in a year when many of us have spent more time at home than ever, designboom has featured a wide range of private residences that offer their occupants a unique retreat from the outside world. despite being diverse in scale, material, and setting, our TOP 10 private houses all offer inventive solutions for spaces that both respond to, and engage with, their contexts — from a scaffolding-clad house in japan, to a brick retreat in a remote region of south africa.


we continue our annual round up of the year’s BIG stories with a look at the TOP 10 private houses and residential dwellings featured on designboom in 2020.




1 – daita 2019 in japan by suzuko yamada architects

TOP 10 private houses
image by yurika kono



suzuko yamada designed the ‘daita 2019’ house in tokyo, japan with an inhabitable frame of steel pipes and platforms that can be modified according to the demands of daily life. drawing from the informal architecture of forest habitats, the project blends the inside and outside of the residence through a steel construction that connects the garden and the interior. the construction comprises a cluster of platforms and single pipes, which can be easily attached and detached using clumps to perform as entrances, handrails, plant supports, or hangers, according to the needs of the residents.



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2 – house of the big arch in south africa by frankie pappas

TOP 10 private houses
image © frankie pappas



frankie pappas, a collaborative architecture and design studio, completed this off-grid brick residence within a nature reserve in south africa’s waterberg mountains. designed for an elderly couple with a deep love of the natural world, ‘house of the big arch’ is just 3.3 meters (11 feet) wide. the narrow home threads itself between the trees that occupy the site — preserving the landscape while becoming part of it.


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3 – ochoquebradas house in chile by ryue nishizawa

TOP 10 private houses.jpg
image © cristóbal palma



photographer cristóbal palma documented a residence that japanese architect ryue nishizawa has completed on the chilean coast overlooking the pacific ocean. the dwelling is topped with an undulating concrete roof that references the waves crashing against the shoreline. the project is located in close proximity to another concrete house designed by alejandro aravena.


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4 – north fork house in new york by SO – IL with shenton architects

TOP 10 private housesimage © iwan baan



SO – IL completed this new york retreat comprising four gable volumes. located on long island, the home’s four wings each serve a different function and have different relationships with the land. ‘sited into a slope, we organized a simple cruciform of gable volumes to frame a collection of varied views instead of a singular panorama,’ explains SO – IL, who designed the project with shenton architects. ‘the house seeks to sample the lively terrain, bringing together different qualities of light, landscape, and vista to define interior spaces.’


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5 – casa elias in mexico by alejandro d’acosta
image © onnis luque



conceived as the ‘prelude to a project to come’, ‘casa elías’ was designed by architect alejandro d’acosta as a temporary cabin with a simple program. located in valle de guadalupe, in baja california, mexico, the residence is sited at the top of a hill, overlooking the undulating terrain below. constructed from recycled building elements, the structure serves as a dwelling for the client to live in until a more permanent home is built.


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6 – ha long villa in vietnam by VTN architects/vo trong nghia

VTN ha long villaimage by hiroyuki oki



with the ‘ha long villa’ in vietnam, VTN architects introduced a response to the nation’s rise in unsustainable development. with an abundance of natural landscapes and heritage townscapes, vietnam has seen an economic growth which has raised the standard of living, but has led to development by clearing away nature. to address this growing reality, the design team created a dwelling that connects its occupants with their natural context. the team explains: ‘the main concept of the house is to create space where people can live in a forest.’


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7 – sand house in brazil by studio MK27

studio mk27 sand houseimage by fernando guerra



offering views of the atlantic ocean, ‘sand house’ by studio MK27 almost disappears into its coastal plot in northeastern brazil. surrounded by tropical trees in the state of bahia, the beach house is elevated on a wooden deck that supports five enclosed volumes. the entire deck is covered by a permeable eucalyptus pergola supported by 14 laminated wood frames. both the deck and the overhead canopy are punctured by several trees that provide residents with a constant source of shade.


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8 – stairway house in japan by nendo

nendo's stairway house leads into a light, plant-filled interior in tokyo designboomimage © takumi ota 



in a quiet residential area of tokyo, nendo has taken the humble staircase and supersized it to serve as the main feature of this striking house. designed for two families, the aptly named ‘stairway house’ has been designed by the japanese studio to afford openness and connectivity, all the while maximizing the parameters of the site to create a contemporary home flooded with natural light.


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9 – paramount alma in italy by plasma studio

plasma studio paramount alma
image by hertha hurnaus



‘paramount alma’ by plasma studio is a faceted space cloaking a previously existing structure in the mountains of northern italy. the tyrolean guest house was originally occupied by six 1960s-era holiday apartments adorned with a pitched roof and traditional timber ornamentation. the project was driven by the heritage building’s need for a common circulation and service core. with the intervention, the underutilized pitched roof space gives way to an angular crown connected to a ground floor reception space and architectural office along the renovated spine.



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10 – IHA residence in india by wallmakers

IHA residence wallmakersimage by anand jaju



designed by wallmakers, ‘IHA residence’ is a two-storey house in the indian state of kerala. located in the city of trivandrum, the home seeks to be simultaneously serene and adventurous. externally, bamboo — reinforced with steel rods — has been used to support a staircase that serves as the entrance to the property. this space doubles as a sheltered outdoor setting for contemplation and relaxation.


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see designboom’s TOP 10 stories archive: