Monomal: Turning dream homes into reality
Text: Signe Hansen | Photos: Monomal | Main image: The renovation of the old farm that houses Monomal’s practice was nominated for Renover Prisen in 2018.
Helping clients to realise their dream home, Monomal creates simple, functional architecture and beautiful spaces for everyday life. The firm’s recent transformation of an old, ramshackle farm into a modern home and architectural practice was nominated for Renover Prisen – a Danish renovation award – in 2018.
Founded by Uffe Topsøe-Jensen in 2008, Monomal is today run by Topsøe-Jensen and his partner, Kira Snowman. As partners in both life and business, the two architects have set up their home and practice in an old, renovated farm in Havreholm, north of Copenhagen. The renovation of the farm was nominated for the Danish Renover Prisen, and with a string of simple, beautiful and functional solutions, it provides a visually compelling illustration of the values at the heart of Monomal’s work. “Our name, Monomal, is a contraction of the words ‘mono’, for simple, and ‘normal’, and that’s very indicative of our work. A large part of life is normal and ordinary, and we see it as our greatest task to provide the frames for that part of life,” says Snowman. “It’s very much about working with the space, the light and the materials. We can’t decide where we place the properties we design, but we can influence how they’re situated and how they’re designed, to include the best of the area in the building.”
Building onto those principles, three years ago, Monomal expanded its service with a new house concept, the highly functional pre-architect-designed MonomadehausTM.
Serious about homes
Having specialised in residential architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Topsøe-Jensen always knew that he wanted to design homes. “My ambition was to take residential architecture, the creation of individual homes, more seriously; to take it back to the level that we know from great architects like Utzon and Jacobsen,” he explains. “But since their time, it’s a sector that has been pushed into the background as most firms have focused on bigger-scale projects – or on interior design.”
The lack of focus on individual homes is largely due to the fact that many firms, especially bigger practices, struggle to provide the required level of individual service. But luckily, Topsøe-Jensen never had any ambition of creating a large-scale business; rather, he wanted to create a set-up that allowed him to get close to clients and their dreams. “There are a lot of presumptions when it comes to an architect-designed house – that it’s going to be very abstract, fancy and three times the price of a regular house,” Topsøe-Jensen says. “I wanted to change that.”
With a string of new homes and renovations in Monomal’s portfolio, it is clear that Topsøe-Jensen succeeded in doing so, and a couple of years into the new venture, Snowman, whom Topsøe-Jensen met at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, joined the practice.
A shortcut to an architect-designed home
In 2016, Monomal started a new project: the design of a house that was to become the prototype of the firm’s pre-architect-designed house, the MonomadehausTM. “Early in the process, we set ourselves the challenge of creating the most interesting house possible in the most rational way possible – the aim was to transfer all of the resources put into the project directly into spatial and architectural experiences rather than fancy roof structures and so on,” explains Topsøe-Jensen.
The result was a simple, modern house characterised by a light, Nordic design. When later faced with the request of creating a similar but smaller version of the house, the idea for the MonomadehausTM was born. “We had often been faced with requests for a thoroughly thought-through architect-designed house, but without the lengthy process – starting from scratch undeniably takes time,” explains Snowman. “It’s something that we’ve realised our clients really want; they know what’s good and bad quality, but today, there just aren’t any alternatives bridging the gap between the standard house and the architect-designed home.”
A human scale
Located in the old farmhouse of the renovated farm in Havreholm, Monomal’s practice adjoins the old barn, which is now the home of Topsøe-Jensen and Snowman. This means that clients visiting can get a glimpse of not just the work, but also the life of the two architects. “When designing someone’s home, getting to know people and gaining their trust is essential, and to that end I think it’s a great help that people can meet us as a couple in our own home,” says Snowman. “I can see why that’s something bigger companies struggle with. Meeting people as regular human beings and not just as architects is not something you learn at the academy.”
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