FAR AWAY IN A LAND OF LAKES AND MOUNTAINS, ONE COUPLE TURNED TWO FORLORN AND FORGOTTEN WOODEN BUILDINGS INTO A RELAXED, UNCLUTTERED FAMILY HOME
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