Landscape gardener Ernestina Anchorena’s house is a fascinating mixture of styles and cultures, the expression of a rich inner world tuned in colours. The facts that she trained at John Brookes’ English school, that she is a tireless traveller, an eager reader, and a design, art and architecture lover, all have played a role at the time of building this family house in the residential neighbourhood of San Isidro, Argentina, where she lives with her husband, her three sons, her dear Noemí (a sort of housekeeper), three dogs, guinea pigs and fish. “Memories come to the surface and blend with other things making a unique something”, the landscape gardener explains. She is one of the heads at ‘Landscape Art’ landscape gardening studio, together with Valeria Hermida and Teresa Zuberbuhler, with whom she shares a philosophy of respect for the landscape and the same cultural view.
The house opens to the landscape; it is full of courtyards, so that every season, every hour of the day, is enjoyed. “It is a peaceful house, full of colour because colour is related to happiness. It has a lot of treasures of sentimental value and my sons’ laughter has become engraved in it. It is a house that was planned with a baby in my womb and was finished with my son’s birth in this house. So it was given birth with love, but also with pain. It has all that intensity in its walls”, she says. Being a daring woman, she hired an architect to make the plans of what she dictated to him and she only listened to her husband’s opinion, which was taken into account at the moment of design.
“The work took a lot of time, a year and a half, and it was only finished in October 2006. The thing is I’m obsessed with details. I directed more than half of the building work and I spent days and days here from early morning and I learnt a lot from the people who were working, while sharing matés and barbecues with them.”
The architecture springs from a confluence of styles: it is inspired in long narrow houses, which are the old colonial houses with the austerity of walls without mouldings and 3.80m-high ceilings, but it is a contemporary reinterpretation, with gestures of the post-Le Corbusier architecture plus influences of Legorreta’s contemporary Mexican architecture, which is the closest to native America as it is inspired in the great American cultures”, she describes. Placed on a 1,030m2 plot of land it adds up to 360 covered m2 distributed in two storeys. On the ground floor, there are the entrance hall, the living-cum-dining-room, the kitchen, the laundry-room, the pantry, and the service quarters with a bathroom, the playroom, the study and the toilet.
On the upper floor, there are the master bedroom with a dressing-room and a compartmentalised bathroom with a private terrace, plus the boys’ rooms with a bathroom. This block is complemented by another house, where Ernestina’s studio is located. The façade is smooth, made of rough render painted with lime in a red shade.
“We tried to have materials that were close to earth, using organic paints”, she says.
The walls are not just a necessary building element, each one has a special leading role, and they change colour in each of the rooms. On the ground floor, in the social area, there are colours like yellow and vermillion. For the kitchen, she has chosen red and yellow. The toilet is violet and the study orange. On the upper floor, the master bedroom is indigo blue while the children’s bedroom is green and yellow. “Nothing makes me happier than colour, it has a lot to do with happiness… that is why I was obsessed with it, it took months and months of colour tests, because one of the things I wanted was the house to have as many colours as possible”, she says. The lighting was no minor business. In this area she sought the help of Ruben Amsel, a specialist who provided the house with a contemporary atmosphere through the use of light.
The interior decoration is her creation entirely. “The style I believe defines the interior is junk, I have been able to be as eclectic as I have wanted to be. Thus, we see in the different rooms a harmonic coexistence of furniture painted by Ernestina, among recycled pieces and many others by Argentinean designers such as Arturo de Tezanos Pintos, Carlos Gronda and Eugenio Aguirre combined with pieces by Philippe Starck and native textiles.
There is also room for art (I am little by little trying to arrange a small collection) and on the walls there are works by Argentinean artists on display, such as pieces by Sofía Bothlingk, Pilar Carballido, Molina Campos, Juan Carlos Castagnino and Damián Crubellati. The arrangement is completed with a display of small objects, many of which are beloved memories. What best represents my mind is the presence of all my childhood toys, my most beloved little things and the collection of silly things I have picked up. There are still some missing details and there is some furniture I’d like to change, but I like to go little by little and avoid doing away with what I had previously, what was not thought for this house.
What best represents my mind is the arrangement of the bookcase with all my childhood toys, my beloved things”, she explains. Courtyards The house opens out onto different courtyards and thus becomes disassembled in space. It is surrounded by a garden compartmentalised into a grass area, a vegetable garden, the swimming-pool, the children’s tree house, an area for relaxation under the trees with benches. “And as the saying goes, ‘the blacksmith’s mare and the shoemaker’s children are the worst shod’. I designed the garden in a hurry as soon as the baby was born, sketching in bed. And I saw it being built from my bedroom. It has a lot of me because I am a frustrated architect, and architecture is one of my passions.” She has rescued species that were used in the past in courtyards and added native ones that were part of the environment, “plus the other plants that grow alone and we mistakenly call ‘weeds’. In this way the garden becomes filled with birds and butterflies plus all the insects and animals that try to recompose the environment in that space,” she concludes.