written by:
photos by:
April 3, 2010
Originally published in Big Ideas for Small Spaces

In snowy Sweden, where pine planks and the democratic design incubator Ikea reign supreme, a local architect pays homage to his patrimony, making a small, slatty home feel like a rather big deal. 

Per Bornstein’s house sits on a hill between a large forested park and Gothenburg’s former industrial area. Much of the surrounding area awaits design as thoughtful and lovely as this home built on a previously abandoned lot.
Per Bornstein’s house sits on a hill between a large forested park and Gothenburg’s former industrial area. Much of the surrounding area awaits design as thoughtful and lovely as this home built on a previously abandoned lot.
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The facade is punctured by a variety of differently sized windows: Those flush to the wall indicate the house’s public rooms, while the those for the private spaces are set back.
The facade is punctured by a variety of differently sized windows: Those flush to the wall indicate the house’s public rooms, while the those for the private spaces are set back.
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Architect Per Bornstein and his daughter Velma relax in the living room. The woodburning stove was a second-hand store find.
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Exposed pine dominates the downstairs reception area.
Exposed pine dominates the downstairs reception area.
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Bornstein and his daughter Velma sit at a table the architect designed himself; the dining chairs were designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen.
Bornstein and his daughter Velma sit at a table the architect designed himself; the dining chairs were designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen.
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Though the house is a mostly wooden affair, a sense of transparency pervades, thanks to many windows and the glass front door.
Though the house is a mostly wooden affair, a sense of transparency pervades, thanks to many windows and the glass front door.
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Competing grains of laminated pine panels enliven the stairs.
Competing grains of laminated pine panels enliven the stairs.
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The bathroom includes a sink Bornstein discovered in a secondhand store.
The bathroom includes a sink Bornstein discovered in a secondhand store.
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The ground floor has a visitor’s bedroom for when Velma has friends over to stay.
The ground floor has a visitor’s bedroom for when Velma has friends over to stay.
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The first thing visitors see as they enter the house is Bornstein’s impressive collection of architecture and design books. The sofa and chair were designed by Bornstein for Swedese.
The first thing visitors see as they enter the house is Bornstein’s impressive collection of architecture and design books. The sofa and chair were designed by Bornstein for Swedese.
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Bornstein’s living room features an intriguing collection of furniture. The sofa is made by Swedish manufacturer Ire. The 1970s wood burner was a secondhand store find, and the wood table, by Bruno Mattson, was found in a bin at a recycling station. He in
Bornstein’s living room features an intriguing collection of furniture. The sofa is made by Swedish manufacturer Ire. The 1970s wood burner was a secondhand store find, and the wood table, by Bruno Mattson, was found in a bin at a recycling station. He inherited the lounge chair from his parents.
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Exposed pine boards dominate the interior, giving a subtle, warm backdrop to the splashes of color that his stove and collection of books provide.
Exposed pine boards dominate the interior, giving a subtle, warm backdrop to the splashes of color that his stove and collection of books provide.
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Though she's yet to properly design a building, Velma's small office has her set up to do big things.
Though she's yet to properly design a building, Velma's small office has her set up to do big things.
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The knot-flecked staircase leading down to Bornstein's office gives serves as a solid core to the home's circulation.
The knot-flecked staircase leading down to Bornstein's office gives serves as a solid core to the home's circulation.
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Though the view is snowy for much of the year, Bornstein has quite a vista from his living room. The black leather chair is a hand-me-down from his parents.
Though the view is snowy for much of the year, Bornstein has quite a vista from his living room. The black leather chair is a hand-me-down from his parents.
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The essence of Bornstein's design is to show materials in their natural state. And considering the natural state of Sweden is decidedly on the wooded side, pine was an easy, and inexpensive, choice.
The essence of Bornstein's design is to show materials in their natural state. And considering the natural state of Sweden is decidedly on the wooded side, pine was an easy, and inexpensive, choice.
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The kitchen is from Ikea and the dining chairs by Arne Jacobsen, but the table is pure Bornstein.
The kitchen is from Ikea and the dining chairs by Arne Jacobsen, but the table is pure Bornstein.
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Simple black tiles and a basic, exposed showerhead kept costs down, allowing other parts of the house to function as the showpieces.
Simple black tiles and a basic, exposed showerhead kept costs down, allowing other parts of the house to function as the showpieces.
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Bornstein derives endless inspiration from his massive collection of design books. The clip lamps attached at the top shelf provide an easy, and targeted, lighting scheme.
Bornstein derives endless inspiration from his massive collection of design books. The clip lamps attached at the top shelf provide an easy, and targeted, lighting scheme.
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This bedroom makes use of the same monochrome simplicity of the rest of the house, another nod to the integrity of the exposed pine boards.
This bedroom makes use of the same monochrome simplicity of the rest of the house, another nod to the integrity of the exposed pine boards.
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Velma works a puzzle in front of a sofa from Ire.
Velma works a puzzle in front of a sofa from Ire.
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The white linens appear almost ghostly against the natural grain of the wood and muted glow of the window's winter light.
The white linens appear almost ghostly against the natural grain of the wood and muted glow of the window's winter light.
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With the majority of the house's windows facing down the slope, not only does Bornstein maximize the views out, but he assured that his home would have loads of natural light pouring in, even if it only lasts for a few hours in winter.
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The black tile in the entryway mirrors that used in the bathroom, giving the small palette of materials a kind of interior coherence.
The black tile in the entryway mirrors that used in the bathroom, giving the small palette of materials a kind of interior coherence.
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Black and blond are a natural match in Bornstein's largely wooden kitchen.
Black and blond are a natural match in Bornstein's largely wooden kitchen.
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Per Bornstein’s house sits on a hill between a large forested park and Gothenburg’s former industrial area. Much of the surrounding area awaits design as thoughtful and lovely as this home built on a previously abandoned lot.
Per Bornstein’s house sits on a hill between a large forested park and Gothenburg’s former industrial area. Much of the surrounding area awaits design as thoughtful and lovely as this home built on a previously abandoned lot.
Project 
Bornstein Residence
Architect 

 “I hadn’t really dug into wood before,” architect Per Bornstein explains as we begin a tour of his house. “Then you realize there’s so much wood in Sweden. It’s a cheap material. Everybody can use it. It ages beautifully and it’s instantly cozy. From then on it was just a case of going all the way.”

And go all the way he most certainly did. The house lies on the outskirts of Gothenburg on a previously disused pocket of land. “It had become the local dump,” remembers Bornstein. “And when it came to be excavated, the builders found bicycles; there were meters of old garden rubbish. So I think most of the neighbors felt it was nice that it was being used.” He chose the area for economic as well as personal reasons. “I grew up ten minutes from here, and we were looking for houses in this part of the city because they were still reasonably cheap. We saw this ad, and we just called.”

The facade is punctured by a variety of differently sized windows: Those flush to the wall indicate the house’s public rooms, while the those for the private spaces are set back.
The facade is punctured by a variety of differently sized windows: Those flush to the wall indicate the house’s public rooms, while the those for the private spaces are set back.

From the east-facing front windows the city sprawls out. Nearby is a bland-looking residential tower block; below that, a spaghetti junction of roads, rail, and tram lines skirt the Göta River, once home to a trio of enormous shipyards. To the south, however, lies a large, forested park where huge chunks of granite burst into the small, currently untamed garden. The site is an intriguing intersection of urban and rural, one that the house toys with adroitly. The material from which it is primarily constructed clearly references the Scandinavian landscape, but its shape belongs to the machine age.

bornstein residence extended portrait fireplace
Architect Per Bornstein and his daughter Velma relax in the living room. The woodburning stove was a second-hand store find.

Bornstein himself compares it to a hollowed-out tree stump; I’m not so sure. From the outside, it looks like a 1,400-square-foot timber-paneled box cutting into a slope. The modernist influence is none too difficult to detect, of course, and is confirmed by a quick scan of the vast number of books in Bornstein’s downstairs study. Though there are monographs galore, one name leaps out. “Every time I come to a building by Le Corbusier, it’s like,” he exhales heavily for dramatic effect, “it’s like a different league. You’ve come to a Champions League football match, and you realize that until then you’ve been watching kids play.”

This isn’t a large house, and in a move of Corbusian efficiency, Bornstein took pains to maximize the use of the available space. Much of the design is about subtraction—there is a noticeable lack of doors and blinds, for example. Rooms seem to blend elegantly into each other—the architect himself rather cutely uses the analogy of the rooms “borrowing” each other’s space—and mirrors have been positioned to increase the sense of scale.

 “The whole idea is to make the spaces feel as large as possible,” he says. Importantly too, there’s a distinct lack of clutter. A couple works of art lean against the walls, but otherwise, it’s the timber panels that really articulate the owner’s taste. “I don’t like having that much stuff,” he confirms. “It’s a very functional house. I guess everything is functional when you live in 1,400 square feet.”

Bornstein and his daughter Velma sit at a table the architect designed himself; the dining chairs were designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen.
Bornstein and his daughter Velma sit at a table the architect designed himself; the dining chairs were designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen.

Though his modern influences and yen for a small space go some way to explaining the form,  the choice of material was down to both context and practicality. “We didn’t intend to put that much cash in, so the house had to be cheap,” Bornstein says. “We were looking at industrial building—like steel beams—but they tend to age very poorly. We looked at concrete too, but we knew these builders—they’re more like friends—and we really wanted to work with them. They were keen to use wood, so that’s what led us to the material.”

As Bornstein talks, the eagle-eyed among you will notice the references to “we.” When the project started in 2005, he was married to an interior designer; however, by 2007, they had separated. Their five-year-old daughter, Velma, lives with Bornstein every other week. The former couple’s relationship is amicable now, and Bornstein is sincere when he shares credit for all the design decisions.
 Split between two levels, the majority of walls are clad in two-by-eight-foot boards of untreated glued-laminated pinewood. “There’s no painting, nothing,” he says. “It’s straight out of the package.” The upstairs ceiling is finished in plywood, so the only areas of the house not finished in timber are the external walls of the basement made from concrete blocks. It’s unfussy and just a little raw around the edges. “I like the idea that everything is what it is. Nothing is enclosed. If it’s a radiator, then it’s a radiator. If it’s a light fitting, then it’s a light fitting. In the end, it makes the house very easy to understand.”

Competing grains of laminated pine panels enliven the stairs.
Competing grains of laminated pine panels enliven the stairs.

Upstairs is Velma’s room, Bornstein’s slightly larger bedroom, and a bathroom. The light-filled open plan that dominates the top floor contains a wood-burning stove at one end and a dark brown oak kitchen from Ikea at the other, which in turn leads out onto a deck in the garden. In between are the dining and living rooms. Downstairs has a spare bedroom suite (for when Velma entertains), which Bornstein is temporarily using as an office for his architectural practice, Bornstein Arkitekter.

The general sense of reduction extends to the color palette too. Weary of what they seemed to see everywhere, the former couple decided that nothing should be stainless steel or white. “We had a hard time finding a toilet that was gray rather than white,” he admits. It also took Bornstein six months to find a suitably colored bathtub. “I’d rather have an empty room than stuff I don’t like.”

The ground floor has a visitor’s bedroom for when Velma has friends over to stay.
The ground floor has a visitor’s bedroom for when Velma has friends over to stay.

 As the light fades, the character of the house and the city that stretches out beneath it changes. Streetlights twinkle and the timber box begins to glow. “I think in the end we were the right buyers,” Bornstein concludes. “If someone had bought it and built a standard catalog house, it probably wouldn’t have worked out very well because it was a difficult spot. But since we drew the house from the conditions on the site, it came out very well.” It’s hard to disagree. Though the house undoubtedly owes a debt to the Continental innovations of Le Corbusier, it also has a typically Scandinavian sense of warmth that allows it to negotiate the boundary between the postindustrial and rural landscapes with all the ease, and pragmatism, of a seasoned diplomat.

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