Building and buying

An apartment with a spectacular roof deck

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Sandra and Daniel live in the middle of Zurich with their two children. They can look out over the Glarus Alps from their green city roof garden.

The parents have made themselves comfortable on their green roof deck while their eleven-year-old son jumps on the trampoline.
© Natascha Vavrina

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From old building to modern city apartment

Sandra (50) and Daniel (51) have been living in Switzerland for almost 30 years. Daniel’s studies at ETH Zurich brought the electrical engineer to Zurich from Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany. Computer scientist Sandra followed her childhood sweetheart. “To start off with, our move was intended to be temporary, but three decades later we feel at home here.” Their daughter (15) and son (11) were born in Zurich and speak fluent Swiss German.

For many years before having children, the couple lived in a traditional apartment in an old building in an area west of Lake Zurich. “I really felt at home there, probably because I grew up in an old building in Freiburg,” Sandra recalls. Creaky floorboards, ornate banisters, quaint sloping roofs – all these elements have a very special charm. But when Sandra became pregnant with their first child, she became more and more aware of the disadvantages: “There was no elevator in the building, but we lived on the sixth floor – with a stroller, baby and shopping, it just wouldn’t have been possible anymore.”

And as luck would have it, an apartment building was under construction in the same neighborhood at the time. They inquired about an apartment and could hardly believe their luck when they went to look round: “A huge roof deck came with the 144 square meter apartment – and of course the new building also had an elevator.” Sandra also noticed the large windows. So she and Daniel decided to seize the opportunity.

The green roof garden in the middle of Zurich is the ideal place for the parents to relax – while the children jump on the big trampoline.

The parents have made themselves comfortable on their green roof deck while their eleven-year-old son jumps on the trampoline.

The large lounge corner on the roof deck offers space for all four members of the family – the Uetliberg can be seen in the background.

The large lounge corner offers space for all four members of the family – the Uetliberg can be seen in the background.

Having a say in the apartment design

Instead of simply taking the apartment as it was, the couple were allowed to contribute to the interior design: “We made 4.5 rooms out of the original 5.5 – by leaving out a few walls to create a really large living-dining area,” says Sandra. In the middle is a cooking island, where amateur chef Daniel likes to try out new recipes. “Of course the children are especially happy whenever there is lasagna.” Even their youngest son likes to help with the cooking. “Preferably pasta,” laughs the eleven-year-old.

Whether in the two children’s rooms, the parents’ bedroom or the large living room, there is light oak parquet flooring everywhere, creating a homely atmosphere in the midst of all the modern brightness and openness. With ceilings around 2.5 meters high, the rooms offer so much scope that both children have even more space to play, do handicrafts, read and do homework underneath their loft bed.

In the middle of the living/dining area is an open kitchen island with an extractor fan. 

The living/dining area is open – that’s the way amateur chef Daniel wanted it.

Large floor-to-ceiling windows flood the modern rooms in the city apartment with plenty of light. Sheepskin throws can be seen lying on a light-colored couch.

Large floor-to-ceiling windows flood the modern rooms in the city apartment with plenty of light.

The high ceilings create even more space in the daughter’s pink bedroom. Under her loft bed there is a desk for homework.

A girl’s dream in pink: the high ceilings in the children’s rooms create even more space, which is put to good use for a loft bed.

The two bathrooms are also real oases of well-being: instead of being decorated in standard white, they are equipped with stylish, free-standing washbasins on brown washstands. “We really like this design alternative,” says Sandra enthusiastically. A large bathtub and a huge antique mirror turn the parents’ bathroom into a “luxury bathroom to ensure relaxation,” as Sandra puts it.

Transforming the roof deck into a green family dream

The absolute highlight of the city apartment is of course that it has its own roof deck: “We have the same surface area above our apartment all over again,” confides Daniel excitedly. Here the children can fly through the air in a hanging swing or jump on a big trampoline while the family’s two rabbits hop across the grass. There is a large lounge corner where all four family members can take a seat and enjoy the view of the Uetliberg, Limmattal and the spectacular white peaks of the Glarus Alps.

The two children jump on the trampoline located on the 144-square-meter roof deck. Houses can be seen in the background.

The two children have plenty of space to play and romp around on the 144-square-meter roof deck.

The children stand in the grass on the roof deck to feed their rabbits while Mom Sandra looks on.

Two rabbits hop over the grass up above the apartment. It is the children’s job to look after them.

A comfortable seating area on the roof deck offers plenty of space for a family meal in the greenery – with a view of the Uetliberg.

Almost like on vacation: in the summer the family moves the living and dining area outside to the roof.

“In my free time I love thinking up ideas for our roof garden,” Sandra says with enthusiasm. A small cherry tree, a lemon tree and lush green vines can be found up there alongside Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and lavender. And the green paradise continues to grow: “Next year we plan to purchase an outdoor kitchen so that our roof deck can become even more of an outdoor living room,” explains Sandra. “It will have a gas stove, running water and a refrigerator.” In the long term, the family would even like to create a small winter garden area up there to make better use of the roof deck in the colder months of the year.

Enjoying life in Switzerland by choice

“We feel very comfortable in Switzerland,” they both agree. In addition to the beautiful countryside around Lake Zurich and the Alps, as parents they appreciate the education system, social security and high standard of living. They find the short distances associated with living in the middle of Zurich particularly practical. “I can go to work by bike, the children can get to school quickly, and on days off we can be in the forest, on Lake Zurich or on the Uetliberg in just a few minutes – the location couldn’t be better,” says Sandra.

And do they miss the charm of their old building? “Not really, old buildings are always a bit dark – we now have light-flooded rooms with large windows,” she says. She sets great store by choosing special pieces of furniture in order to fill the modern city apartment with coziness: “My two old farmer’s cupboards and our antique pink velvet chaise longue are the finds I’m most proud of.” A huge bookshelf, lambskins and plenty of indoor plants add to the cozy feel of the bright rooms.

An antique pink chaise longue stands in front of a well filled bookshelf in the middle of the living room.

Sandra loves old furniture. She found this chaise longue on an online marketplace.

Hidden by various green house plants is a corner in the living room for home office days.

An office at home: hidden by various green house plants is a corner for home office days.

Since a home must be able to constantly evolve with the changes a lively family life brings, Sandra and Daniel appreciate their mortgage terms: “On the one hand, we are very flexible, and on the other hand, we can now easily manage our mortgage online,” Sandra is pleased to say. “Offline, we prefer to spend time with the family – in the countryside, cooking together or in our beautiful roof garden.”

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