The design of Rasmus and Lene’s Danish home connects with its woodland setting, making it a natural winner.
Gazing at a beautiful view – and then imagining exactly how a house could fit seamlessly into that setting – is something of an occupational hazard for architect Rasmus Bak. The woodland home he designed for himself, his wife Lene, a freelance fashion designer, and their two daughters Andrea and Vega is the result of just such a moment, when they took a weekend trip up to the north-east coast of Jutland in Denmark in the spring of 2008.
At the time, they weren’t thinking of a self-build project – far from it. With full-on careers, a city apartment back in Aarhus and their first baby on the way, they had plenty to keep themselves busy. But the coastal landscape and the unique light of the area made a big impression on them. ‘There was just a very special atmosphere here,’ remembers Lene, who initially fell in love with the spot where they decided to build. Rasmus was equally impressed and a vision of their new home soon started to take shape.
From the beginning, a sense of flow between the natural world and the house’s interior was a key principle of the build. The property is surrounded by beech trees, and generous floor-to-ceiling windows ensure that the natural world remains a visible reference point, echoed by timber surfaces inside the home. ‘A fluency between architecture and nature runs right through the design,’ says Rasmus. The building is intentionally designed on a single level so the roof does not protrude above the tree line. ‘It keeps the house feeling very private and also means it doesn’t intrude on the landscape,’ says Rasmus. Terrace areas, each with their own function according to whether they get morning or evening light, add to the inside/outside flow.
The building has been clad in Superwood, a Danish eco-conscious product that’s both hard-wearing and resistant to fungus, which has been given a black paint finish. Inside, warm oak surfaces maintain the typically Scandinavian vibe, taking the edge off harsher fabricated surfaces, such as concrete and metal. Textures are central to this project as Rasmus explains: ‘There’s a contrast between cooler concrete and the warmth of wood, while the clean lines and white walls are softened with fabrics and foliage.’ Elsewhere, natural processes have added depth to interior surfaces. ‘Heat from the open fire has gradually darkened the concrete around the fireplace, adding lustre,’ he says.
The dark Superwood cladding also acts as a graphic black outline, providing a visual framework and a way to punctuate the clean-cut sequence of spaces. The house is comprised of a larger open-plan unit, which is for family life, eating, cooking and socialising, and a smaller more private section for sleeping. A compact bathroom was a slight compromise but the pay-off is a far more original exterior bathing space that leads off it. This outdoor bath with shower is a secluded and private spot that is open to the elements above. ‘As the shower works with an air-towater heat pump, we can use it throughout the winter, too,’ says Rasmus.
Full-height sliding doors let light flood in from the south, while the walls on the opposite side of the house, which face what Rasmus calls the ‘harder’ northern light, have smaller high-set windows and the deck area off the master bedroom benefits from morning light. ‘The house is consciously angled to benefit from the sun’s movement across the sky,’ he says.
Creative use of roof lights also plays a role; the largest sculpted into a space-age opening above the hallway. In this way, the house is always conscious of the natural world beyond its walls: ‘I wanted to work with the idea of nature and a house coexisting,’ says Rasmus. ‘There’s a breaking down of borders between the two worlds.’
The design and build progressed with consummate ease – Rasmus’s profession meant that he knew his way around local planning regulations and preferred materials. ‘From the idea to the finished house was a short process,’ he says. The layout is simple, but not starkly so – just enough so that the spaces are cut free of anything super uous that could detract from the emphasis on texture and light. The couple has also consciously steered clear of chunky or overbearing furniture that would interrupt the clean lines, opting for contemporary pieces and mid-century design classics, including vintage chairs by Poul Kjærholm and Hans Wegner and functional yet beautiful lighting.
Rasmus designed the kitchen with the aim of it looking as ‘un-kitcheney’ as possible, using handleless timber cabinets that wouldn’t look out of place in a home office or bedroom, while the cooker splashback is finished in a luxe slab of marble, its striations as vivid as a work of art.
The main architectural element in the living space is an imaginative three-in-one wall, which incorporates a sliding door, a log store and the fireplace. This wood pile is another way in which Rasmus alludes to the easy flow between inside and outside spaces. ‘Just as we can take a morning shower outside, the giant log pile – which you might usually expect to find in the garden – has moved into the living room. This is a space where we can play around with conventional expectations,’ he adds.
This home also defies conventions when it comes to its use. It’s called a summerhouse but is used as a family home all year round. ‘It’s only 10 kilometres north of the city, so we use it as much as our apartment in Aarhus,’ says Rasmus. ‘It’s a modern way of living and makes more sense than having a weekend home that sits empty for large parts of the year.’
The focus at the house is all about winding down and absorbing the peace of the forest setting. Rasmus took the tranquil landscape as his starting point and the house he created continues to inspire and soothe in just the same way.
Words: Jo Leevers, Photography: Morten Holtum/Lykke Foged