March 12, 2013
When Carlos Alonso and his sister Camino (partners at Madrid architecture firm Ábaton) were looking for a country home for their extended family, they stumbled upon an abandoned stable in rural Extremadura, Spain and recognized it as a special place.
High on a hill and far from city water or an electrical grid, the crumbling cow shed was far from the conventional image of luxury estate, but Carlos and Camino could envision a transformation.
This part of the province of Cáceres (near the Portuguese border) has been home to generations of cattle ranchers and the Alonsos recognized the wisdom those who came before them.
Building on the instinctual knowledge of the ranchers before them, the Alonsos preserved much of the old stable. The old watering trough became a fountain and interior patio where water now helps cool the home in summer. The hay loft above became bedrooms. The facade is still the original stone, though given the homes crumbling state, they were forced to add cement behind it.
Without access to the grid, the Alonsos added photovoltaics and hydro power and worked to ensure the home wouldn’t use much energy. The original position of the stable worked to their favor. The southern exposure allows for the sun to be the main source of heat during the winter.
The Alonsos also added large wooden shutters that slide closed like a second skin, covering the large windows at night to trap in most of the home’s daily solar heat gain.
The home was located far from city water, but perfectly positioned below two streams that flow year round. Since there is no one else above the home on the mountain, the water is pure and can be used for drinking and bathing (after a simple filter and rest period).
Grey water is purified and the water is put back to use on the property for watering the fields. On those fields, cattle still graze.
Even local rancher José Vicente Jiménez, whose family has worked this land for generations, is still here. His cattle graze the property and he clearly is pleased the Alonsos have rescued the old stable from certain ruin.