A Cozy Cottage on an Island Northeast of Stockholm

AMONG THE MANY fashion boutiques that Christian and Ruxandra Halleroed have designed is a series of nine stores for the Swedish clothing brand Acne Studios, some of which feel like industrial-size meat lockers, with soaring monolithic brushed stainless-steel walls and floors of mottled poured concrete, terrazzo or concrete-print carpet. The effect is not unfeeling but bracing, in the vein of an old-fashioned Austrian spa: The severe gray backdrop makes the clothes, which often come in pleasantly murky colors, look more vibrant by comparison. This rigorously modern approach to design — often characterized by unbroken expanses of single materials (a wall of burled elm in one store, diamond-embossed aluminum in another) combined with inviting planes of color (a peony-pink wall-to-wall carpet, for example, or a standing shelving unit in copper sulfate blue) — has made Halleroed, the design studio that Christian, 46, founded in Stockholm in 1998, and which Ruxandra, 39, joined in 2015, sought after by fashion brands, particularly young Scandinavian labels whose gameness for experimentation resonates with the firm’s own.

While the couple’s stores often have an extraterrestrial feel, they are equally informed by a love of raw materials and traditional Swedish craft: For the fragrance and leather goods brand Byredo’s store in New York, they installed glass brick walls and angular alder shelves; for the women’s line Totême, they skinned a Stockholm townhouse with pale lime-wood walls. Christian originally studied cabinetmaking and furniture design at Carl Malmstensskolan (now part of Linkoping University), the school founded in the Swedish capital in 1930 by the influential designer Carl Malmsten, who helped define what’s known today as Scandinavian style. After graduating in 1998, he started creating his own furniture, mainly for Swedish office décor companies, which eventually led to architectural and interior commissions.

Considering the meticulously controlled and distinctly urban look of those projects, “some people might be surprised by this house,” says Ruxandra of the cozy 1,100-square-foot country home that the couple built for themselves and their 5-year-old daughter, Iolanda, on the Swedish island of Blido in 2017. The couple chose this area because it’s close enough to their ’60s-era apartment in central Stockholm that they could drive up in just under two hours — but far enough away to allow them to unwind. “There are fancier places closer to the city,” says Christian, “but we wanted to have our own plot, rather than neighbors.” Though it’s only 35 miles northeast of the capital, Blido is among the most remote inhabited islands of the Stockholm archipelago, the swirl of 30,000 or so specks that marble the surrounding Baltic Sea. Its location makes it an ideal settlement for fishermen, who have lived here since at least the 16th century. And while vacationers arrive in the summer months, the island still feels like an intimate community. There’s a grocery store and a farm that sells sheepskin rugs; the houses are mostly traditional Swedish cottages.

But the Halleroeds’ home, on the less populous southern shore, appears as an unvarnished cube raised slightly above the mossy forest floor, surrounded by spare, lichen-speckled pines. Indeed, the structure is not, technically, of this place: Since the couple’s work schedule wouldn’t allow them to closely supervise the construction, they had the house prefabricated to their specifications by a factory in Slovenia and shipped to the island in giant numbered chunks. With its honey-color cedar-plank exterior and a standing-seam aluminum hip roof, it still feels more organic than their firm’s work — and yet it has the same emphasis on craft and natural materials, most prominently wood. The cozy interior, clad in raw knotted spruce, is united by a glossy oxblood-red-painted spruce-board floor (a nod to Falu red, the hematite-rich pigment that’s been used to paint Swedish houses since the 18th century) that runs throughout the building, which is divided down the middle by a 30-foot-long wall. Twenty-three feet high at its tallest point, it was constructed almost entirely from two vast four-inch-thick sheets of cross-laminated spruce planks that meet in the middle above a doorway. On the eastern side are two compact bedrooms, a bathroom and an approximately 215-square-foot sleeping loft with mattresses for guests; to the west is a double-height open-plan living space in which various zones flow into one another across a gentle split level: A small step leads up from a reading area centered around a wood-burning cast-iron fireplace to a dining area, kitchen and two seating nooks with built-in sheepskin- and linen-topped Swedish pine benches.

As Ruxandra rolls out dough for a blueberry pie in the kitchen — comprising a bank of walnut cabinets and appliances built into the central partition — she nods toward a six-foot-wide bean-shaped cutout in the wall above her to illustrate the more improvisational approach the couple took to designing a space for themselves. Both Christian and Ruxandra, who trained as an architect at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, typically gravitate toward straight lines and symmetry, “but we started with a square window for the sleeping loft and it was just too boring,” she says. Midway through the design process, she sketched a kidneylike shape on the plan as a placeholder, and neither of them ever revised it. “Usually,” she says, “we are a little more strict.”

FOR ALL ITS otherness, however, the home ultimately yields to the surrounding forest. The couple selected the piece of land, just over half an acre, because of its proximity to the Baltic, then positioned the house so it would look out over a mossy outcropping of granite. Each side of the building is punctuated with varying styles and sizes of plate-glass windows — nine in total — so that even in the gloom of midwinter, the spruces beyond are framed like pictures on the walls. Spanning the entire southern side of the main room is a 10-foot-wide pane that provides glimpses of the sea; flanked by a 15-foot-wide sliding glass door to the west and a hinged glass door to the east (both of which lead outside), it creates the impression that this part of the cabin — where the family often enjoys a midafternoon fika — is a pergola, open to the woods. In the bathroom, where glossy maroon wall tiles and a burgundy red jasper marble floor mimic the painted wooden floors throughout the rest of the house, a glass door allows guests to walk straight into the shower from the outside when they return from swimming in the sea in the summer or foraging for mushrooms in the fall.

To further blur the distinction between inside and outside, square chunks have been cut from three of the home’s four corners to create small porches sheltered beneath the eaves of the roof. The southeast corner is arranged with sturdy square-sided Swedish pine armchairs (to be draped with local reindeer pelts in winter) and a small round pine table — all pieces the couple originally designed for a lounge at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm in 2018. On the southwest porch is a long pine table — built by the couple according to a design from the Italian Modernist artist Enzo Mari’s 1974 book “Autoprogettazione?” — where the family often eats meals in the warmer months. What little furniture the Halleroeds didn’t make themselves came from local antique dealers, another way the house pays tribute to Scandinavian midcentury design. The home’s irregular notched floor plan, in particular, was influenced by one of the forefathers of Swedish Modernism, the Austrian-born architect and designer Josef Frank, who made much of his most important work in Sweden starting in the 1930s — and who conceived of a series of houses in 1947, some of which featured asymmetrical volumes beneath rectangular roofs. “It’s important to know your history,” says Ruxandra. “It might not be directly reflected in your work, but it influences your mind-set.”

Despite the couple’s experimental approach, though, the house is above all a homage to the traditional dwellings of Christian’s youth: His parents owned a small pine-walled cabin — the kind that Swedes have built for centuries — in Salen, about six hours northwest of Stockholm, where the family would vacation each winter. The angles of the Halleroeds’ home on Blido might be sharper, the palette and furnishings more austere, but its materials and purpose are the same; it is an ode to Sweden’s woodworking tradition and a refuge from where they can enjoy the forested landscapes from which that legacy derives. “The walls may look raw now,” Ruxandra says, as she serves her finished pie, heavy with wild berries, “but in a few years, when the wood ages, it will have just the same look.” Just like the trees that surround them: older and grander every year, but always recognizably themselves.

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