The retreat within the landscape is an integral part of Swedish culture. More than half the population has access to a second home – a 2017 academic paper estimates there are around 660,000 in the country.
The countryside around Stockholm is scattered with these structures, new and old, with a huge variety of off-the-shelf catalogue designs available in every conceivable style. In contrast, this new private house outside Borlänge, about three hours to the north of the capital, is completely bespoke, epitomising a contemporary approach to designing within nature and blending perfectly with the landscape.
The Dalarna House was designed by Dive Architects, a Stockholm-based firm that was founded in London in 2001 by partners Ia Hjärre and Andy Nettleton. Since moving to Sweden in 2008, Dive have stayed small and nimble, focusing on residential work, both private and commercial. Preferring a close working relationship with their clients, Nettleton and Hjärre, together with their colleague Valentino Barbu, warn that projects can take time, not just to build, but to settle into their surroundings.
Time has clearly been spent shaping the relationship between the Dalarna House and its 2,000 square metre plot, set on a steep slope scattered with pine trees and silver birches.
Designed for old friends of the architects, the brief was for a large open plan living area and four bedrooms, covering a total floor area of just over 120 square metres. The new house replaced a 1940s-era cottage, finished in the traditional Swedish Faluröd färg (red) painted timber.
To maximise views over Lake Ösjön and bring more light into the plot, the first task was to pare back the vegetation. The architects carefully selected which trees to remove, a process that helped guide the orientation and shape of the new structure. Located on the high point of the site, the resulting house is neatly divided into two rectangular single storey volumes, each carefully angled for the best views, with the remaining trees perfectly positioned across the ground that slopes down towards the shore. The sleeping quarters are raised up a couple of steps, creating a sense of transition between each area.
The new house has shallow sloping roofs, while the approach façade has only minimal openings for privacy, giving little clue as to what lies within. Only a small reading nook provides a look-out back over the access road. The main entrance is located between the two volumes and serves as the pivot point of the house. Step inside, and you’re greeted by a wall of glass, leading on to a covered terrace and views to the water beyond. The alignment is crucial – the north-south axis brings morning sun into the kitchen and dining area, with its wraparound terrace, and also frames the sunset from the master bedroom at the far end of the house
In between there are three smaller bedrooms and a bathroom, with the only subdivision in the long living space created by the rendered brick fireplace and kitchen island. This monolith-like form creates the focal point of the room, a vertical feature that mirrors the trunks of the tall pines that are scattered across the plot. The structure is timber, with a polished concrete floor slab throughout, complete with embedded underfloor heating. A mix of sliding windows and fixed panes allows direct access to the deck and a panoramic view from the kitchen and living area. In addition, every bedroom has a door giving direct access to the outdoors.
Inside, fixtures and fittings have been chosen with great care, with just a few key pieces maximising the sense of space and ensuring the focus remains on the view.
The sofa is the Mags Soft Sofa from Hay, paired with two classic Knoll Bertoia Diamond Armchairs. The brass lamps in the living room are by Aalvar Aalto, and pair perfectly with the VOLA taps used in the kitchen, the VOLA KV1 basin mixer in natural brass with its signature spout, while the bathroom is equipped with an HV1 mixer tap, and 070 hand shower, also in natural brass. The bathroom itself also has a view of the lake, with an opening window that lets you bathe with an al fresco feeling.
By focusing the budget on a select number of beautifully designed items, as well as the finely detailed and crafted timber and concrete, Dive have imbued the Dalarna House with a sense of quiet, enduring quality, one of the essential attributes of Scandinavian design. The close proximity to the water is emphasised by the orientation and design of every room, as is a commitment to making a direct connection between inside and outside. The site is remote and private, but the house’s materials and forms are subtle and unassuming, giving it a quiet presence on its site. The external pine cladding will weather over time, turning silvery grey and becoming part of the landscape.
Sweden’s second home culture has always had connection with nature – and hence wellbeing – at its core. The tendency for second homes to be relatively modest structures set within the great outdoors provides the opportunity to make a connection with the raw energy of nature, changing weather patterns and the different seasons. Dive Architects’ innate understanding of the value of time and the importance of detail design serves to enhance these connections between architecture, nature and the human spirit.
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Photography by James Silverman
This is a cooperation between HOOM, Dive Architects and Vola. You can follow them on Instagram: vola.denmark