A Coastal Retreat in Sweden Feels Light as a Cloud Inside

A Coastal Retreat in Sweden Feels Light as a Cloud Inside

By Jessica Dailey / Photos by Markus Linderoth
Delicately placed on the sandy shores of the Baltic Sea, Sommarhus H provides sanctuary among sea grasses and birch trees.

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.

Swedish architect Johan Sundberg designed this three-bedroom home in the southern Skåne region for a family of four. The parents grew up in the area, but they now live in Boston. 

Sundberg designed the home as a simple box so it would "subordinate itself" to the sandy landscape of birch trees and sea grasses.

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.

Siberian larch is the primary facade material. It's finished with a silicon-based protective treatment to allow the wood to weather more evenly.

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.

The sea-facing side has a large covered deck. Thin slats of larch on this facade create a slimmer profile that contrasts the large floor-to-ceiling windows.

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.

The front and sides of the home feature a wide board-and-batten larch cladding to add depth and allow for a variation of shadows throughout the day. 

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.

Sundberg used materials, which include concrete and zinc in addition to larch, that were as close to their natural and untreated form as possible. "It is the right thing to do here," he says. "We don't want our design to pretend to be something it is not."

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.

Overhangs on the south facade create compartments around each interior room, and offer protection from the elements.

"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 says the owners are very proud of the house, not only for its aesthetic, but also because of "how it creates this distillation of the things they love about their place in Sweden, how wonderful it makes them feel. That sort of brings us right to the core of what we try to do always."

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 on the sea-facing facade are one of Sundberg's favorite features of the design. They "work on a lot of levels," he says.

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.

Inside, floor-to-ceiling windows and a clean white and wood palette make the landscape a focal point.

The home measures approximately 1,485 square feet, with an open living space that includes the kitchen and dining room.

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 primary bedroom faces the sea and has direct access to the large deck.

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." 

The sleeping quarters and a family room are located down the hallway.

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The home includes a sauna, a common feature in private residences throughout Scandinavia.

"We work with the human body and mind in the center, and around it we build on the site and the cultural heritage of the environment around it," explains Sundberg of his approach to design. "This is more important than any kind of abstract constructs. Architecture is about emotional belonging, about the functions of the body and the mind, about what kind of social and emotional space we want our clients to be set into. This project is about these themes."

Floor plan of Sommarhus H

Site plan of Sommarhus H

More by Johan Sundberg: An Idyllic Swedish Summer House Channels Japanese Vibes

Project Credits:

Architect of record: Johan Sundberg / @johansundbergarkitektur

Builder: Roland Sjöholm, SA Bygg

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