Urban Renewal

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By Micha van Dinther / Published by Dwell
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A Copenhagen family trades the suburbs for a quaint town house steeped in tradition.

In a moment of brutal honesty, Mia Dalgas and her husband acknowledged that the sleek modern house they had built in a northern Copenhagen suburb wasn’t the home for them. "We missed the city," says Mia, mother of two. "We thought we had built our dream house, but it just wasn’t." 

"From the day we got our house, I knew exactly how I wanted it done," says Mia Dalgas, who led the renovation of her family’s 1880s home in Copenhagen’s Potato Rows district. One of the biggest transformations was the addition of a glass-enclosed lacquered wood staircase.

"From the day we got our house, I knew exactly how I wanted it done," says Mia Dalgas, who led the renovation of her family’s 1880s home in Copenhagen’s Potato Rows district. One of the biggest transformations was the addition of a glass-enclosed lacquered wood staircase.

Bucking the trend of leaving the city to raise children in a more kid-friendly environment, the Dalgas family set their sights on a three-story home in the centrally located Kartoffelrækkerne (Potato Rows) neighborhood, a charming ward of former workers’ cottages. Mia’s vision for the house, which was designed in the 1880s by architect Frederik Christian Bøttger, was clear from the beginning—and entirely her own. "The original houses were almost all the same," Mia says. "Today, you can’t find one that is similar to another, which I find so nice."  

Mia had the uninsulated attic finished, but kept the original beams exposed.&nbsp;<span style="line-height: 1.8;">Now the home’s top story holds the bedrooms of the family’s two children.</span>

Mia had the uninsulated attic finished, but kept the original beams exposed. Now the home’s top story holds the bedrooms of the family’s two children.

With help from her engineer father-in-law, Mia, a marketing director for furniture brand Carl Hansen & Søn, did most of the planning and project managing of the build herself. "I have been greatly involved in the entire process," she says. "But since I’m not an architect, we hired Søren Nilsson of Ingvartsen Arkitekter to tweak my hand drawings." Mia personally held the biweekly meetings with the building crew during the six-month-long revamp.  

Zoning rules lim­ited the changes Mia could make to the structure’s front facade.

Zoning rules lim­ited the changes Mia could make to the structure’s front facade.

The 1,528-square-foot house was originally built to accommodate two families, and its many partitions exaggerated its relatively small size. The installation of a new stairwell hemmed in by glass panels creates an airy conveyance that connects the ground floor’s combined lounge and kitchen, the second floor’s living room and master bedroom, and the top floor’s children’s quarters.  

She replaced the existing windows with custom JVK Vinduer designs, but could not alter the shape or size of the apertures. A VP Globe lamp by Verner Panton hangs from a corner of the living room, illuminating an RAR rocker by Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra.

She replaced the existing windows with custom JVK Vinduer designs, but could not alter the shape or size of the apertures. A VP Globe lamp by Verner Panton hangs from a corner of the living room, illuminating an RAR rocker by Charles and Ray Eames for Vitra.

In the heart of the capital, the Dalgas family has found the small-town feeling and close-knit community they felt was missing in the suburbs. The architecture adds to the area’s charm, as local authorities require historic facades to be preserved—something that resonates with Mia. "Because of our experience with a very modern house, I really wanted to keep the original architecture," she says. Opting for traditional brass kitchen and bath fixtures (including a faucet originally designed for Christiansborg Palace), mullioned windows, and black baseboards, Mia created a home with a clear link to the area’s heritage. She kept the wood beams that hold up the gabled ceilings but replaced the derelict floors with white-stained Douglas fir boards from a merchant who supplies quality timber for Carl Hansen & Søn’s furniture.  

"The house really works well because we don’t have to sit in each other’s laps," Mia says. A CH327 dining table and CH47 chairs by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen &amp; Søn provide a gathering place on the first floor, lit by a vintage pendant and Gubi’s  Pedrera PD2 floor lamp.

"The house really works well because we don’t have to sit in each other’s laps," Mia says. A CH327 dining table and CH47 chairs by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen & Søn provide a gathering place on the first floor, lit by a vintage pendant and Gubi’s Pedrera PD2 floor lamp.

Several efforts were made to optimize the structure’s limited square footage. The crawl-space basement level was dug out by hand (with conveyer belts used to transport dirt through the tiny basement portholes), opening up a subterranean playroom for the children that doubles as a guestroom for Mia’s mother, who often stays over. Tall panes of glass maximize the amount of light in the lounge—the darkest area in the house—while establishing a link to the back terrace, beyond which a former outhouse has been converted into a backyard shed. 

Lisette Bernhoft of Design by Us planned the kitchen. The smoked oak cabinets are topped with lava stone. The pulls are brass.&nbsp;

Lisette Bernhoft of Design by Us planned the kitchen. The smoked oak cabinets are topped with lava stone. The pulls are brass. 

Does Mia regret the decision to trade a villa’s abundant space and light for a cottage in the middle of one of Copenhagen’s liveliest communities? Not for a second. "The only thing I ever still dream of is a mud room," she says, "for all those dirty kids’ shoes."   

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