Danish architect Jesper Brask took his time— three years, to be exact—studying the site before pounding even one nail into the summer home he built for his family: wife, Lene, a doctor; and sons, Kristian, 21; Jens, 17; and Niels, 9. After buying an acre of densely wooded coastal land in Hald Strand—an hour’s drive from the family’s main house in North Zealand, north of Copenhagen—in 2003, he felled 150 Austrian pine trees to make way for what would become the house, to be constructed partly from the lumber. He set up a mobile sawmill and had the trees cut into planks. While the wood was curing, so too was the design scheme. “It took three years to get into the real spirit of the place— to feel the atmosphere and get the right ideas for the house,” says Brask. During that time, on their visits, the family squeezed into a 100-square-foot trailer Brask brought to the land. “Spending that much time in nature on the site greatly influenced the way I designed the house,” he says.
Brask and his family came to inherently know everything about the site—from the way the sun moved across it in the summertime to its distance from the water (125 steps). “One of our main wishes for this house was to build something that would make us feel as if we were outside all the time,” says Brask. “And I was hoping we’d be lucky enough that the house didn’t appear to take over too much.” To that end, Brask kept the footprint modest—1,000 square feet for the main house and 400 square feet for an adjacent studio—and incorporated as much of the pine as he could into the home, which he spent another two years building. As the design percolated over time, he integrated a series of interconnected linear planes and complementary materials—namely steel, glass, and brick.
The open-plan home’s core is the towering chimney—clad in the same double-long, thin bricks that sheathe the Kolumba museum in Cologne, Germany. It holds three fireplaces, a conventional oven, and a pizza oven; all vent into three distinct flues, emerging from the chimney as their own kind of architectural statement. The exterior walls flanking the chimney jut upward at a 78-degree angle, while floor-to-ceiling glass windows on the side housing the living room and sleeping area extend onto the roof, allowing in natural light and views of the trees. “I wanted to have high windows to best capture the evening light from the west,” notes Brask, who tempered the walls’ slope by similarly angling one side of the chimney. Over the kitchen and dining area, a matte-black roof follows the same plane, then breaks form and folds straight outward, like a giant work of origami, hovering above a patio and outdoor fireplace while providing a material and visual contrast to the glass.
Inside, the house is an exercise in purposeful continuity: The exposed, galvanized-steel framing is echoed in the pendant lamps over the dining table; the table, like the nearest wall, was made from the wood milled on-site. The dining area is lined with space-saving built-ins, a concept that continues in the sleeping area, which Brask divided into two open cubbies with tall lofts above them. He designed the curved, white-concrete kitchen counter to wrap around the brick chimney and added vintage stools from a school. Nearby, the lemon-yellow dining chairs are similarly institutional mid-century pieces that he remembers being popular during his youth.
Brask carried this cohesion through from the main house to the studio, whose slanted exterior beams and horizontal knotty pine walls repeat those of the primary structure. Reached via a slatted deck off the kitchen, the multifunctional space contains a living-sleeping area, utility room, sauna, and bathroom and is used as everything from an office to a guesthouse to an extra room for the children. Architecturally, Brask says, the two buildings “are unified by the same steel, wood, and angles, the studio having much smaller proportions.” As they traverse between the two spaces, the family is constantly connected with the nature that inspired their design. “The boys especially like to use the studio,” notes Brask. “All three of them helped me build this house, and they’ve grown up here, among the trees.”
From the clearing rises one arboreal anomaly, just outside the main house: a relatively spindly elder tree that was spared from the chopping and reaches toward the chimney that now rises just above it. “The bricklayers were not so happy with that tree, because it was a bit difficult to work around,” says Brask. “But it was such a nice, almost Japanese, form, so we saved it.” It was this kind of contemplation that infused every detail of this house—one that rises organically from the landscape as something that once was a part of it. “This is still very much a log house,” says Brask. “And it is a house that belongs to this place.”
Erika Heet has been working in publishing for more than 20 years, including years spent as a senior editor at Architectural Digest and Robb Report. She has written for Architectural Digest, Robb Report, Interiors, Bon Appétit, Sierra Magazine, and The Berkeley Fiction Review. She recently wrote the foreword to New Tropical Classics: Hawaiian Homes by Shay Zak. She lives in a Topanga cabin with her artist husband and two children.
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