Building a house on the cusp of the Arctic Circle presents numerous challenges. With a harsh climate and limited daylight for much of the year, the remote region proves a tough canvas for construction projects. In Boden, Sweden — located about 50 kilometres below the Land of the Midnight Sun — these factors play a role, but ask architect Mårten Claesson, cofounder of Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects, about the biggest constraints on his firm’s recently completed house there and he’ll admit that they were all imposed by humans.
“For this project, two things stood out,” Claesson says. “The local regulations stipulated that, while there was an allowance for two-storey buildings, the maximum building height was only 4.2 metres. The house also required a red roof to match the other structures in the area.”
Aside from a few programmatic requests, such as the number of rooms, the clients (a young couple expecting their first child) left the design in Claesson’s hands. He notes that, while the building regulations technically permitted two-storey residences, due to the height restrictions, designing with a traditional double-pitched roof wouldn’t give the homeowners a fully functional second level. “Although it might look good in a plan, in reality, it would be pretty useless,” he says. “In this case, you could only use the centre of the floor while standing up.”
To get creative, Claesson turned to Sweden’s building code, which states that the height of a single-pitch roof can be measured by calculating the average value around the house. This meant that even if the taller side rose above 4.2 metres, the mean height could still fall within national regulations.
Starting with the single-pitch form, Claesson cut off a small piece at one end of the house and rotated it by 180 degrees. The two resulting trapezoidal sections face opposite directions, the larger volume holding the living space and the smaller one comprising a garage and sauna with a roof terrace. Since local regulations required a red roof, the architect clad the entire structure in red-painted planks of local pine to better unite the design.
“We wanted to contain the house as a sculptural volume,” Claesson says. “If you paint the roof one colour and then choose another colour for the rest, it feels like the roof doesn’t belong.” He notes that red is a traditional colour for homes in Sweden thanks to the city of Falun — a mining town that produces a copper-rich, anti-weathering red paint that dates back hundreds of years. “The deep blood shade is a beautiful contrast to the dark green forests in the area.”
For the interiors, Claesson employed a wood-forward aesthetic of neutral tones (pine ceilings and white walls) meant to create brightness during the dark winter months. “You have to remember that, for half of the year, you have nearly no sun, so you want to preserve all the light you can,” he explains. At the rear of the larger form, the kitchen, living room and main bedroom are positioned to take advantage of views through large windows. A staircase made from birch and fir — the two main woods sourced in Sweden — leads up to a mezzanine on the second floor; its railings create a series of overlapping geometric shapes that make this feature a centrepiece of the home’s design. “Not one of [the windows] is at the same level,” the architect says with a laugh, “but that was a practical choice to get the best views of the nearby river and strategically let in natural light.”
Most of the home’s materials and furnishings were sourced locally or made in Sweden, except for the entryway floors, which Claesson labels an “extravagance” compared to the rest of the project. “We used Carrara marble,” he says, “but even that has a practical application — we needed a material that would be durable for snowy boots, and wood wouldn’t have been the right choice.”
The finished home is simple and sturdy — a cheerful beacon in the heart of northern Sweden that blends traditional aesthetics with a contemporary approach. “In a sense, this house designed itself,” Claesson says, “and we helped guide it through all of the regulations.”
In an area just shy of the Arctic Circle, Swedish firm Claesson Koivisto Rune Architects designs a bold crimson dwelling under strict local regulations.