In the forests of northern Germany, model LOU SCHOOF has designed her own home. Building on the foundations of her eco-warrior upbringing, it points the way to a more responsible way of living
Photography by Lou Schoof Text by Matthew Benjamin
The restless luxury fashion industry must feel like a distant thought amid the quiet of model and photographer Lou Schoof’s self-built ecohouse in the forests of northern Germany. Yet it was Schoof’s professional experience that intimately informed the expression and identity of her home. Slowing down to “integrate responsible materials into the build in a waste-reducing way”, as Schoof puts it, couldn’t be further from the unrelenting pace that characterises the production and consumption of most modern clothing. In 2019, the same year she began building her home, Schoof took the decisive step of working exclusively with environmentally conscious collaborators. The construction of her woodside dwelling served as a prelude to a new way of thinking about sustainability.
A desire to build her own home emerged out of the intensity of her early modelling career. Scouted at 17 years in her native Germany and moving to New York at 19, her life took on a frenetic pace while travelling extensively for work. At 21, her rising consciousness of the unsustainable and creatively draining pace of the industry echoed her need to build a base of her own. “I’d been working a lot,” she recalls, “and was like ‘You don’t actually have a home. Where do you want to go when you need to rest?’, so I started dreaming about this space.”
Deciding what type of home to build was not difficult. In fact, due to Schoof’s unique childhood, a conventional house was never on the cards. She and her two siblings grew up with hardcore eco-warriors for parents, she says, who built their house out of recycled and natural materials in the 1990s. “In the beginning they didn’t even have a fridge,” Schoof remembers. “They had a hole in the ground where they cooled the vegetables and the groceries.
“To me, this is my nature. Building the house made me realise that you can do something that pleases you aesthetically and is still ecologically sensitive”
“I thought about what is the most supportive space for me,” she goes on, “to be alive, and to be creative, and to move, and to feel very comfortable.” Having chosen the perfect building plot, making the most of the nearby lakes, beaches and forests was of the utmost importance. Open aspects and clear structure were used to enhance its position, accentuated by an open-plan living space crowned by an expansive curtain glass wall opening onto the garden. “To me, this is my nature. Building the house made me realise that you can do something that pleases you aesthetically and is still ecologically sensitive. In a sense, it’s going back to my roots and upbringing surrounded by nature.”
For the uninitiated, getting your head around what constitutes an “eco” or sustainable house can be confusing in itself, mired in technical engineering terms or the inveigling language of greenwashing. But Schoof’s definition was remarkably simple, “Firstly, it’s about what kind of effect it has on the environment” – referencing toxic materials like conventional varnishes and paints. “Secondly, it’s about the people who live inside it.” Her father, who had previously worked as an architect, built the house but Schoof, radically DIY in her approach, designed the building herself and researched all the materials and processes that went into it. Rather than emulating a particular style, she allowed the sustainable palette to dictate the appearance –reminiscent of the pared back materiality of mid-century architecture.
Schoof’s family home shaped the approach to her own house. Instead of using reclaimed windows, which leak heat, Schoof used new materials that were recycled or recyclable, thinking of the bigger picture of the circular economy. Discovering new materials was part of the adventure, like the fibreglass membrane made of recycled bottles used in the house’s foundations. Originally intended for earthquake-proofing, Schoof utilised it to improve thermal efficiency.
There are, of course, less labour-intensive ways of building a sustainable house, like opening up a catalogue and customising a prefabricated product. Painstakingly learning about each element of her house was the most important part for Schoof, though. “What I loved was the research and deeper understanding learnt throughout.” While the merit of a house that sits so lightly upon the earth is undeniable, for Schoof the process crystallised a deeper ethic of consumption, about choosing carefully and keeping something for the long haul.
She has lived in the house for the past two years, and the lustre has not worn off her creation in the slightest. The same care that characterises the building extends to her productive garden, in which she grows fruit and vegetables. A relaxed mix of design classics and vintage furniture populate the house, along with her collections of small trinkets and curios that sheen joys arranging in new ways.
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