Photos by Hillary Ehlen
When architects purchase a modest 1970s rambler and transform it into a hideaway inspired by nature, you can expect to see some dramatic interventions. Such is the case with the home of Darryl Booker and Joan Vorderbruggen in Battle Lake, Minn. Guided by the Norwegian concept of friluftsliv, or “free air life,” they wanted to bring the healing effects of nature into their home through fresh breezes, views of landscape and the sound of calming water, while using a minimalist palette of natural materials.
The original concrete sidewalk leading to the house was replaced with a raised wooden walk of cedar that passes by a cedar-enclosed outdoor space featuring a small water feature that lies just outside the living room. They replaced the large living room picture window from the old rambler with a grid of eight operable windows that look out upon the outdoor garden, sheltering the living room from direct sunlight while making the outdoor enclosure with its flowing water a part of the living room itself.
To the rear they added a screened porch that looks out upon a butterfly garden, with a cantilevered overhang to protect the passageway from house to porch. The requisite sauna is tucked in between house and porch. New additions to the house are clad in natural wood, while gray board and batten replaces the old hardboard lap siding, giving the entire home a crisp look that makes it evident that every small detail was considered. Small features include rain chains instead of downspouts from the roof – an inspiration borrowed from Japanese architecture – so that flowing water from rainstorms also become part of friluftsliv.
Inside, the aesthetic of natural woods and clean lines is apparent throughout the alterations made to the original rambler. Birch cabinets line the small kitchen that is outfitted with appliances designed for small European homes. Floors are made of cork, and the living room and kitchen walls are covered with cherrywood boards originally intended for use as flooring. “Let the wall be art,” say the owners. Walls and ceilings left unaltered from the 1970s rambler remain in white, in contrast to the richness of the newly-added natural wood.
In the living room, modernist but comfortable furniture allows guests to gather around a German freestanding wood-burning fireplace for winter warmth, and the furniture itself exudes a clean Scandinavian aesthetic. In fact, the furniture was sourced from Scan Design in Fargo, Ikea, Design Within Reach and from the owner’s own workshop. The wood for walls, floors and walkways was sourced from local merchants. Josh Peterson Construction from Erhardt, Minn., helped with the heavy-duty work.
The resulting living environment shows how the careful eye of an architect (in this case, two architects), plus detailed attention to quality materials and craftsmanship, can transform a house endowed with few salient features into a design-rich place of refuge that truly celebrates the Scandinavian lifestyle of friluftsliv.
See more before and after images of this project on Joan Vorderbruggen’s website: studiobirke.com/treehom-gallery
Paul H. Gleye is a professor of architecture at North Dakota State University. His fields of expertise include historic preservation and urban design, and he leads the architecture school’s term abroad program in Europe each spring semester.