Sustainable & transparent for mum & dad

ARTICLE Just outside Bollnäs, architect Hanna Michelson has created a new take on the traditional Hälsingland farmhouse, built in heartwood pine with recycled glass foundations. The house is designed around a library and comprises four connected sections joined with extreme precision.

High on a hill with amazing views of Voxsjön lake, just south of Bollnäs, stands Lena and Staffan Michelson’s new take on the Hälsingland farmhouse – or the »library house« as project manager Anders Jonsson chooses to call it. This is because the house draws on two basic inspirations: the local farmhouses of Hälsingland, with their UNESCO World Heritage listing, and the idea of making the library the backbone of the home.

It all began with the Michelsons wanting to pass on their existing house on the plot to the next generation and move into a more practical home on one level. The wishlist included a studio for artist Lena and a combined study and music room for Staffan, who is a lawyer and writer. The house also had to have a separate sleeping section and a kitchen section with a greenhouse. Another central factor was that the couple wanted to bring their extensive and ever-growing library from their apartment in Stockholm, which was beginning to run out of space.

»It was this very specific brief from them for clearly defined functions that prompted the idea of building a kind of Hälsingland farmhouse, with four different volumes around a shared courtyard. I really love those reassuring spaces between the buildings, defined by walls but still open to the skies above. But rather than the traditional format of freestanding buildings, I wanted to unite the four elements in a single house,« explains Hanna Michelson, architect at Fria Folket and daughter of the two clients.

The library like a common thread through the house

She decided at an early stage to make the library run like a common thread through the house. A further decision was to stick with her parents’ existing set of Billy bookcases.

»The initial temptation was to have everything custombuilt. But as all the books were already packed in these bookcases, and we had them but not the house, I thought I might as well design everything around them. So the ceiling height and the location of the doors are defined by them,« says Hanna Michelson.

To get all the bookcases in without losing too much light, she placed them along the back wall in the square gallery that runs around the courtyard. However, the opposite wall looking onto the courtyard is entirely glazed to create transparency and light.

»The idea behind this transparency is that my parents can see and feel close to each other, while at the same time being able to work separately when they need to,« continues Hanna.

While the ceiling height in the studios and kitchen rises to 4.3 metres, it is only 2.4 metres in the gallery.

»It felt important to have this more intimate space around the courtyard, not least to emphasise the sense of the library gallery being more part of the garden. I could have put a pitched roof over everything, but that would have provided direct access to the different rooms. Instead, you need to take a step to the side to reach them, which helps to clearly define the different functions.«

Sustainable solutions

Another factor shaping the design of the house was the desire for solutions that are as sustainable as possible, which prompted Hanna to choose recycled glass for the foundations instead of concrete, for example. This raised the challenge that the ground beneath had to be level to the millimetre to avoid problems with things warping or splitting.

»Although it took much longer and was one reason why the house ended up being more expensive than our initial budget, at around SEK 8–9 million instead of SEK 6–7 million, we think it was worth it,« comments Staffan Michelson.

Because this type of foundation doesn’t take point loads in the same way, Hanna Michelson also had to redesign the structural frame. Instead of the simple post and beam solution she initially planned, she tasked the outer walls with channelling and spreading the loads. This is also true of the glazed sections in the courtyard, where the roof beams rest directly on the load-bearing pine window frames, although for a different reason.

Architect Hanna Michelson

»It also allowed me to slim down the structural height of the lower section and achieve the lightness I wanted for the design. To me, this fits in well with the principle that a »component should be able to perform multiple functions,« says Hanna.

Here the local window manufacturer has used silicontreated pine, but otherwise the wall elements are a combination of spruce studs and untreated heartwood pine cladding – another sustainable feature.

»The benefit of heartwood pine is that it contains natural preservatives, so it doesn’t require painting or oiling. If you look at a cut log, you can see that it has heartwood in the centre and sapwood around the outside, and it’s that outer wood that sucks up the water for the tree. We’re using this middle bit, which is already dead and has begun to develop resins and natural anti-mould properties. I’ve worked on shingle church roofs for many years, and there we can see that the shingles made of heartwood pine are still sound after 200 years, while the ones made from other parts of the tree have rotted away,« states Anders Jonsson.

In this case, the roof is clad in aluzinc. The different roof heights have made the whole thing a geometric puzzle, with roof pitches that vary between 12, 28 and 45 degrees. To avoid plastic and trapping moisture in the walls, they have been made breathable and lined with flax fibre insulation. The heating relies on a ground source system and waterborne underfloor heating – with stoves for cosiness and as a backup in the event of a power outage.

»The low library section provides all the rooms with ventilation. Dad’s room has extra insulation and an automatic door threshold seal that engages when you close the door. This stops sound escaping when he’s playing an instrument It also means that you can lower the temperature there if you want to downsize and not use the whole house,« explains Hanna Michelson.

A further sustainable feature is that rainwater from the roof and gutters is collected in a buried tank, connected to a tap in the greenhouse. The solution also makes it possible to manage and recycle the meltwater from the winter snow in the courtyard.

A strong sense of goodarchitecture

Groundwork began in the summer of 2021, and the actual foundations were laid in September of that year. Late autumn and winter were spent prefabricating the wall elements in a rented warehouse space. Since the building was going to be put together bit by bit, with the four different volumes linked to each other, extreme precision was needed to ultimately make everything fit, but it all went extremely well.

»All the trades involved have done an outstanding job and helped to make the end result so good. I often say that if you take care early on and spend 10–15 percent extra time on everything, you’ll save that time by not needing to correct all sorts of things afterwards,« says Anders Jonsson.

A good example of this was when the first gable was being made and Anders arrived after it was nailed together.

»I said we would have to junk this section because we can’t have nails, they look awful. After that, we screwed everything in a way that kept the screws hidden. This set the bar for the standard of the finish, and from that day on we applied the same thinking, with meticulous accuracy in everything.«

The house was finally completed in September 2022.

»We’re so incredibly happy. There’s a strong sense of good architecture, not just in the smart look, but also the layout. It’s also great to be employing this tradition of wood and a breathable structure that creates such a pleasant indoor climate. At the moment we still live in Stockholm, but we’ve been to the house many times since it was finished. So it now looks like we’ll be moving to Bollnäs instead,« concludes Staffan Michelson.

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