Every big city has its most sought-after neighbourhood – Los Angeles has Beverly Hills, London has Mayfair and Gothenburg has Örgryte. Perched above the city, the houses of Örgryte have breathtaking views that reach out to the west and over the city below. For visitors to the Villa Woldu this stunning vista is their reward when they reach the top of the road that climbs up from the main highway to Stockholm. As you come around the corner, suddenly the whole of the city spreads out before you.
“The first time we saw the view was at night,” recalls Gloria Woldu. The family - Gloria, husband Amigo and their two children aged 5 and 11 - was impressed: “Afterwards we couldn’t sleep and we knew we had to have the house.” Gloria admits it was not a long-held ambition to live in this neighbourhood and she laughs when she recalls the poor condition of the house. Gloria and her husband Amigo are both first-generation Swedish citizens who have built up successful careers in hospitality in Gothenburg. Gloria came with her family from Iran when she was a small child and Amigo arrived from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia when he was a young man. For them moving to this house above the city is a high point both literally and metaphorically.
As soon as the purchase of the house was complete, they called the architect Andreas Lyckefors who had previously collaborated with the Woldu’s on commercial projects including a renowned Gothenburg restaurant called Taste International. “We were very involved in the house from the start,” says Andreas. “At first we wanted to tear it down and then we realised we could not because of the very strict building regulations that cover this part of the city.”
Lyckefors describes the project as an ‘extreme make-over’: “We decided to rethink the plan since we had to keep the volume.” The floor plan was designed by him to open up the entire ground floor, with a floor of polished carrara marble. The only remaining structural elements are the stairs and the interior parts of the room. A section of the house shows it intersected by two powerful light volumes, one of the stairs and the other as a continuation of the fireplace in the living room where the fire is folded down flush with the floor surface.
The building consists of two volumes. The first one to the north is almost entirely closed, one storey high and reaches from the street to the edge of the cliff in a long narrow rectangular form. The other volume is over two storeys and square-shaped. Juxtaposed, they form an L-shape which frames the entrance court in the east. A glassed entrance area faces towards the street and reveals the view through the building.
The landscaping on the street side is level with the ground floor plan. It continues around the building but is then made into a wide terrace at the top of the hill, sealed off by just a vertical surface of glass. Here on the glazed west side of the house, nature is seen to reach into the house with pines bent by the strong winds.
Creating a new home around the structure of the previous 1960s property demanded painstaking attention to detail from the design team, and the ensuing major renovation works were also time-consuming. Andreas estimates the project took about two and a half years in total. During that time the architect and the Woldu´s were able to consider different solutions to various details inside and outside the house – something they both acknowledge was useful.
“We were able to experiment but we also had time to think about the budget,” Andreas explains. “Time makes it possible to find better choices. The façade in particular looks really expensive but in fact it is made of a rather cost-effective material [fibre cement boards] which we were able to give a very sophisticated appearance thanks to the specialised laser-cut finish.”
Andreas describes the façade as ‘possibly the most challenging part of the project’. “As well as asking to open up the view to the west, the clients asked for lots of light which was an interesting challenge since we were dealing with a closed façade in three directions. We felt it was important to play with the Nordic lights and create shadows. The boards are angled out from the front with spacers of aluminium to further enhance the light and shadow effect of the sun’s motion around the house.” The pattern on the boards was created through working on designs chosen with the clients, and then laser cut into the boards’ surface.
In addition to the façade, Andreas also created two powerful light volumes which bring light directly into the space – one incorporating the stairwell and the other as a continuation of the fireplace in the living room. Both light volumes contain gold detailing which plays with the incoming light – a reflection, literally, of the client’s request for a white and gold colour scheme. There is even a bar complete with gold decorative detailing which is a clue to the clients’ very sociable natures.
Andreas encouraged his clients to be playful and not to conform to a standard Swedish idea of residential design. In fact, the client’s desire to create a party-friendly home was ultimately central to how the space was organised. Acknowledging the clients’ request for a single area both for living and for parties, Andreas took the existing volumes and worked to open up the space. The three bedrooms and main bathroom are upstairs, freeing up the larger ground floor area. “We tried to create seamless movement inside and outside,” he continues. “We didn’t move all the structure but we did move some to get this feeling of social space with one continuous floor and ceiling - there are no walls and no doors.”
The kitchen is custom designed by the architect and manufactured by Aröds and Design Performance. It reaches in two directions with one side following the entire southern façade. Cupboards frame the windows alongside a working surface made from two layers of Corian, designed on the same principle as an airplane wing, and giving the impression of a nearly impossibly thin top board. On the other side is a free-standing kitchen unit aligned to face the view. All appliances are integrated behind magnetic doors. Possibly the most striking feature of the kitchen is the back-lit glass wall which is revealed over the working top and in the spaces between the cupboards. Using LED lights the entire house bathes in colour at night.
The whole family love the new house. “Being here has changed the way we live,” says Gloria. “I have learned a lot about things I didn’t know existed and it has also inspired the children creatively – our elder child has even been thinking about becoming an architect! We are so much calmer now. As soon as we get here we can forget about all our stress. We just love it. It has been such a positive experience.”
Written by: Kate Burnett
Photographed by: James Silverman
Architect: Andreas Lyckefors
Other articles on Architecture /
Close to Nature
The Zen of Style
Walking on Water
Twist and Shout