Sunday, October 2

Life lessons: a Swedish schoolhouse becomes a glorious new home | interiors

Yon 1998 the designer and artist gunnel sahlin was looking for a summer house. But when she stepped into an old school building on top of a hill overlooking the pastoral landscape of Sörmland, a beautiful spot 75 miles southwest of Stockholm, it became clear that this was to be more than that. The light and the surroundings tempted her so much that after she bought the building she decided to make it her permanent home de ella.

Walking into what was the main school hall but is now her studio, she spreads her arms and says, “And this is the reason I bought it.” What immediately strikes you is the light flooding in from the big windows. It is always bright, regardless of the weather, she says. Two big tables on either side of the room provide ample room for Sahlin’s various design projects, for Ikea, among others. The worn floor, painted grey, shows the bumps and traces left by many years of schoolchildren filing in and out for lessons.

The studio is spacious enough to accommodate a bed for guests. Beside the bed sits a rocking chair made by Gunnel’s great-grandmother, a cabinet-maker, in the 19th century. The cushion, designed by Josef Frank, is from Svenskt Tennand a collection of Gunnel’s own glass designs sits on a shelf in one corner.

Top class: the stunning garden and exterior of the old building. Photograph: Johan Sellén/Living Inside

“I want to be faithful to the soul of the house and create harmony with it and its surroundings,” Gunnel says.

When she moved in she divided the entrance hall and turned the corridor where the children would hang their clothes into a bathroom. The cupboard, benches and the coat-hanger rail are all still left from when the building was a school. Gunnel is a fan of flea markets and auctions, and some of the items she has collected over the years are displayed here.

The living room sofa is Great Ash by Eilersen and the armchair is an antique dressed by Gunnel. The lamp on the left of the table is one of Gunnel’s designs, as is the vase; the painting is by Tommy Östmar and photograph by Lars Grönwall.

Moments of calm: subdued colors and comfortable sofas in the living room.
Moments of calm: subdued colors and comfortable sofas in the living room. Photograph: Johan Sellén/Living Inside

The color of the kitchen was inspired by one of the school benches left over from the 1890s – Gunnel mixed the color herself. A built-in cupboard is original to the schoolhouse and was also rescued. The new cupboards are from Ikea, although she shortened them by 20cm to fit the space. The table and chairs are antique finds. A stool, also from Ikea, is painted the same blue as the kitchen.

The fantastic garden that surrounds the house is Gunnel’s own creation. When she arrived there was nothing, not even soil, so she patiently planted and built everything, accentuating the contrast between the rough and wild and the restrained and pruned.

“I see the house as something living,” Gunnel says. “Sometimes I take away something or put up something new – it is a way of expressing myself. I surround myself with things that inspire and nourish my work process.”

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