Life Lessons: A Swedish School Becomes a Glorious New Home | Interiors
In 1998, designer and artist Gunnel Sahlin was looking for a summer house. But when she entered a former school building on a hilltop overlooking the pastoral landscape of Sörmland, a beautiful place 120 km southwest of Stockholm, it became clear that it would be more than that. The light and the surroundings tempted her so much that after buying the building, she decided to make it her permanent home.
As she walks into what used to be the school’s main hall but is now her studio, she spreads her arms and says, “And that’s why I bought it.” What is immediately striking is the light flooded in by the large windows. It’s always light, no matter what the weather, she says. Two large tables on either side of the room provide ample space for various design projects by Sahlin, for Ikea, among others. The worn floor, painted gray, shows the dents and marks left by many years of school children going in and out for lessons.
The studio is spacious enough to accommodate a guest bed. Next to the bed is a rocking chair made by Gunnel’s great-grandmother, a cabinetmaker, in the 19th century. The cushion, designed by Josef Frank, is by Svenskt Tenn, and a collection of Gunnel’s glass creations sits on a shelf in one corner.
“I want to be true to the soul of the house and create harmony with it and its surroundings,” says Gunnel.
When she moved in, she divided the entrance hall and transformed the hallway where the children hung their clothes into a bathroom. The wardrobe, benches and clothes rail still date back to when the building was a school. Gunnel is a fan of flea markets and auctions, and some of the items she’s collected over the years are on display here.
The living room sofa is Great Ash by Eilersen and the armchair is an antique dressed by Gunnel. The lamp to the left of the table is one of Gunnel’s creations, as is the vase; the painting is by Tommy Östmar and the photography by Lars Grönwall.
The kitchen color was inspired by one of the school desks left over from the 1890s – Gunnel mixed the color herself. A built-in closet is original to the school and has also been salvaged. The new cupboards come from Ikea, although they have 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 dirt, so she patiently planted and built everything, accentuating the contrast between the raw and wild and the sober and trimmed.
“I see the house as something alive,” says Gunnel. “Sometimes I remove something or install something new – it’s a way of expressing myself. I surround myself with things that inspire and nourish my working process.