When work finally began on the house, the construction crew discovered that the “rock” they had expected to drill into for the foundation was actually sand. Höller and Odenbach had to delay a plan to build a guesthouse and instead tucked a guest room behind the communal space. Another plan, to line the swimming pool with gold-leaf tiles, was scrapped after they learned that the chemicals in the water degraded the gold and its reflection in sunlight would be almost blinding. And so on… “For four or five years, we would stay at the Biriwa Beach Hotel and bring our drinks here every evening to sit on two chairs on the floor of our raw, unfinished house,” says Odenbach. “We lived here in our fantasies.”
One idea that stuck was to distort the structure by making the walls not conform to right angles. They achieved this by designing their own rooms as parallelograms, rather than rectangles. Each corner is three degrees more or less than a right angle. The angles of those walls then define the shape of the communal space, which opens out toward the ocean, and make the room seem longer than it is. The errant three degrees make each part of the interior seem subtly disorienting, giving the exterior a slightly ramshackle shape. The concrete roof is angled and linked to a drainage system, which collects rainwater from there and from the communal space. “When there is a storm, you’ll be sitting here with water going right through the house,” says Höller. “And tropical rain pours off the roof like a curtain.” A wind turbine was recently installed as an alternative source of power to the generator.
Local carpenters made the floors, stairs, doors, tables, sofa bases, and cabinets from odum, a tropical wood grown in Ghana. A metalworker devised a stainless steel shield in the kitchen to protect the stove from ocean breezes. By chance, Höller and Odenbach found a Ghanaian source of marble for the bathroom. All of the upholstery was made in Germany and shipped to Ghana in a container stuffed with china, cutlery, linens, kitchen utensils, and bathroom fittings. By Christmas 2009, they stayed in the house for the first time—a decade after deciding to build it.
When the house is empty, the contents of the communal space are moved to Höller’s and Odenbach’s rooms for protection from the elements, and the property is cared for by the housekeeper, who lives with his family nearby in a pink house Höller and Odenbach built. The humidity is so intense that many things are too fragile to remain in the structure: Books, drawings, and photographs would become moldy. Höller once left a leather belt behind and returned to find that it had rotted. “You just have to deal with the situation here,” explains Odenbach. “The first time we thought about furniture, we said, ‘One thing is clear—we don’t want those ugly plastic chairs you see all over Africa.’ But you can’t find nice chairs here, and the plastic ones are perfectly practical for the weather.” He’s rendered them more comfortable by placing cushions, made by his German upholsterer, on the seats. “This space is quite brutal,” he adds. “It needs things that are at least semi-elegant to make it livable.”