Date: 29 March 2011
Perched at the base of the Beskydy Mountains in the Czech Republic is a titanium-plated house in the fanciful shape of a bird with wings extended. The steel-and-glass structure in the picturesque northeastern region is the home of Pavel Horak, the chief executive of PPL, an express mail firm.
Mr. Horak is a man who, perhaps it goes without saying, has an earthy sense of fun.
“I was really concerned about the winds, especially since here they blow up to 120 kilometers (74.56 miles) an hour,” he said with a chortle. “But after the first big storm, when the house didn’t fly away, I calmed down, sort of.”
Two years ago, Mr. Horak, 58, and his wife Renata, 38, moved into the home topped by titanium zinc canopies that provide the bird silhouette. The three-bedroom, three-story property, built for $6 million, sits on 42 acres of rolling greenery with a lake, tennis court and grounds keeper’s quarters.
The project took flight five years ago when Mr. Horak bought land in the village of Kuncice pod Ondrejnikem, 27 miles from Ostrava, the mining and steel town where he grew up.
He had only a vague notion to build a house that stood out. And he knew he wanted something spacious, after having spent a childhood squeezed into small quarters. He was raised, as was his wife, in two-room apartments in drab, prefabricated concrete residential buildings that were ubiquitous in the former Eastern bloc country.
Mr. Horak gave wide latitude to Roman Kuba, an architect and owner of the Atelier Simona Group in Ostrava.
“Thinking about a design for Pavel, I noticed how a blackbird spread her wings over her nest on the balcony of my ranch,” Mr. Kuba said. “I went to see Pavel’s land with the mountains in the background. They reminded me of the bird’s beak, and it all came together.”
The bird expressed Mr. Kuba’s “organic architecture” philosophy, which is that architecture should be inspired by natural surroundings.“Because Pavel had such a great sense of humor, I knew I could make this home for him,” Mr. Kuba said.
Construction of the “bird,” as it came to be known, was not without obstacles. “It was very difficult to create a sense of lightness in the wings, but covering the supporting steel poles in wood provided airiness,” he said.
Upon first seeing the bird design, Mr. Horak exclaimed, “holy hell,” with characteristic bluntness. But he liked it.
Inside the bird, the focal point is a central glass stairwell framed by white pillars.
Woods of varying shades — including a rare striped Indonesian Makassar, used for the dining room table and cabinet, and a dark tropical Wenge timber laid on the floors — are offset by vivid splashes of color, such as a second-floor acrylic-and-sand wall hanging from Hawaii and Italian retro-style orange lights in the open-plan dining room. The bright orange foyer lights, Mr. Horak said wryly, “first reminded me of a brothel.
In the living room, beige marble is at the base of a gas fireplace in the shape of a pyramid.
Yet it was another quirky feature, a wall-to-wall ocean-fish aquarium in the basement, that he and his wife saw as a stylistic necessity. This was particularly meaningful to the globe-trotting couple whose native country is landlocked.
“It reminds us of our trips to Mauritius, the Seychelles, Greece and other far-flung shores,” said Mrs. Horakova, the bookkeeper for PPL.
Before settling on the bird, Mr. Horak considered roughly 10 designs from different architects. “Some looked like they belonged in the Caribbean,” he said, “others looked too much like ski chalets.”
Mr. Horak, a rugged man with a dry sense of humor, asked the advice of Mr. Kuba, a fellow Ostravan and member of his tennis club. Mr. Kuba initially was reluctant because he is an architect known for his industrial buildings, especially his award-winning reconstruction of a gas firm’s headquarters. “Finally I said, give me six months and I’ll create something for you never seen before,” Mr. Kuba said.
Mrs. Horakova turned her attention to the interior of the structure, working with Atelier Simona to recreate the “soothing, relaxing” atmosphere of sea resorts she had visited.
In particular, she had in mind a circular interior design, reminiscent of what she had seen during a 2005 stay in Dubai at the Burj Al Arab Hotel, an architectural glass landmark in the shape of an ancient Arabian sail.
Luxurious details are evident throughout the house, such as the swimming pool’s hand-crafted Spanish mosaics and the steam bath’s 18-karat-gold tiles.
Mrs. Horakova explained why the entire basement is dominated by water: “When I go on holiday, I could spend it all in the spa.”
The basement, in fact, was Atelier Simona’s greatest technical challenge.
“It took us three years to figure out how to put the swimming pool next to the aquarium,” said Mr. Kuba. “When one body of water is empty, it puts overwhelming pressure on the barrier, so we built a thick acrylic glass divider to provide balance.”
Mr. Horak added ruefully, “Originally I wanted a shark in the aquarium. But then Renata said she wouldn’t swim next to it.”
Asked what he loved most about his home, Mr. Horak lavished praise on the glass-ensconced living room, which he said makes him feel that he is “outdoors while still indoors.”
“And that the house hasn’t flown away. Yet.”