This 19th Century Berlin Apartment Combines Classic and Modern Design
Characterful vintage finds, intriguing artworks and a discerning colour palette, this 19th century apartment in Berlin offers a calm homecoming for its nomadic owner.
When you spend as much time travelling as Remo Masala does, you become acutely conscious of the things that count in life: ‘a seasonal capsule wardrobe’, the ‘best Italian coffee my machine can make for the pre-dawn airport commute’, and ‘a place to return to, somewhere to restore balance’. That place is a light-filled, open and functional 19th century apartment in a leafy Berlin neighbourhood where a rich cultural past vibrantly intersects with the cosmopolitan present.
Leading the division for new concepts and brands as group creative director for travel industry heavyweight Thomas Cook, Remo approaches the business of design with a trend-forward instinct and a refined aesthetic. This style savvy has translated into a personal space that is eclectic and interesting without superfluous layers of clutter or sentimentality: an interior composed of materials that marry rough with luxe; a neutral palette of unifying colours that gently graduate from crisp whites to moody grey and clay; a balanced assembly of graphic artworks, vintage finds, heirlooms, classic design and humble objects – some handmade, some timeworn – that celebrate the charm of imperfection; and an overall visual sobriety that many of Remo’s friends describe as ‘rather masculine’.
Having been based in Zurich for almost a decade and living in ‘a space that was very James Bond, with lots of integrated hi-tech gadgets and everything perfectly linear and incredibly modern’, Remo relocated back to the city of his childhood, Berlin, prompted by the purchase of this apartment. He is a firm believer in creative collaborations, and so united with his close friend, acclaimed interior designer and stylist Annabell Kutucu, to tackle its interior. Also part of the design squad was Michael Schickinger, a friend and design associate who is also Kutucu’s business partner in the multidisciplinary Berlin-based design firm Lambs and Lions. Kutucu’s design signature is similar to Remo’s: an astute juxtaposition of colour and texture plus a sophisticated ability to combine items and objects with diverse provenances.
‘I love moody palettes and natural materials in combination with handpicked vintage pieces and some ethnic elements,’ she says. ‘Thanks to the 19th century architecture, the apartment comes with high ceilings and lots of natural light, so the goal was to curate it embedding these strengths.’ The intention was to create a home for someone ‘who travels intensely’: a ‘cosy, chic and relaxed interior’ to return to alone or to entertain guests in, as well as a functional work-from-home space that isn’t overtly formal.
The architectural rhythm of the apartment is easygoing. The entrance leads straight into the kitchen with simple yet top- notch accoutrements and a bespoke open-shelf metal unit. ‘My grandmother was Italian and very stylish,’ says Remo, referring to the largely white selection of crockery and serving dishes. ‘She was fastidious about gift giving: only homeware that was simple, functional and beautiful.’ Also in the kitchen is the house’s quirkiest feature: an original built-in wood-burning oven with hand- painted decorative tiles that, while no longer in working order, is used as a surface for storage as well as food preparation.
The dining area, living room, guest washroom, bedroom with en suite bathroom and a home office space (with an integrated daybed for overnighting guests) constitute the rest of the home’s layout. A series of sizeable double doors throughout allow each zone to be closed off or opened up. Remo describes working with Kutucu and Schickinger as fun and harmonious.
‘More than once I would be standing on a building site or on a Greek island, or heading into a London meeting when Annabell would send me snaps of pieces from a little antique shop in Berlin or Paris that she thought would look great in the apartment,’ he says. As Kutucu explains, integrating Remo’s personal belongings with the furniture and decorative items that she selected was easy ‘because he has such exquisite taste and had such beautiful things to begin with’. Magazines, books and small decorative objets collected on Remo’s travels feature prominently on bespoke open shelves in the study as well as on a retro Scandi bookshelf in the living room.
The furniture pieces are distinctive and have been chosen for both their form and function – an appealing high-low mix of styles and eras. Dotted throughout the apartment is Remo’s cherished art collection. He has a penchant for contemporary graphic illustration, and a passion for the work of iconic Italian artist, illustrator, graphic designer and inventor Bruno Munari.
One of the most interesting artworks is also the most intriguing: located on one of the living room walls, an installation of graphic type with an enigmatic message devised by his friend and past collaborator, the artist and philosopher Wolfgang Scheppe. The meaning of the piece has not yet been disclosed – even to Remo. ‘I’ve been told that clues will be revealed bit by bit in the form of other small pieces of art that he is going to create’, he says. Though the apartment is a peaceful haven for Remo to return to when he’s not dashing across time zones, his home also often resounds with the noise of friendly company.
‘Remo is a fantastic host,’ says Kutucu. ‘We have had many wonderful dinners in this dining room, spending quality time with friends.’ ‘My schedule is all-consuming,’ says Remo. ‘So of all the elements I appreciate about living here, it’s the one you can’t see, buy or even adequately describe that I value most. The feeling of being home.’
ALSO READ: A Laboratory: This Parisian Apartment Showcases its Owner's Unique Sense of Style