A Norwegian coastal cabin provides a platform for spectacular views
Architect Tommie Wilhelmsen turns constraints into elegance at this new cabin on the Norwegian coast
The Søgne Cabin is a modest structure on a spectacular site. Designed as a weekend retreat for an Oslo-based couple, the 100 sq m coastal cabin had to abide by strict laws restricting excessive development on Norway’s waterfront.
‘My experience is that in 2022, many Norwegians think that 100 m2 is actually a little too small for their dream cabin, a place for extended family and visiting friends,’ says architect Tommie Wilhelmsen, pointing out that there’s a steady stream of coverage of illegal extensions, dodgy dispensations, and code violations along the coast.
‘Instead, we embraced this project and accepted the limitation,’ he continues, ‘The cabin is small, but feels surprisingly large and airy when you are in it. The quality is not about square meters, but in the way it adapts to the landscape and reveals the horizon.’
Set on a slope overlooking an island-strewn bay on Norway’s southern coast, the cabin is built and clad in oak. A new concrete foundation contains a pool and a glass-walled terrace opening off the main living spaces. The bedrooms are contained in a pitched roof structure that is raised up above the rocky landscape on slender concrete columns, while steps lead down to a private bathing platform on the edge of the water.
Wilhelmsen describes the project as an exercise in problem-solving, combining functions and unifying the interior and exterior space so that you never feel constricted by the limited floor area.
‘You walk to this cabin through dense forest and rugged terrain,’ he explains, ‘You go down a steep slope to get to the front door. When you enter, the cabin is like a large stage with the sea and the horizon as a backdrop. Walking through the dark forest and then reaching this open plateau overlooking the sea is a nice little ritual.’
Space-expanding tricks are everywhere, from the tall ceilings to the full-height windows. The architect points out spatial elements like the sofa that’s incorporated into the kitchen island, or the way the four bedrooms have vast glazed windows, so they didn’t appear like small ‘cells’.
Not only was the floor area constrained, by so was the height and angle pitch of the roof. ‘The task was then to draw something beautiful [within these limitations],’ the architect says, ‘But even within these strict and formal requirements, a lot is possible.’
Despite the setting and the scale, Wilhelmsen acknowledges that the cabin comes across as a blend of ‘poetic Scandinavian modernism’ and the more contemporary ‘paradise hotel’, complete with infinity pool and Boffi kitchen. ‘There was a long dialogue with the client about how much white modernism and how much ‘romantic wood’ was going into the project,’ he says.
One of Wilhelmsen’s earliest projects was the Aurland Lookout, a jutting springboard above one of Norway’s deepest fjords. Designed in collaboration with Todd Saunders, it marked the start of what he describes as ‘creating architecture that you can experience the landscape through.’
‘The buildings are like a movie, where I get to direct, take a camera and show the landscape,’ Wilhelmsen says, ‘Many people are concerned that all rooms should have the best view, I am more concerned that all rooms should have different views.’ §