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.

Photo by 
1 / 23
Peter Ostergaard Asa Olofsson family portrait

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

Photo by 
2 / 23
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.

Photo by 
3 / 23
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.

Photo by 
4 / 23
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.

Photo by 
5 / 23
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.”

Photo by 
6 / 23
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.

Photo by 
7 / 23
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.

Photo by 
8 / 23
Colorful children's room in attic

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

Photo by 
9 / 23
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.

Photo by 
10 / 23
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.

Photo by 
11 / 23
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.

Photo by 
12 / 23
Skylight in entrance minimalist glass shelves

Another view of the entrance area.

Photo by 
13 / 23
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.”

Photo by 
14 / 23
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.

Photo by 
15 / 23
Modern living room with a neutral color palette

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

Photo by 
16 / 23
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.

Photo by 
17 / 23
Little girl at her play desk

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

Photo by 
18 / 23
Modern minimalist rustic living room

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

Photo by 
19 / 23
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.

Photo by 
20 / 23
White spiral staircase

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

Photo by 
21 / 23
Family living in the Vedbæk House in Vedbaek, Denmark

The family gathers around the staircase for a family portrait.

Photo by 
22 / 23
23 / 23
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.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses taste products
Ambience is a key ingredient to any meal—materials, textures, and mood all impart a certain flavor.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016