A Historic Icelandic Midcentury Gets an Alluring Modern Twist

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
In Iceland, a midcentury single-family home originally designed by iconic architect Guðmundur Kr. Kristinsson is treated to a stunning renovation.

Located in the suburbs of Reykjavík, this midcentury gem was first designed in the 1960s by Guðmundur Kr. Kristinsson, one of the first post-war architects in Iceland. However, after being sold, the new homeowners determined the property was in need of a thoughtful revamp in order to be a suitable modern home for their growing family.

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The goal of the renovation was to respect the high quality work of Kristinsson's original design, and retain the intent of the home where the interior spaces flow seamlessly into the exterior. 

The goal of the renovation was to respect the high quality work of Kristinsson's original design, and retain the intent of the home where the interior spaces flow seamlessly into the exterior. 

The property owners turned to local architecture firm Gláma Kím to work on renovating the home with respect to the architect's original design. 

The original building is set around an L-shaped courtyard. The main entrance is next to the carport on the street side, with a second entry toward the back of the house. 

The original building is set around an L-shaped courtyard. The main entrance is next to the carport on the street side, with a second entry toward the back of the house. 

"The office has worked on a number of Kristinsson´s private buildings, in most cases renovating and retrofitting to meet the developing demands of modern family life," explains Ástríður Magnúsdóttir, a representative of Gláma Kím. "Great care and work is put into understanding the original intent, and preserving the special qualities embedded in the structures." 

When the current homeowners acquired the property from its original owners, the house had been well-maintained and was in good condition. The dwelling was even equipped with an HVAC system, a rare innovation for the period and building type. 

When the current homeowners acquired the property from its original owners, the house had been well-maintained and was in good condition. The dwelling was even equipped with an HVAC system, a rare innovation for the period and building type. 

A wall of glass sliding doors creates a seamless flow to the exterior. The dining room table is the Ellipse by Arne Jacobsen, and is paired with series 7 chairs by Arne Jacobsen and a PH Snowball pendant light by Poul Henningsen.

A wall of glass sliding doors creates a seamless flow to the exterior. The dining room table is the Ellipse by Arne Jacobsen, and is paired with series 7 chairs by Arne Jacobsen and a PH Snowball pendant light by Poul Henningsen.

"When the renovation work started, the original owners expressed their concern to a mutual friend that we were 'damaging the house.' Frankly, it was not surprising that they thought this, because the construction work was extensive and, at times, quite scary looking."

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The project encompassed exterior renovations and retrofitting, as well as four small additions to the building, and the construction of a new roof and landscaping. 

The project encompassed exterior renovations and retrofitting, as well as four small additions to the building, and the construction of a new roof and landscaping. 

"Later, we invited them over for an afternoon coffee and showed them the house. They checked every nook and cranny and were very pleased. They appreciated the care that had been placed in retaining the original qualities of their home, and gave us their blessing on the changes. For us, this was a very special afternoon."

Additions were made to enlarge the kitchen, study, and family room. The master suite was shifted through the redesign, and a bathroom and walk-in closet were also added. Originally, the home did not have a fireplace. However, the client had grown up with one and wanted to enjoy the qualities associated with a fireplace as the centerpiece of the home.

Additions were made to enlarge the kitchen, study, and family room. The master suite was shifted through the redesign, and a bathroom and walk-in closet were also added. Originally, the home did not have a fireplace. However, the client had grown up with one and wanted to enjoy the qualities associated with a fireplace as the centerpiece of the home.

The original roof was flat with a flush parapet. In the early 90s, the former owners had a low-pitched roof placed on top of the existing roof, as well as new corrugated siding to cover the parapets. During the renovation, the interim roof was removed, and a new minimum-slope roofing structure was erected on the existing beams—reinstating the roof section toward the original design. The parapet is now clad with copper paneling. 

The original roof was flat with a flush parapet. In the early 90s, the former owners had a low-pitched roof placed on top of the existing roof, as well as new corrugated siding to cover the parapets. During the renovation, the interim roof was removed, and a new minimum-slope roofing structure was erected on the existing beams—reinstating the roof section toward the original design. The parapet is now clad with copper paneling. 

The original flooring was a mix of parquet and carpets, with black slate stone at the entry and in the bathrooms and kitchen. During the renovation, the original HVAC system was replaced with radiant floor-heating technology, and the slab was recasted. The main rooms were then finished with solid walnut parquet throughout.

The original flooring was a mix of parquet and carpets, with black slate stone at the entry and in the bathrooms and kitchen. During the renovation, the original HVAC system was replaced with radiant floor-heating technology, and the slab was recasted. The main rooms were then finished with solid walnut parquet throughout.

The original ceiling panels featured pine paneling, which was a familiar choice for Kristinsson. The panels were removed, refinished off-site, and then reinstalled. New ceiling panels of matching pine were installed in the additions.

The original ceiling panels featured pine paneling, which was a familiar choice for Kristinsson. The panels were removed, refinished off-site, and then reinstalled. New ceiling panels of matching pine were installed in the additions.

The choice of furniture reflects the period of the house. For instance, the study features chairs by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen.

The choice of furniture reflects the period of the house. For instance, the study features chairs by Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen.

The bathrooms and kitchen were treated to black basalt, which has been quarried locally. 

The bathrooms and kitchen were treated to black basalt, which has been quarried locally. 

All the kitchen cabinetry is now in solid walnut from Poliform. 

All the kitchen cabinetry is now in solid walnut from Poliform. 

A view from the kitchen to the exterior courtyard.

A view from the kitchen to the exterior courtyard.

Project Credits:

Architect of Record: Gláma Kím 

Structural Engineer: Conis 

Civil Engineer: Conis

Landscape Design: LANDSLAG

Lighting Design: Lumex, Helgi Eiriksson

Interior Design: Gláma Kím 

Cabinetry Design: Gláma Kím 

Photography: Nanne Springer