Enveloped in greenery

Last Updated 30 June 2016, 19:10 IST

Configured in a triangle and wrapped by a trellised vertical garden, Garden House, 26 miles southwest of central Stockholm in Sweden has been one couple’s dream home since eight years, discovers Jane A Peterson.

When Elisabeth and Peter Sjogren decided to retreat from city life in Stockholm, they searched for their dream home in the country. Elisabeth, a regional planner, yearned to take up gardening and cooking — and live in a sunny, rustic setting. Finding nothing suitable, Peter gave his wife an architectural consultation for her 60th birthday in 2005. Plans fell into place and within three years their dream home became a reality.

Garden House — on the outskirts of Sodertalje, 26 miles southwest of central Stockholm — is configured in a triangle and wrapped by a trellised vertical garden. Gardens exist on three sides as well as a dramatic “winter garden” sunroom and a rooftop sundeck with a view of Lake Malaren, Sweden’s third largest.

The primary space
Beyond the plotline lies a vast stretch of dry brush, heather and boulders, which the couple sometimes climb when heading to the lake, a 15-minute walk away. “We have sun on all sides,” said Elisabeth, whose front garden — called Swedish Summer Dream — is planted with black and red currants, gooseberry bushes and apple trees. Planted in the back garden, which has a Japanese theme, are rhododendrons, Asian rowans and Japanese cherries that surround a bubbling pond and three bird feeders, attracting finches, magpies, woodpeckers and doves.

While strong winds and sandy soil hinder lush greenery on the south facade, the couple are pleased. “This was my last chance to have a newly built home and grow a garden,” said Elisabeth, who grew up in the countryside. “I want to be out working with my hands.”

Peter, a retired encyclopedia editor, calls himself the homestead “farm hand” responsible for all heavy lifting and clearing. He also barbecues on his Weber, jokingly tagging it on to the so-called Swedish dream of a villa, a Volvo and a vovve (dog). From their architects’ perspective, the garden concept had to take precedence. “Our focus was not on the building, but rather on the garden as the primary space,” said Bolle Tham, the Stockholm architect who together with his partner Martin Videgard have won architectural awards for eclectic conceptual design, including a district award for this project. “What was left over became the house,” he said.

Because the 1,200-square-metre, or 12,900-square-foot, site included a steep slope, the architects needed an infill for their three-sided footprint that would avoid the dilemma of a shady northern side while at the same time creating a particularly long southern facade. Their solution, a concrete wall, was initially opposed by neighbours as unsightly. While the complaints have stopped, the Sjogrens still struggle with climbing vines that don’t easily grip the wall in dry, windy conditions.

Close to nature
Within the 180-square-metre “envelope” of interior space, the architects created an airy, open-plan ground floor where spring and summer light streams into full-length windows, sliding glass doors and a glassed sunroom — the home’s third corner — that is Elisabeth’s favourite place to read and relax. She said that the home’s eco-friendly design blurs the boundary between house and garden.

The home’s first front corner is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, while other walls are notably left as exposed plywood — a feature Martin says extends the “inner logic of being close to nature.” Adorning those walls is an upright piano as well as several artworks and a specially designed nook for a sculpture made in secret by her uncle during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Tucked into the second corner is a simple galley kitchen with Smeg appliances, accented by apple green counters and backsplashes, and a large island with extra storage and counter space that doubles as a buffet when entertaining. They also scouted out a dishwasher with two drawers that operate

Within the main living space, separated by a partial interior wall, two round glass tables — one a heirloom — sit on colourful carpets atop a grey concrete floor. Each has four chairs, including a set of Artek armchairs by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. It’s here that the couple enjoy morning coffee and homemade jams on toast along with sweeping views of both gardens. “We’ve seen moose, deer, hare and red foxes,” said
Peter, who also keeps an eye out for the wild boar that are known to destroy neighbouring gardens.

The upstairs level, also lined in oiled plywood, includes Peter’s office, a bedroom reserved for visits by the couple’s 12-year-old grandson, and the main bedroom with a balcony facing onto the sunroom. “When it gets hot, I can open the balcony doors to catch a cross breeze,” said Elisabeth, noting the home has no air-conditioning. “It’s my Romeo and Juliet balcony.”

A staircase, positioned behind the interior wall, links the levels and is cordoned by a soccer goal net, held taut in an aluminium frame and extending to the rooftop terrace door. “The net is a very simple, straightforward way to solve the need for security and openness,” Bolle said.

Standard materials, used throughout the house, also kept costs down. “A lot of money went into the garden,” explained Martin, “and that lowered the budget for the house.” Running costs, he said, are also low, especially because of an inexpensive heat pump.
While the owners declined to reveal the project’s price tag, Elisabeth said she believes her architects’ reputation has lifted its modest value. That’s despite concerns about the heavy migrant influx into nearby Sodertalje, one of Sweden’s oldest cities, dating from the 11th century, and a current magnet for Syriac Christians from Syria and Iraq.

Hemnet Home
Separately, the firm Tham & Videgard is creating Sweden’s “most sought after home” based on data analysis. Called the Hemnet Home, it is a byproduct of analysing 200 million clicks and 86,000 properties on Hemnet, a popular property site. The statistics provide average values that determine size, price, number of rooms, while the exterior merges Sweden’s two iconic facades — the red wooden cottage and the white functionalist box.

The first homes will be ready in 2017. That approaches the time when the Sjogrens may consider selling Garden House. “To stay, we have to be two and we have to be healthy,” said Elisabeth, fearing harsh future winters when they must shovel snow every morning. “Going into the project, we thought we could stay 10 years — almost for sure — and 15 maybe. Of course, we would be really happy with 20.”

(Published 30 June 2016, 15:29 IST)

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