Cover The living area is furnished with the Nicci swivel armchairs, Mesh side table, To Be One floor lamp and a custom-made brass console from OKHA, as well as a bespoke sofa by Max Kasymov studio

The extraordinary architecture of this Moscow home by SAOTA provides a deep connection with nature and comfort, whatever the weather

When you picture a wonderfully airy, light-filled house with spectacular views of nature, your mind wouldn’t immediately settle on Moscow. But this contemporary home, set among pine trees on an island in the Moskva River, introduces a revolutionary architectural approach atypical of Russian abodes.

Perhaps it’s because SAOTA—a South African architecture studio led by designers who were brought up in the heat of the Southern Hemisphere—was behind the aesthetic; the house feels fresh and suggestive of warmth, and boasts an enticing world outside the front door.

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“We used a combination of fully glazed facades and skylights to achieve this,” explains SAOTA director Greg Truen, who collaborated with South African interior design firm ARRCC and Moscow-based studio Max Kasymov for the project. “We always try to maximise natural light in our buildings, especially in Moscow, where it can certainly be in short supply. That’s why we wanted this to be central to the design.”

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Building a house like this in one of the harshest environments on earth took a lot of planning. It meant glazing systems so advanced that they could effectively provide insulation in the Russian winter, where temperatures can drop to -25 deg C. Equally, in summer the thermometer can hit up to 40 deg C, meaning cooling systems are as important. 

“The real challenge was to mediate a dialogue between everything harmoniously, in the Russian context,” says Truen, referring both to the weather and the Soviet architecture that dominates Moscow. “The design addresses the urban architectural character of the capital city and the pocket of natural pine forest, something of a rarity this close to the historical centre (of Moscow).”

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The pinewoods around the site are extraordinary and were the starting point for the entire design. The architects wanted to compensate for the lack of sunlight by creating a bright home from which its inhabitants could appreciate the beauty of the outdoors.

The designers sought to build a house in which their clients could relax in comfort, even on the coldest of winter days. “We’re always conscious of the relationship between the inside and outside; we always want to create a meaningful connection between the two,” says Truen. “The forest is quite something to sit and observe, especially with Moscow’s extreme climate. Glazed walls allow this.”

The main area has a black-and-white palette, but there are additional colour accents such as the pink armchairs in the living room to provide a lift. Artworks from the clients’ private collections cover the walls and create the focal point of the bigger rooms. The private areas and bedrooms, meanwhile, have a brighter palette than the living rooms.

“However much we wanted it to look beautiful, the interior of the house was designed primarily for the comfortable living of the family with their interests and lifestyle,” says Kasymov. This means that the house has to be lovely to live in, regardless of the season.

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One place where practicality is paramount is the kitchen—and in this case, the two kitchens: a professional one and one for the family’s personal use.

“The main kitchen is located in the central area of the house and used for serving family meals and also as a bar during receptions,” says Kasymov. “The use of closed storage systems allowed us to hide the worktop surface, household appliances and dinnerware. The professional kitchen, meanwhile, is located in a separate area, designed for intensive cooking and fitted with professional equipment.”

The interior design enhances this sense of cosiness, even in extreme weather conditions. “The abundance of light results from the architecture of the house: panoramic windows and a glass roof in the hall, and in addition to this, the entire main area has an open plan,” says Max Kasymov, the eponymous founder of his studio, which designed most of the custom furnishings in the house. “Artificial lighting, which includes a variety of technical and decorative fixtures, is also well organised and important for the dark winter months.”

More than anything, however, this is a home, and the priority for the designers and architects was that their client was happy with the result. And given that the owner’s brief was to appreciate the harsh beauty of the natural world from the comfort of his man-made one, there is little doubt he was.

“What counts most is that everyone is satisfied,” says Kasymov. “The client got a unique house that is second-to-none in Moscow. Our design studio gained extensive experience working with a large international firm. And the architects at SAOTA got to design a house like this one, which stands in the snow for half the year.”

  • PhotographySergey Ananiev
  • StylingNatasha Onufreichuk
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