Dwell Magazine: Four generations and counting, this house is a family affair

With Alvar Aalto in mind, a renowned Swedish architect crafts a serene home on a long-held family plot.

A suburb 15 minutes from central Gothenburg, Sweden’s second largest city, seems an unlikely place to find a house designed by one of Scandinavia’s most celebrated architecture firms. Still, here, Wingårdhs—run by principal Gert Wingårdh—has created a home for a young couple that offers near complete privacy, even though the closest neighbor is just yards away.

Villa Kristina rests atop the kind of rocky ground that characterizes much of Sweden’s rugged west coast. Passersby have little inkling of what hides behind the structure; just one narrow window faces the street. Wingårdh cites Alvar Aalto’s summer house on the island of Muuratsalo in Finland as an inspiration for the house’s form. “It is very closed on the outside and it directs the views to where nature is at its best,” he says.

Sitting at a 23-foot-long table that was custom-built for the oblong and spacious kitchen, Anders Bergström, a car designer for Geely, says, “This is our own little world.” His wife, Kristina Lagercrantz, nods in agreement. She is a judge who is just finishing maternity leave; the couple’s one-year-old daughter, Ingrid, was born shortly after the house was built.

“The villa sits on a piece of land that has been in my family for four generations,” says Kristina. “Or, well, it’s five generations now that Ingrid is here!” Her family purchased a summer house on the property at a time when the surrounding area was mostly farmland. It turned into a residential area in the 1970s, and now it’s a densely populated suburb. The house where Kristina’s grandmother, now in her nineties, still lives was built in 1981, but it only takes up a portion of the site. The couple called on Wingårdh to devise a structure for the remainder of the plot that could serve as their home.

Wingårdh is behind projects such as the Swedish embassies in Berlin and Washington D.C. and the air traffic control tower at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. He is known for designing buildings that are in tune with nature, and Villa Kristina is no exception. “We preserved the site by building on the rocks, not blasting them away,” Wingårdh says. The material program also supports the house’s connection to the outdoors. The silvery spruce facade will age and transform over time. “It’s constantly shifting,” Anders says. “Living in a house made out of natural materials, you can really feel it move and breathe.” While Wingårdh initially envisioned using whitened plywood throughout the interior, gypsum board proved a more cost-effective choice.

Anders and Kristina have long admired Wingårdh’s work, particularly his villas, and when they told an acquaintance who works at the architect’s firm about their ideas, he said it sounded like a project Wingårdh may want to take up.

“I think he liked the thought of building a normal-sized villa [the house is approximately 1,722 square feet] for a young couple on a piece of land that has a very personal history,” says Anders. Wingårdh adds that his office typically has a handful of residences
in the works at any given time. “I personally enjoy designing private houses, so we keep a small group dedicated to the purpose,” he says.

“We wanted something of our own, something different and unique,

and we wanted to seclude ourselves,” says Kristina. The house is also designed to be a work-in-progress, adaptable to suit the young family’s future needs. There are early drawings for extensions: The storage area on the terrace can be converted into two bedrooms, and there is enough space on the plot of land behind and in front of the house to build a small guesthouse.

Says Anders: “The idea is that the house should be always changing.”