abundance of bedrooms and baths? A state-of-the-art kitchen? An indoor pool?
What about a hidden entrance, an in-house café, or a custom garage for your fleet of luxury cars?
In Netflix’s new reality documentary series, the UK import “The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes,” award-winning architect Piers Taylor and acclaimed actress and property developer Caroline Quentin find all these amenities and more as they travel the globe exploring unique, contemporary homes that take residential architecture to new levels of creativity.
The show is particularly timely, as the luxury market is growing, with sales rising by 15% and prices increasing by 20% in 2021.
Read on for our top picks from the show’s spectacular and surprising collection.
A house fit for a Bond villain
The grandly named Villa Am See in Weggis, Switzerland, doesn’t just nestle into the Alps—it’s actually built into the side of a hill. The lower level of the luxury residence is an enormous, custom-built garage that was hollowed out of a steep rock wall to shelter owner Adi Herzog’s six Porsches. From the garage, a narrow, moodily lit entranceway leads to an elevator that rises up through the interior of the hill to living space perched on the summit. The house itself is composed of three glass-fronted boxes that are angled to maximize views of nearby Lake Lucerne. Construction of Villa Am See took seven years from planning through to completion. Herzog wanted the building to reflect his love of cars—the interior features gas pump nozzles, dashboard gauges, and even kitchen utensils shaped like wrenches. But Taylor and Quentin remark that the seclusion and the spectacular view from the study give them Bond villain vibes. “I feel like I really should be taking over the world,” says Taylor.
Jikka House in Izukogen, Japan, is a fairy-tale structure with more than one intriguing twist. The residence can’t be approached by car. Instead, visitors must follow a stone footpath that winds through the woods to a clearing where Jikka House’s five cream-colored conical domes rise up toward the treetops. Each dome harbors rooms that feature touches of design magic. A bathroom floor spirals down gently into a tub. Crescent-shaped windows and an oculus brighten every room. And the spacious kitchen with its extra-long tables doubles as a café where locals come to chat and have lunch; owner Nobuko Suma charges about $10 per person. In addition, there’s a charming story attached to Jikka House, which means “parents’ home” in Japanese. When Suma’s architecture-loving son was 12 years old, she told him she’d like him to build her a beautiful home. Upon graduation from university, the son made the design and construction of Jikka House his first professional project.
When work began on the Spencer House in Sarasota, Fla., the neighbors—and the local press—took notice. Owners Gary and Beth Spencer had demolished the traditional mid-century house that stood on the lot, and a massive concrete tower rose up in its place. “There was an unofficial beauty contest,” says architect Guy Peterson, who designed Spencer House. “Everyone was saying, do you like it? Do you not like it?” But once the home was completed, all fears were calmed. The striking, bright-white home with accents in Corbusier blue (named for pioneering modernist architect Le Corbusier) was greeted with acclaim and became a popular local landmark. The interior is even more astonishing than the exterior. The first floor features an enclosed courtyard with palm trees and other local flora. The open-plan living space features a sunken, walk-in swimming pool that runs the entire length of the first level. The house rises several more stories to a terrace at the top with a well-stocked bar and a spectacular view. “It’s like being in your own resort,” says Gary Spencer.
Swimming in the air
The Wall House in Cascais, Portugal, is a study in contrasts. It first presents as a 21st-century fortress, with an apparently solid wall of hedge that slides back with the press of a button to reveal a drawbridge that leads to the front door—an 8-foot-wide, 8-foot-high panel of glass. Within is a maze of walls in concrete, glass, and timber that all move to reveal more or less of the landscape outside—the glass wall in the living room, for example, slides away to allow access to the neighboring golf course. But the real centerpiece of the house is the courtyard that features two pools—one set into the ground, and one transparent-bottomed pool seemingly floating in the air above. The rooftop pool is a marvel of engineering, made of acrylic and steel and balanced by a counterweight planted in the ground. “Everywhere you turn there’s something beautiful, something fun,” says Quentin of the house. “It’s a real treat.”
The house of the future?
Some people collect modern art. French developer Christian Bourdais collects modern architecture. In the historic town of Mattaraña, Spain, Bourdais commissioned architects Office KGDVS to build a residence that challenges our perceptions of how to live. The result was Solo House 2, the second modern home in Bourdais’ collection, which he plans to grow to 15 and market as vacation rentals. The house is a dramatic circular structure, 147 feet in diameter and designed to make the most of the panoramic views from its hilltop setting. The circle encloses a courtyard with a pool, and four crescent-shaped segments of domestic space, comprising three bedrooms, a bath, a utility room, and a combined living room, kitchen, and dinette area. Exterior walls of glass can be completely opened to the outdoors. “This is a house that reminds me of the joy, the artistry of architecture,” says Taylor.
A masterpiece of recycling
In the bustling, burgeoning metropolis of Navi Mumbai, India, stands the Collage House, which combines the latest contemporary design with a deep reverence for India’s architectural heritage. Built on a frame of concrete and steel to house four generations of one family, the structure is an artistic, innovative example of recycling, upcycling, salvaging, and reclaiming. The front facade is a dramatic patchwork of handcrafted doors and windows that have all been salvaged from demolition sites. The central courtyard features a rich variety of reclaimed materials—pipes, tile, and stone—that all serve the practical purpose of funneling away rain during the monsoon season. A glass pavilion on the rooftop terrace is supported by 100-year-old antique columns. One showstopper bathroom is lined from floor to ceiling in salvaged mirrors—and the exposed water pipes, painted pink, wind around the room providing support for lighting, towels, and even bath tissue. “It’s so witty, so engaging, and so purposeful,” says Taylor. “I think I need to raise my own game now.”