The first thing you notice about Sommarhus H, designed by architect Johan Sundberg on the very southern coast of Sweden, is that it has been gently placed on the landscape, cradled by the beach and surrounding birch trees.
That’s typical of Sundberg’s work—"first and foremost, it’s always about the relationship to the site," he says—but here, he wanted a structure that would "subordinate itself" to the trees and dunes, and put the idyllic natural surroundings at center stage.
Located on the Baltic Sea in the Skåne region, the landscape is sandy, soft, and grassy, with no rock. This particular site has dunes and the sea to the south, farmland and patches of forest to the north, and a nature preserve to the east. There are sea grasses, birch and oak trees, firs and pines, wild rose and berry bushes.
Sundberg kept the shape of the home—designed as a summer getaway for a Swedish family of four that lives in Boston—uncomplicated, creating a clean 138-square-meter (approximately 1,485-square-foot) rectangle that holds three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sauna, and an open kitchen and living room.
"There is something humble about trying to create a simple shape like a box that contains an intricate inside and has an openness towards the sea, different faces for the different landscapes that it relates to," says Sundberg.
He likes to think of the home as a jewelry box. "Those kinds of chests often look relatively simple from the outside, but when you open them, there are these snug containers, often in wood finishes, and can be quite elaborate without outshining the actual jewelry they're designed to carry," he explains.
But while the shape is simple, the facade is quite layered, with each face having a different feel. Siberian larch, chosen for its high quality and sustainability, wraps the home, but is used in different ways to create texture and respond to the environment. "The wood is working with a gradient," says Sundberg.
On the north, it’s implemented in a broad board-and-batten style paneling that allows for interesting shadows as the sun moves. On the south, sea-facing side, slimmer slats of larch are used on the deck, walls, and ceiling of voids that contain floor-to-ceiling windows or doors.
"It adds depth to the design," explains Sundberg. "I think we need slimmer, more highly detailed wood panelling closer to the eye and the hands. It’s just like the belly versus the back of an animal—it’s softer and more fine on the belly side."
Sundberg placed the home close to the beach, lightly setting it on sand. While there is some risk of erosion, it wasn’t enough to worry the architect or the clients—"The beaches don't change shape as much as in other places along the coast because of the woodland around the site which binds the sand together," he notes—but strong sun and southwest winds needed to be considered.
The compartments and overhangs on the south side were designed to shelter the outdoor areas, providing shade during the day and protection from the wind to allow for al fresco dining.
The interiors are designed with a "no nonsense" approach, divided into two parts: the private sleeping quarters on one end, the public living spaces on the other. The two secondary bedrooms are the only rooms without sea views, but Sundberg notes that "the view over the grassland in the east is as beautiful as the one towards the sea."
The same finishes that were used outside appear on the interior, with plastered and painted walls and ceilings, a design choice made for "simplicity." "I think it calms the whole thing down and makes it more airy," says Sundberg of using plaster. "We didn't want an interior in all wood, it would be too much. Sometimes we need to feel like we're in a cloud and not a sauna."
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