Tuesday, August 28, 2007


There are a number of things to deal with when building a home on an island. The things that make island living so nice-- the remoteness, the unspoiled landscape, the lack of mechanisation, the sense of community-- also make the act of building a bit more complicated.

Aspö has electricity and phone service, and fresh water within easy drilling. It has regular boat and mail service, and trash is picked up in the summers. There's even a local grocery who will deliver to your dock!

The one thing it doesn't have is any type of sewage system. This means all toilets have to be self-contained. The good news is there are many types of composting toilets to choose from. The bad news is that there are many types, and everyone I've spoken to has their own favourite!

Stay tuned for a bit more information in coming posts about the pros and cons of various toilet technologies. I bet you can't wait...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Drawings Pt. 2

This is a close-up of the land drawing from Stefan's files in the previous post. As I said before, this is the one item that's still unresolved for me. I really need to go back to Aspö and have another very good study so I can visualise it.

I spoke to Rutger yesterday, and he's up for going out with me one weekend (probably October 6) for some detailed measuring and clearing. He has a chain saw he's itching to use. In fact, he said he was ready for an "Aspö Chainsaw Massacre". No wonder we get along...


Stefan has had the latest drawings done for our planning permission. It's a 4-page PDF you can see here.

Janne is going to attach these to the application to Värmdö. He's making a drawing for the application that shows where the waste water goes (from the sinks and shower, not the toilet. That's a whole other story). Thank goodness for Janne!

The image in this post is my drawing of the interior (click for a larger version). I coloured the deck green and the windows blue, it helped me visualise better. It shows clearly that about a third of the house's footprint is outside, which is just what we want. We're also going to keep the kitchen as open as we can; that little box in the kitchen ("kök") represents a low island rather than the tall green pillar in the show house.

Friday, August 24, 2007


I have avoided keeping a general blog because I have a wide range of interests (perhaps too wide), and I foresaw myself blogging obsessively about English football, giant squids, flux capacitors, bridge inspections, iPod rumours, etc.

Focusing on our house is a good way to keep it under control for both me and you. But I still have a jones to write about random things, so here's my solution. I will make a list of topics that strike my fancy on the left of this blog. If any topic generates interest enough from the readership through the comments, I'll make a post on it. If not, my itch will have been scratched and little time will have been wasted for all of us.

How's that?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I really like modern design. When I was a young man, I saw an exhibition at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis about the Rietveld- Schroder house in Utrecht. (I wasn't a very exciting teenager, I'll admit. Spent most of high school in the AV club). Anyways, at the time Utrecht was for me about as far away as the moon. But I joined American Airlines, married a girl who liked to travel, and long story short, we went to Utrecht together in 1996 and toured the house. That was really cool.

Since then, we've visited the Barcelona Pavilion, the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, and Fallingwater. My favourite was when Sooz arranged for us to stay in Room 606 at the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. It is ironic that I live in a land of castles and manor houses, yet prefer the kind of architecture that gives Prince Charles heartburn!

Going ahead with our summer house, it struck me (us, really) that we could kill two birds with one stone: have a modern house and in one of our favourite places. I'm not too worried about getting the planning permission for a modern house; our land is inland, and the authorities worry a lot more about the look of waterfront building. Plus it is a Swedish house, and although the design isn't traditional, the materials and construction are. And it's not that big and it won't be a funky colour. (Hmm, maybe I am a little worried!)

I will be happier, though, when the Värmdö Kommun gives us the full go-ahead. Not only can we get the well drilled and the electricity ordered, but that little design uncertainty will be gone. Janne is finishing the paperwork and sending it all in soon. It'll take a few months to get the decision, but we do have lots of time.

The X-House

Here's the house we are planning to build. It is called an "X-House". It's made in northern Sweden, the town of Fränsta to be precise.

Many homes in Sweden, especially summer homes, have a traditional design and use traditional colours. You can see a good example of that kind of house here. We want to do something more modern, so the X-House was a great option for us. It is a solid timber house, made by a local company, with an open interior plan and a great glass transition from the front of the house to the outdoors.

On our last visit to Stockholm, we visited the model and took a number of photos. You can get a good sense of our house from seeing those photos here. Because the great wood beams are fabricated and cut to order like giant Legos, you can order whatever you like and have a big 'ol kit, all numbered and wrapped, sent to the destination of your choice to put it together.

We've chosen two of their models, the main house is the "Selma", which is about 60 square meters. We've added a bit to its length and made a few other modifications. The second is their small "Clara" house, 18 square meters. We plan to use that as a shed/guest house. The main house will have two bedrooms, and we'll put at least a couple of beds in the little house, too. That way another family can visit and have some space and privacy.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A tiny digression

I have always thought, should I end up stranded like Gilligan and his fellow castaways, that in the group I would play the role of the Professor, making bamboo radios and the like.

I have recently come to the realisation, however, that should I be stranded today, I am much more likely to play the role of Mr. Howell.


The slice of land itself

First off, it's not on the water; we couldn't afford that, even if such a property came available, and they usually don't. These are really family homes and as such they get handed down from one generation to another. So we're inland. You can see it as the greenish wedge on the image attached.

The long back edge parallels the electricity line that runs through the island. It's fairly grassy and meadowy back there. Going towards the sharper point of the perimiter, facing the water, it's essentially a big piece of granite. That's perfect. We're going to put a set of foundation pilings right on the rock. (Well, Janne will, to be precise.) The house will sit on top of those. You can see a panoramic image of the land in the link section.

One big open issue is exactly how we will orient the house on the land. We have a number of sometimes-conflicting concerns:
1. We want to have maximum sunshine
2. We want to have the best view of the forest below
3. The more the house sets on the granite, the easier it is to build
4. It needs to be 4.5 meters from the edge of the property line
5. We're also going to build a small guest house, so the relationship between the two houses needs to be considered

In our visit in early August, we set out the orientation as best we could. I think it's pretty close, but not yet there 100%. There needs to be more visits, measurements, and decision-making before Janne starts drilling the pilings!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The island

Here's some scoop on where we are planning to build.

The island is called Aspö. In Swedish, "ö" means "island". An 'asp' is not a snake in Swedish (more on that later) but rather an aspen tree. There are about 70 homes on Aspö and around 85 total places to build. There are no roads, or vehicles (except Janne's ATV but he gets to have that because he is a resident and a builder.) There is a path around the island which is about 1.3 miles around, according to my Nike+ and iPod. There is electricity and phone service (although everyone has a mobile these days). Fresh water is provided by private wells dug through the rock to the freshwater below. There is no sewage, so each home has a self-contained toilet of some description (much more on that subject in following posts).

Access to the island is through two main boat lines. First is the Waxholm boat which is a big ship and makes a couple stops a day to the main dock at the south end of the island on its way through the archipelago. There are also smaller scheduled taxi boats that will essentially stop at the dock of choice on their runs to a handful of islands. In the summer, access is pretty easy. In the winter, it's a lot harder, but then again, not too many people winter over on the outer islands. All boats leave from Stavsnas, which is about 45 minutes south of Stockholm by bus. The taxi boats are timed to the bus arrivals, so you have to hoof it off the bus straight onto the taxi. (The stampede is kind of fun to watch if you're not part of it, schlepping your 3-liter boxes of wine, plus Lord knows what-all, onto the boat!) We've left Margaret and Janne's flat at 0745 and been on Aspö at 0915. No time to dally on that journey, though, it's train to bus to boat to ö, bam, bam, bam.

If you want to check out Google maps to see the island, the link is on the left of this blog under 'relevant links'.

Cast of Characters

We'll be mentioning these people a lot of the coming posts, so I think it's best to list just who's who.

1. Janne and Margaret: They're really the key people for our project. Sooz and Margaret used to work together in Stockholm back in the day and became fast friends. Margaret is a New Yorker through and through (Long Islander, really), and the two girls share the same birthday. She moved to Sweden many years ago and found the wonderful Stockholmer Janne. Margaret opened her own bookstore (www.newyorkstories.se) about a year ago. Marg has a son, Callan, who is a pretty cool customer, he combines the best of Swedish and American culture. Janne is a sailor and builder, a man of much experience, charm, strength and many skills, who spends most of his time on the island of Aspö, which coincidentally is where we're going to build our house! Janne is going to provide us a lot of help getting the planning permissions, making the foundations, and in general keeping an eye on us. We couldn't realistically do this without Janne.

2. Marcia and Rutger: Sooz also worked with Marcia back in the day and the four of us have been good friends since. Marcia is Dutch, very stylish, good with languages, and pleasure to be with. Rutger is a Swede, very practical, very funny, and a well-traveled guy. They have two exceptional children, Tim and Camille.

3. Stefan is the man from company who's providing our house. He has been really helpful in dealing with a barrage of emails from a bunch of pushy Americans. He even cut his holiday short to come into Stockholm to meet with us.

4. Janne W. (we'll call him Willi to avoid confusion) is the strapping builder we've met, whom we intend to come to the island to help put our house together.

5. Ann and Dave: Ann is Margaret's sister, who has a house on the island as well. Dave is her handsome husband (so say the girls). They're important not only for their hard-won advice, but also their generosity, as they've let us stay at their house as we visit the island and make preparations to build.

6. Tony and Ann-Catrin are the landowners on Aspö from whom we are buying our land. He and his family have been fantastically accommodating to us American interlopers!

OK, here's the deal

Sooz and I lived in Stockholm for nearly three years, 1989-1991. We made a lot of good friends there, and we've visited Sweden almost every year since. Of all the places we've lived, we all feel a stronger connection to Sweden than anywhere else.

One thing most Swedish families have is some sort of a fritidshus, or summer house, out in the country, or on an island in the Swedish archipelago. We've stayed at a few with our friends, and always had a great time. It's long been a fantasy of ours to have something like that of our own, a place in Sweden that we can always go to, no matter where work takes us.

Recently, we've found a little plot of land, and the timing was right to start working on our little fantasy and make it a reality. We'll be posting over the upcoming months, detailing what we'll be doing to build our little island summer house.

Comments, ideas, words of encouragement, or words of warning, all will be welcomed!