written by:
photos by:
March 8, 2012
Originally published in Light & Energy
as
Hygge House

In a former fishermen’s cottage outside Copenhagen, a young family has carved out a cozy, light-filled home.

Cozy home in Denmark with rotating staircase

Resident Peter Østergaard (with Maja, 6, and Carl, 20 months) and architect and photographer Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen have been best friends since they were 13, which makes for easy collaboration. Says Bjerre-Poulsen: “There are always a lot of challenges in a renovation, but Peter and Åsa trusted my judgment and gave me a completely free hand. Usually it’s hard to push people into unconventional solutions, but Peter has all these wild and crazy ideas.” One such idea was to embed a transparent glass-and-iron door in the floor, operated by a hydraulic pump, which allows access to the subterranean wine cellar. At night, the lit-up cellar glows, lending the compact living room an increased sense of verticality.

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Peter Ostergaard Asa Olofsson family portrait

Olofsson and Østergaard have personalized their home with quirky finds from flea markets and mementos from their travels.

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Light-filled dining room and seating area

Their dining room and sitting area used to be an uninsulated greenhouse; now it’s a light-filled space where the family gathers for meals at a weathered table and Åsa curls up on two custom daybeds, designed by Bjerre-Poulsen, to read and look at the garden.

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guest room transformation with a scenic view

When Bjerre-Poulsen first saw the house, “I instantly saw all the interesting possibilities,” he says. “As an architect you see not what it is but what it could be.” Among those possibilities: transforming an adjacent storehouse into a guest room, connected to the original house via the renovated dining room and sitting area.

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Clean minimal guest bedroom

Maja demonstrates another use for the guest bed: a trampoline. Behind her is a wall of storage, an essential attribute in the 1,260-square-foot house. Extreme editing of material possessions also helps.

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Living room with colorful textiles and Moser Pendant lamp

As Østergaard says, “With a small house, you really consider everything you own. You don’t have 20 pots and pans, you have only four good ones.”

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Minimalist living room with red wall lamp and Eames side table

Items that made the cut include a sofa from the Swedish company Ire; an Eames side table; a wall-mounted Artemide light; and a Moser pendant from Louis Poulsen.

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Minimalist bedroom with platform bed

The snug attic contains the couple’s platform bed, custom designed by Bjerre-Poulsen to maximize storage and fit the unusual space.

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Colorful children's room in attic

A small bed for Maja is tucked under the eaves on the other side of the photo wall.

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White light-filled kitchen with brass detailing on ceiling

To maintain a uniform look in the kitchen, Bjerre-Poulsen secreted most of the appliances, including the fridge, behind white Kvik cabinets. He installed can lights with brass-colored interiors on the ceiling; the halogen bulbs reflect the golden interior, giving off a warm glow. Every light in the house is an overbright fixture on a dimmer, for maximum flexibility—if you can adjust different levels for every situation, from working to entertaining, then you don’t need to rely on secondary floor or table lights, Bjerre-Poulsen points out.

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Sleek underground wine cellar with metal-and-glass door

The home’s previous owner’s father was one of the first wine importers to Denmark, and the cellar still contains some of his bottles, first placed there 40 years ago and now dusty, with obscured labels and decaying corks. The couple opens one once in a while—"they’re usually very bad, but sometimes very good," says Østergaard.

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Front-door entrance area wide space

The skylight over the home’s entrance “helps simulate a feeling of grandeur and creates an airy and welcoming atmosphere,” says Bjerre-Poulsen.

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Skylight in entrance minimalist glass shelves

Another view of the entrance area.

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Zen stepping stones for the home

The stepping stone, like the skylight, was inspired by zen architecture. “In most traditional wooden houses and temples in Japan, the house is lifted above the garden, and the transition is always marked by a sculptural stepping stone,” says Bjerre-Poulsen. “We used the same principle between the old house and the addition.”

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Wooden shelf over countertop in kitchen

A central challenge of the renovation was to integrate lighting into the architecture in such a way that “even if the space had no furniture, you could turn on the lights and instantly get a cozy atmosphere,” says Bjerre-Poulsen. After Europe banned incandescents in 2009 Bjerre-Poulsen turned to halogen fixtures, which are more energy-efficient and give off a similar quality of light. (He won’t use LEDs until their ability to render color is further developed, he says.) In Østergaard and Olofsson’s kitchen, he embedded a halogen strip in the underside of the wooden shelf over the countertop to direct light onto the work surface.

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Modern living room with a neutral color palette

Here's the weathered wooden dining table where the family gathers for meals and conversation.

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Mother and daughter reading and relaxing on bed

Maja and Asa hang out in the guestroom, which also doubles as storage space with an entire wall of closets along one end.

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Little girl at her play desk

Maja's room is filled with toys and includes a little desk area for drawing and writing.

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Modern minimalist rustic living room

French doors in the living room let light into the kitchen and open onto a lovely garden.

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Modern clean kitchen with multi-colored rug

Another view of the kitchen. What looks like drawers are not all drawers—some are false cabinet fronts that conceal appliances.

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White spiral staircase

The sculptural staircase is a centerpiece of the open-plan kitchen and living room.

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Family living in the Vedbæk House in Vedbaek, Denmark

The family gathers around the staircase for a family portrait.

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Cozy home in Denmark with rotating staircase

Resident Peter Østergaard (with Maja, 6, and Carl, 20 months) and architect and photographer Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen have been best friends since they were 13, which makes for easy collaboration. Says Bjerre-Poulsen: “There are always a lot of challenges in a renovation, but Peter and Åsa trusted my judgment and gave me a completely free hand. Usually it’s hard to push people into unconventional solutions, but Peter has all these wild and crazy ideas.” One such idea was to embed a transparent glass-and-iron door in the floor, operated by a hydraulic pump, which allows access to the subterranean wine cellar. At night, the lit-up cellar glows, lending the compact living room an increased sense of verticality.

Project 
Vedbæk House
Architect 

A few hours into a visit with Peter Østergaard and Åsa Olofsson at their house in Vedbæk, a coastal town 12 miles north of Copenhagen, the couple is parsing the meaning of hygge. A Danish word that has no direct equivalent in English, hygge (roughly pronounced hoog-eh) describes the warm, cozy feeling that develops when friends gather in a room with some open flames (candlelight, fireplace), alcohol, and plenty of time to enjoy the experience. There’s an aesthetic component, too—worn wood and strewn sheepskins help. So do “small things, and blankets,” offers Olofsson. “On the beach you wouldn’t hygge,” says Østergaard, “and it’s not really partying.” Though it’s somewhat difficult to define, they know it when they see it. In fact, “we’re hygge-ing right now,” Østergaard points out, nodding at the surrounding tableau: a weathered wooden dining table topped with homemade apple pie, half-drunk glasses of red wine, and lit votives. “This house helps.”

Living room with colorful textiles and Moser Pendant lamp

As Østergaard says, “With a small house, you really consider everything you own. You don’t have 20 pots and pans, you have only four good ones.”

Indeed, the house, a cottage built by fishermen in 1860, is exceedingly cozy, with sloping ceilings, a sculptural spiral staircase, and “lots of irregular little steps and corners and twisted angles,” as Olofsson puts it. The couple bought the place in 2005 and immediately enlisted Østergaard’s best friend, Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen, the head of Norm.Architects, to help renovate it. The house was originally a warren of small rooms, with an attached greenhouse and a low-ceilinged storeroom. Bjerre-Poulsen fixed it up in stages over the next four years, transforming the storeroom into a guest room and the greenhouse into a long, narrow sitting and dining area. He tore down the interior walls in the main building’s 430-square-foot ground floor, creating an open-plan kitchen and living room, and built custom furniture to fit the tight spaces— a platform bed with integrated storage in the attic bedroom and a pair of streamlined sofas in the narrow sitting room that overlooks the garden.

Minimalist bedroom with platform bed

The snug attic contains the couple’s platform bed, custom designed by Bjerre-Poulsen to maximize storage and fit the unusual space.

The renovated house feels much more spacious than its 1,260 square feet would suggest, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling white interiors (including a low-profile kitchen with appliances tucked behind false drawer fronts) and some architectural tricks. The low ceiling in the sitting and dining room is pierced with skylights to give a sense of verticality, a move inspired by traditional Japanese temples, as well as to create a rhythm of light and dark and “spaces within a space,” as Bjerre-Poulsen puts it. Similarly, an underground wine cellar adds a sense of depth in the living room thanks to the one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick glass door inset into the wooden floor. At night, the lit-up cellar acts like a built-in lamp, flooding the room with an atmospheric glow.

White light-filled kitchen with brass detailing on ceiling

To maintain a uniform look in the kitchen, Bjerre-Poulsen secreted most of the appliances, including the fridge, behind white Kvik cabinets. He installed can lights with brass-colored interiors on the ceiling; the halogen bulbs reflect the golden interior, giving off a warm glow. Every light in the house is an overbright fixture on a dimmer, for maximum flexibility—if you can adjust different levels for every situation, from working to entertaining, then you don’t need to rely on secondary floor or table lights, Bjerre-Poulsen points out.

Though it’s a tight fit for the family of four—baby Carl sleeps in a crib in his parents’ attic bedroom and six-year-old Maja sleeps in a closet-size nook in another corner—it’s not yet cramped, and for a while longer should fulfill Olofsson’s original fantasy: “a house where we could live close together but not on top of each other.” And if things ever feel too squeezed, they can imagine the home’s 19th-century residents, a troop of Nordic fishermen who crammed into the home’s formerly tiny rooms— a situation few would call cozy, no matter how much candlelight, furs, and booze you had on hand.

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