The Simple Things - - NEST | HOME TOUR - Words & pho­tog­ra­phy: MARIANNE WIE

In­her­it­ing a patch of land by a lake (com­plete with a boathouse and for­est) is the stuff of dreams. Of course, with in­her­i­tance comes re­spon­si­bil­ity, as Helge Birkeland and Elis­a­beth Irgens found out 17 years ago when they took on part of Helge’s mother’s farm in Lep­søy, Nor­way. De­ter­mined to do jus­tice to the beauty of the place on a lim­ited bud­get, Helge and Elis­a­beth had to be re­source­ful. “Build­ing with found or used ma­te­ri­als started as a nec­ces­sity as we didn’t have any money. Later it be­came a plea­sure, ” says Elis­a­beth. For­tu­nately, Elis­a­beth trained as an in­te­rior ar­chi­tect, and Helge’s fa­ther was a wood­work teacher and boat builder, on hand to teach them the tricks of his trade.


At first, the cou­ple and their three chil­dren lived 40 min­utes away, vis­it­ing the boathouse ev­ery week­end. They rigged up a ba­sic kitchen, and em­braced a rus­tic way of life. “We have lovely mem­o­ries from that time,” says Elis­a­beth. “The chil­dren rowed to nearby bays and ex­changed used bot­tles for ice­cream, and in the evenings, we sat at the water’s edge and bar­be­cued sausages.”

A few years later, with a lit­tle more money in the bank, Helge bought a de­lap­i­dated Nor­we­gian tim­ber house that sat 500m away from the boathouse for 30,000 Nor­we­gian krone (about £3,000). They de­cided to move there and use the boathouse for stor­age and as a guest bed­room.

They orig­i­nally thought that lit­tle of the fab­ric of the build­ing, apart from the slate roof tiles, could be saved, and be­gan to dis­man­tle it. As they did so, they realised that the tim­ber was still in good shape but in­fected with mites. A visit to a nearby aban­doned fish farm pro­vided a so­lu­tion: the wood was taken there and frozen to -25C, and the mites elim­i­nated.

Other prob­lems pre­sented them­selves: the win­dows had to be re­placed (Helge found some old glass that did the trick) and there was no run­ning »

water in the cabin so two 1,200-litre con­tain­ers were in­stalled to col­lect rain­wa­ter. Lack of elec­tric­ity meant that two wood-burn­ing stoves were es­sen­tial for both heat­ing and hygge. The ex­te­rior was re­clad with tim­ber, and pine trees cut down to al­low ac­cess to the prop­erty were used as floor­planks. For­tu­nately, Helge’s fa­ther stepped in to help out with the carpentry: “With­out him, this project would have been im­pos­si­ble,” says Elis­a­beth.


“It’s be­come our shared art-project, and has brought us closer to­gether,” says Elis­a­beth. It’s also be­come a place for fam­ily and friends to gather. “In sum­mer, we have a big party so every­one can en­joy the cabin and the lake,” says Elis­a­beth. “The next day, they all pitch in and help with any out­stand­ing projects.”

Mostly, the cabin is a place for Helge and Elis­a­beth to ap­pre­ci­ate the world they have cre­ated. Elis­a­beth says: “Our favourite thing is still sit­ting around a bon­fire, talk­ing, and bar­be­cu­ing sausages.”

From far left: the cou­ple both en­joy boat­ing. Their kayaks and boats are made by Helge’s fa­ther; the legs for the din­ing room ta­ble were do­nated by a neigh­bour and Helge’s ever-use­ful fa­ther made the ta­ble top to fit; one of Elis­a­beth’s art­works de­pict­ing an ado­les­cent boy in search of him­self

From left: the cou­ple has used dif­fer­ent paint tech­niques on the doors and frames, mak­ing each a work of art in it­self; the fam­ily en­joy us­ing the many out­door seat­ing areas; the at­tic has two bed­rooms, one of which is of­ten used as a large dorm to ac­com­mo­date friends for par­ties

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