Amidst the sound of bird song and the gentle trickle of a babbling brook in the quiet countryside sits a small gem of a house on a family farm in southern Sweden. This uniquely wonderful structure, designed through the architectural collaboration of Gert and Karin Wingårdh, is a unique fusion of east-meets-west. The house itself, a small structure, approximately 50 square meters, makes a big statement with its architectural language of simplicity and integration with the surrounding nature.
The newly built structure replaced an old mill house that originally sat near the stream on the farm of horse breeder Johan Dieden; the mill was torn down because of age and ill repair. Seeking to create a guest house on his property for visiting family and friends, Dieden commissioned the Wingårdhs for this project. They were initially referred to him by a friend in the early 1980s, and they have worked on several other architectural projects on Diedens’ property throughout the years. The Wingårdhs were challenged to design and build the guest house in a setting of a grove of tall trees with a small stream rippling through it. The Wingårdhs proposed to design the space with a “relationship between inside and out, and a simple balance of materials.”
The entrance to the Millhouse starts before even entering the house. Walking through the woven oak gates feels like a magical experience of transformation into another space and time. Positioned diagonally, the inviting gateway makes the experience more interesting and intriguing with the mystery of what lies ahead. Once through the gates, you feel as if you may have been dropped in the middle of Kyoto. With its Oriental style garden, sounds of a trickling stream, simple geometric elements, and a structure reminiscent of a Japanese tea house in a setting among tall trees, the simple small structure appears to be an antidote to the restless world outside.
Glowing like an Oriental lantern in a John Singer-Sargent painting, this little beauty looks as if it has grown out of its landscape rather than constructed on it. Upon commission, the Wingårdhs were given a blank canvas to design a simple guest house separate from the main house on the Dieden property. “He was not specific,” says Gert Windgårdh of Johan Diedel's requests for the project, “He gave us a free hand in this project. He has a lot of trust in people and a very open mind.”
Gert Wingårdh, an architect, is known both in his native Sweden and internationally, for his designs stemming from residential homes to large public and corporate buildings. Known for his own unique interpretation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “organic architecture,” his integration of natural materials with the structure, makes it appear as if the elements are one and the same. The Millhouse is a product of Wingårdhs’ translation of Wrights principles of incorporating geographical and botanical elements and blending smooth materials with natural elements. One example being rough boulders left in place in the floor, reminiscent of one of Wright’s crowned jewels of architectural achievements, Falling Water. That weekend retreat designed for the Kaufmann family in Pennsylvania, USA, is world renown for its open floor plan, built-in furniture, low horizontal lines, natural field stone, for integrating the interior with the landscape around it, and for the stunning concrete platforms cantilevered over the stream attesting to the genius of Wright. Gert Wingårdh, like many, was influenced by Wright, but has managed to create his own impression from the philosophy of organic architecture.
The exterior of the house and the gardens are a visual treat unto itself. A contemporary interpretation of a traditional Japanese tea house, it seems to be floating on the water. “It is elegant,” says Wingårdh, “it’s not a large space, but no less spectacular! My methodology? I allowed the environment to guide my planning.” The grounds, designed with elements of eastern principles by Swedish landscape team, Nature Oriented Design (NOD), provides the perfect finishing touch and integrating all the natural elements integral to this fantastic site. The original stream on the property is incorporated with the natural elements to create a dramatic new space. Once a small stream, Wingårdh redirected the water flow from it to an outdoor bathtub which then overflows onto the limestone platform and trickles down into the reflecting pool creating a constant sound of moving water. In Japanese fashion, large rocks poke through the smooth surface of the water embodying the Zen relationship to the garden. The grounds are a visual tactile experience which leaves a distinctive impression on all the guests who visit there.
If the grounds are eloquent, the house echoes the experience but with a distinctive twist. While small in volume, it is richly sensuous. With high ceilings, simple, expressive materials, and walls of clear glass sliding doors, the house has an integral relationship to nature. Surrounded by lush flora and the reflecting pool, the house is a true mark of distinction in the tectonic language of Wingårdhs’ previous works. Oak and limestone, his signature materials, are used with precise craftsmanship providing the optimal solution to emphasize the formal simplification of the space. “I grew up near a limestone quarry.” said Wingårdh, which resulted in his affinity with the beautiful organic, sedimentary rock.
Upon entering, the eye takes in the whole ground floor in one panoramic sweep. The floor plan is open and unencumbered by walls, yet each space is distinctive within its own defined area. Gorgeous limestone flooring connects the spaces inside and continues beyond the glass walls as an extension of the living area. The main structural support system is a steel T-column which is left exposed to rust, a touch of industrial design. The T-beam supports the load of the smooth oak beams resting on it. Two walls of frameless glass doors contribute to the design solution of working with the small volume of the house, creating the perception of a larger space seems larger with the view of the gardens and the reflecting pool. “I wanted a relationship between the inside and outside.” Regarding any design problems that were faced during this project, Wingårdh says, “there were very little problems, but since it was a simple structure, there was very little circulation space to consider, but it all worked out in the end like poetry.”
Small but efficient, the interior detailing is a collaboration of Gert and Karens’ design skills. According to Karin, she really enjoyed her role in the development of this project from conception to completion and comments that The Millhouse is “something that I would like for myself. It has a very masculine and earthy look.” The furniture was custom designed by Karin especially for this house. While she and Gert worked on the over all design together, Karin was responsible for the fine detailing on the furniture. A long L-shaped sofa is built onto the walls of the living room providing an efficient and maintenance-free space. With grey soft furnishings to echo the tonality of the limestone flooring, it easily can accommodate seating for visitors. Task lighting on the ledge above the sofa designed by Philippe Starch, called Archimoon Tech Desk Lamp, produced by the Flos Company of Italy, provides good reading light, but doesn’t over come the space. The furniture is unique and beautiful, made of American maple and constructed in a jig saw manner without the use of nails. The joinery construction gives the furniture, walls and kitchen cabinets a special quality and authenticity blending into the warmth and charm of the house.
The kitchen is up a level, overlooking the sitting and living areas, allowing the cook to converse with guests as he or she prepares hors d’ oeuvres or a small feast. The kitchen is narrow, yet well designed for the space it occupies. Adhering to the “work triangle” concept, the floor plan makes the circulation around the kitchen easy and effortless from the three points between the main appliances; from the stove, to the sink, to the refrigerator and back, as needed during the cooking process.
While compact in size, appliances and cooking supplies are concealed in the cabinet doors freeing up the kitchen from clutter in keeping with the simple natural feel. The cabinet doors, produced by Bulthaup, a German company specializing in modern kitchen architecture, are streamlined and sleek, keeping with the lightness and simplicity of the design. The beautiful organic shapes of the white pendant lamps, from Men At Work, Stockholm, seen above the work area, bring a whimsical touch to the space.
Beyond the kitchen area is a small corridor to the bathroom, shower, and sauna areas located in the northwest part of the house. Each of the areas are compartmentalized into it’s own functional space. In the small impressive corridor, is a beautiful, curved, limestone wall that leads the eye to a fantastic, deep, round window on the back wall that provides contrast between the sinuous curves and the horizontal lines on the walls and on the beams above. A critical component in this area is a changing bench where you can leave your slippers and grab a towel. Off to the right of the changing bench is a small powder room designed as cleverly simple. A bowl-shaped white wash basin, from Duravit Company, created by star designer Philippe Starck, sits on a triangular vanity, mimicking the shapes on the curving wall. Behind the curved wall is a shower equipt with modern, sleek stainless steel fittings from the German company Vola. It is graciously simple and clean, and across the corridor to the large, beautiful sauna area. The Japanese tradition of taking a sauna is to wash thoroughly before hand, then using the sauna experience as a spiritual, rather than a physical aspect. After the sauna stage, it is also in the Japanese tradition to take a dip in the deep, cold bath tub outside. A striking composition, the bath and sauna areas are expertly integrated into the homes' total design, and prove that beauty and function can co-exist!
The guest bedroom, a special entity unto its own, takes up the total space of the first floor. Up a flight of stairs located at the back of the kitchen, the bedroom is a simple, appealing area situated under an A-frame ceiling. Long horizontal boards on the walls help accent the length of the room, while vertical boards behind the bed provide the perception of height. The bed, lovely and simple, is produce by Hästens, a Swedish premier bed company, established in 1852, noted for its use of natural materials, and was chosen in keeping with the green design concept of Millhouse. On the opposite wall from the bed is a large double glazed window that fills the entire gabled wall space, allowing natural light into the space. According to Gert Wingårdh, a memorable experience while staying in the guest house after its’ completion, was being able to hear the flowing water while laying in bed in the dark.
Although The Millhouse is small in size, it is infinite in architectural expression. From corporate and educational buildings such as the stunning Chancellery of the Royal Swedish Embassy in Berlin, Germany, the AstraZeneca corporate building in Mölndal, Sweden, and the unique Öijared Country Club in Lerum, Sweden, to wonderful and exciting new projects such as the soon-to-be-built new Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., and unique residential designs including this special house, Gert Wingårdh has developed his own mark of distinction in the architectural field. From the entrance to the finer design details, with its Eastern influence and formal simplicity, this sweet quest house is a jewel in the crown of Wingårdh and Associates. “It was one of the most fun jobs we ever did. We worked with a very good client who is a very pleasant man.” Both client and architect are obviously proud of this outstanding design.
Text: Dori Kelly
Photography: James Silverman
From the view of the south-west facade, the Millhouse seems to be floating on water. The reflecting pool is an integral element found in most Oriental gardens. On the right you can see the woven gateway leading to gardens and house.
Glowing like a Japanese lantern at dusk, the Millhouse is based on Japanese simplicity and the integration of West and East. The reflecting pool is a rich, sensuous element in the overall theme of the design.
A limestone slab is cantilevered over the reflecting pool so that there is the constant trickling sound of water as it cascades off the ledges. The interior floor extends to the exterior, merging the living space with the natural space outside.
Reminiscent of the early work of Frank Lloyd Wright, an inspiration to Wingårdh, the use of cantilevered limestone slabs under the residence and over the water is an ingenious way to merge the house with the gardens.
The stone wall outside assures privacy for the sauna, while the glass wall allows for natural lighting and a view of nature.
Walking through the foliage-covered gateway, you get a feeling of a magical transition to another place and time. There is no indication of what is waiting on the other side. The woven oak gates also screen out the view of the barn from view of the house.
The built in furnishings, designed by Karin Wingårdh, are space-efficient and beautiful. The dove-tail joints are also used on the counters and the stairs, showing that great craftsmanship does not require the use of nails.
The lovely fireplace, custom designed by the Wingårdhs, is enclosed in glass and framed by metal, keeping the fire in view in cooler seasons. The outside can be seen through the fireplace integrating the natural feel of the fire into the room. A large limestone wall is placed above the fireplace, bringing together an intimate feel to the sitting area.
Laying in the bedroom, you can hear the water trickling through an opening to the ground floor level. A Naguchi washi paper, still in production for over 50 years, and still made by Akari of Japan, lamp adds to the simplicity of the design.
Dove- tail construction is seen throughout the house, including the furniture, stairs, walls, and counters. In keeping with using natural materials, this beautiful craft work replaces the need for nails!
After a warm shower, you can head down to the hall for an invigorating sauna experience. From the sauna you can look outdoors and get a feeling of peace and serenity.
The bath and sauna entrance illustrates the beautiful incorporation of limestone and oak, Wingårdhs' favorite building combination. Bath and sauna rituals, although a bit different, are steadfast in both Scandinavian and Japanese cultures.
The stone wall outside assures privacy for the sauna, while the glass wall allows for natural lighting and a view of nature.
A small toilet off the kitchen is divided from the shower area by this gentle curving wall. The curved ceiling section above the vanity mimics the curve of the wall.
The kitchen as seen from the sauna area. The kitchen is narrow, but well designed for efficiency in its space. Outside the kitchen door is an outdoor table on which to dine al fresco, during long summer evenings.
The steel T beam structure supports the house giving it a freestanding feeling and allowing for an open floor plan.
The stainless steel air vent is functional, yet looks artistic and light in contrast to the strong oak beams above it. A beautiful image of the juxtaposition of all the materials used in the construction of the house.
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