Building and buying

Their dream home: Najat and Silvio live in a wooden house from 1840

Sira Huwiler-Flamm

Najat and Silvio have created their own little paradise deep in the Bündner Oberland. Their historic farmhouse from 1840 stands between blooming wild meadows and snow-covered peaks. This self-sufficient couple in their mid-forties lives with the seasons, breeds horses, and offers time out for stressed city dwellers.

On the left, Najat and Silvio are sitting on a slope in a meadow; their wooden house can be seen at the foot of the slope on the right. There are trees in the background, and paddocks and meadows on the right.
© Natascha Vavrina

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The fight for their dream house

There are just 70 inhabitants in the small village in the Bündner Oberland where farmer and horse breeder Silvio grew up. He met his partner Najat, who is a freelance time-out coach and make-up artist, more than ten years ago. “Soon I was not only in love with Silvio, but also with the beautiful landscape and a very special house,” says Najat.

Back then, the two of them lived together in part of a house in the same village. But while they were out on walks, they often strolled past a three-story wooden house on the outskirts of the village next to a 17th century chapel and 14th century tower ruins. “The shutters were always closed – it made me sad,” says Najat. “Such a great house should be filled with life.” Silvio had also had his eye on the house for years. “It had been bought from under my nose by tourists once before,” he recalls, “I really regretted it at the time.”

A view of Najat and Silvio’s wooden house from the sky. The paddocks can be seen in front of the house; to the right is another house; in the background there are trees, mountains and other houses.

A life with and in nature: Najat and Silvio’s wooden house is surrounded by flowering meadows. A historic tower and a chapel from the 17th century can be found in the immediate vicinity.

They started dreaming of a life in this house, imagining how horses and their foals would canter across the wide meadows, how they would furnish coaching rooms for guests on the upper floor – and how they would fill the seemingly abandoned wooden house with life and love. “So one day, we decided that we would fight for our dream house, and discover who owned it,” says Najat. And, as luck would have it, the owner actually wanted to sell her holiday home. “We could hardly believe our luck,” they say together. It took two years for the purchase to be completed, and the couple finally moved into their dream house in the summer of 2016.

The renovation: preserving history

“Moving in was a decision of the heart,” says Najat. And with heart and soul, and a lot of sweat and dedication, the two of them set about renovating their house. “The house was built in 1840 – it has so many great old elements,” Silvio says enthusiastically. A special roof that stands out in the small village because of its steep angle, ready to defy the rough winds in this part of the country, an elaborately decorated wooden balcony, historic half-timbered beams, solid floorboards and doors.

“We wanted to preserve all these aspects instead of modernizing them,” he explains. As a farmer's son who grew up in a wooden house in the village himself, he is a real doer who can take care of almost everything himself. He and Najat patiently sanded down or stained carelessly painted doors and walls to let the wood reappear. What’s more, they decided against a modern heating system and instead chose to rely on old soapstone stoves. “It’s an art of heating that has a long tradition here in the mountains of Graubünden,” says Silvio. “In the cold months, the stones give off enough heat to make it cozy and warm in here.”

The natural warmth, and the fact that almost everything is made of wood, which breathes and cracks, creates a very comfortable atmosphere in which we both feel at home and at ease. “We particularly appreciate the fact that the entire house was built using regional materials,” says Silvio. “The sturdy spruce wood comes from the forests of Graubünden, and the soapstone from the mountains.” Replacement parts for such a historic house are hard to find. “But whether it’s doors, beams, hinges or floorboards – we’ll just keep everything and store it in the barn in case we need it or want to use it at some point.”

Najat lies on her sofa, where a red oriental blanket and several cushions can be seen. One of her cats walks past her. There is a wooden wall with a window in the background.

The cozy parlor at the center of the house: Najat likes to make herself comfortable with the cats on the sofa.

A place to flourish

The couple also focuses on regionality when it comes to furnishing: “We love old farmhouse cupboards and dressers made of solid wood,” says Silvio. “They have beautiful details, fit perfectly into our house and will outlast many generations if they are cared for with sandpaper and oil.” An old rocking horse decorates the corridor on the second floor. A jukebox serves as entertainment and an eye-catching feature for music lovers who come and stay when attending festivals. “And of course we also incorporated some decorative inspiration from Morocco,” says Najat, whose mother is Swiss and father Moroccan. Cushions, plates and traditional Moroccan lamps create an oriental feel alongside many green plants.

A room with wooden walls, and a wooden ceiling and floor, has a sofa on the left and a wooden dresser with a television on the right.

Najat and Silvio’s living room is comfortably furnished: a large sofa offers space to relax and unwind.

An antique wooden dresser and a chair can be seen on a rug with oriental patterns.

Antique furniture appeals to them both. Oriental rugs create emphasis.

In the foreground there is a sofa, in the background there is an oven and a cupboard; the walls, floors, ceilings, doors and furniture are all made of wood.

Everything matches here: all the walls, floors, doors and furniture in the house built in 1840 are made of solid wood.

In the middle of the room there is a solid wooden table with a chair on each side. A bench can be seen in front of the table; behind it are two windows illuminated by the sun.

The center of the room: there is space for Najat, Silvio and their guests at the massive wooden table.

Silvio and Najat were able to develop their full professional potential when they moved into the wooden house: Silvio’s horse breeding is growing steadily. Around 25 thoroughbred Arabians, Arabian mixed breeds and sturdy Swiss Freibergers gallop across the wild meadows. “Up to five foals join them each year.”

And Najat has also expanded her coaching services. “Three guest rooms have been created on the upper floor, where not only stressed-out managers and city dwellers, but anyone who needs a break, can find peace, relaxation and distance from everyday life,” she says. “With the support of Silvio and the horses, I help people rediscover themselves – the house offers the ideal conditions for them to do so.”

Surrounded by their horses and foals, Najat and Silvio ride across a blooming meadow, with a view into the deep valley.

Najat and Silvio not only offer coaching with horses – the horses do them a lot of good too.

And both are planning so much more for their future here in the mountains: “Our new mortgage saves us money every month and offers fifteen years of security,” says Silvio. “That’s perfect for gradually building another stable, adding more guest rooms and implementing new projects that are close to our hearts.”

Living in and with nature

Here, in the middle of the mountains, Najat and Silvio live as self-sufficiently as possible. They have three cows that give them milk, and hard-working hens that lay eggs. The couple raises sheep and goats as well as horses. “Every year, the old trees in our orchards give us fresh apples, pears and plums,” says Silvio. “We have a small field where we grow potatoes and vegetables for ourselves – and I make my own fresh and mountain cheese from our milk.” In fifteen years’ time, the two want to be 100 percent self-sufficient: “To achieve this goal, we plan to purchase photovoltaic panels in the long term,” says Silvio. “That would be a step further towards full freedom and independence.”

Najat and Silvio walk along a road, Najat has a rake over his shoulder, Silvio a scythe. Their dog runs along beside them. Mountains and meadows can be seen in the background.

The way home from work can be so exhilarating: who doesn’t dream of such a wonderful journey to and from work as here in the Bündner Oberland.

Their life depends on the seasons and the weather. They snuggle up comfortably in the living room during thunderstorms in the evenings – with their two dogs and three cats. Since Najat also loves to cook, neither of them misses the wide range of restaurants that the big city could offer them: “Regional, fresh ingredients so you know exactly where they come from, prepared lovingly by my wife – you can’t eat better than that,” exclaims Silvio.

Najat grew up in Thurgau: “Learning Rhaeto-Romanic was a challenge to start off with,” she says with a smile, “but now I understand a great deal – I’ve arrived in the Bündner Oberland, which is now my home.” Living in and with nature, surrounded by animals, mountains and wide meadows, that’s how Najat pictured her future as a child. “With Silvio here, I’m living my dream,” she says. “I can’t imagine a better life.”

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