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Essentialism and the “je ne sais quoi” of buildings

— 15 June 2023 by Magnus Strom

StromArchitects KattegatHouse I11
“Essentialism is about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time". I am intrigued by the idea of “Essentialism” - a phrase coined by British author Greg McKeown, in his best-selling book from 2014.


Having recently read this book, I have come to understand that we apply a similar approach when designing houses and homes. 

The design of a truly bespoke and unique home is not simply a case of designing a house.

Of course, we can take clients’ briefs, put pen to paper and quickly design something that looks great, adds value and works well for the client. But what is it that we are actually trying to achieve on a higher level? Is there a deeper meaning? Is there something that imbues feelings, and quality, beyond what is instantly measurable?

The simple answer is, yes.

It is very easy to take a brief, and through an additive approach, you end up with a wish-list of requirements that we then try to fulfil within a given size or budget. By cramming every idea you've ever had into a house, you will end up with something that lacks clarity and vision. Even with the best products, materials and limitless budgets, the designs will never evoke a feeling of architectural integrity and clarity.

We interrogate our clients’ briefs to get a proper understanding of their needs, not just wants. We differentiate between hard requirements, (e.g. how any bedrooms do you want?) and soft needs, such as how you actually want to live in your house and what is important to you.

  • We become aware of what’s truly important
  • We have the courage to eliminate as much noise as possible
  • We focus on the essential, realising that it will yield the best result

We strive to find what is “Essential”, in the architecture. We strive to eliminate all the noise and focus only on the essential aspects of the home, marrying simplicity in design with optimum functionality.

We search for an overarching idea, or red thread, that runs through the house as a theme and embodies the brief. We test ideas, and once a concept is established, we enter a process of editing.

It is easy to keep adding features, once the concept has been established, and an idea can easily be ruined by attaching too much to it, so that the concept no longer is visible. We edit. When we subtract, we achieve clarity, and the concept gets stronger.

Clarity allows the buildings to take on a life of their own and offer intangible qualities. The “je ne sais quoi" of buildings is not found in objects, but instead by eliminating noise, and identifying and celebrating the “essential”. This results in an architecture that can move you, beyond bricks and mortar.


Less, but better.

(Dieter Rams)


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