Tranquil Uruguay, across the River Plate from the sprawling metropolis of Buenos Aires, is where busy Argentineans come to relax. Its beach towns, lined up along the Atlantic coast, get more bohemian and funky the farther north you get and are buzzy in the summer season—December and January—but quiet most of the rest of the year. Argentinean architect Alejandro Sticotti, his wife, Mercedes, and their four children had been coming to the coast for 20 years, renting during vacations in the hot summer months, before they spotted a plot of land and made it their own.
The 2,690-square-foot house they built was technically finished in 2015, but it remains something of a work in progress. It sits on a small street in La Pedrera, a town known for its wide beaches and hippie-esque leanings. It’s completely enclosed by a wall and fencing, with the upper floor rising above its mostly one-story neighbors, a rectangle on top of a square. The second floor is larger than the first, to capture views of the Atlantic Ocean and the beach, just two blocks away. Those views are what drew Alejandro to the property—and what inspired him to put the living room on the second floor.
The fencing offers total privacy—there’s just a single high, horizontal window visible from the road—but once you enter there’s an astonishing sense of space and air. With floor-to-ceiling windows looking away from the street on both levels and flooding the house with light, it’s clear that the family embraces an indoor/outdoor existence. A ground-floor deck, with simple wooden benches and a hammock, extends from the kitchen into the walled garden, and this is where Alejandro spends most of his time, tinkering with his woodworking tools. “I make artistic things with wood—planes, boats, toys,” he says. The shelves in the kitchen are stocked with his creations; they sit in plain view alongside enamel bowls and hand-carved cutting boards, while the more high-tech necessities—dishwasher, fridge—are tucked away.
Sparingly furnished, the long living room allows the sea views to dominate. The reclaimed pine floor remains uncluttered except for a sofa facing the water and a coffee table. Modular shelving is set against a concrete wall, with just a few items—a book, a glass jug, a couple of empty wooden boxes—on each shelf. The walls of the master bedroom, tucked behind the living room, are unadorned, but the room doesn’t feel empty, thanks to floor-length curtains and a rough wooden wall that separates it from the bathroom, though it doesn’t quite reach the ceiling.
“It’s rare to have the kitchen downstairs and the living room above, but it fits our way of life. When the sun sets, we go upstairs and it’s very beautiful.”
ALEJANDRO STICOTTI, ARCHITECT AND RESIDENT
The house, made from concrete, steel, and wood, is startlingly modern, which is still somewhat unusual for this easygoing beach town where not much has changed in decades. “It’s too modern and too big,” says Alejandro. “In the beginning that kind of bothered me. But now I’m happy because if I hadn’t built it that high, I wouldn’t have the view.” The outside is striped with planks of weathered gray ipe wood, sourced from Brazil and Bolivia, which Alejandro chose because it can endure La Pedrera’s intense combination of sun, rain, and seawater. It’s of a piece with his previous work and his primarily wooden furnishings—“It’s my style. I always do the same, with the same materials,” he says.
For Alejandro and Mercedes, the home is a respite from their busy lives in the Argentinean capital, where she works as a graphic designer and he oversees not only his architecture firm but his carpentry workshop and furniture store. Alejandro loves it not because he stops working (“I love to work—working is my hobby!”), but because being in the house is a pleasure. When he’s not looking over plans or carving wood on the deck, his days are filled with life’s slower-paced pleasures: cooking on the six-burner range—mostly Uruguayan dishes like fish and lamb—gardening, composting, and waiting for his wife to come back from the beach.
Their children, ranging in age from 21 to 29, join them for Christmas and New Year’s Eve, sleeping in a 1,000-square-foot annex that sits at the end of a pavingstone path running down the side of the garden. Here, two bedrooms, each with its own bathroom, are stacked on top of each other in a compact building that offers some privacy.
The furnishings throughout the home, from the long refectory table where the family eats their meals to the petiribí wood grids spiked with dowels—designed to hang everything from clothes to frying pans—are all made by Alejandro. He designed the lighting and the landscaping, working around the enormous álamo (cottonwood) tree in the garden, which was part of the property when they bought it. There’s no part of the space that his hands haven’t touched, but the work was a labor of love. And now, when each December rolls around, “I wish I was there already!” he says. It’s something to look forward to: a beach house, a family gathering place, and a workshop in one.