This ski retreat in Kvitfjell, Norway was designed by its architect-homeowners to blend into the surrounding natural landscape. Here, we discover how a shared love of the mountains and their architectural expertise led to the construction of this holiday home.
Having a holiday home tucked away in the mountains is a dream for many, and for architects Casper and Lexie Mork-Ulnes, it became a reality when they decided to design and build a family retreat themselves in Kvitfjell, Norway. Inspired by a shared love of the mountains, snow and skiing, they selected a 2,000sqm site located 943 metres above sea level in the west of Kvitfjell, which means White Mountain in Norwegian.
The home, which offers sweeping views of the valley and river below, was designed to be an unobtrusive as possible. The couple’s building and design decisions were largely influenced by the surrounding landscape and regional historic architecture, as well as their own up-close encounter with the local wildlife. While they were camping there to familiarise themselves with the site, they were unexpectedly greeted one morning by the sight of sheep and cows surrounding their tent – an experience that would shape the very foundation of the house.
It resulted in Casper and Lexie’s decision to raise the house 1.5 metres above the ground on a total of forty-five cross-laminated timber legs, so that there would be minimal disruption to the natural terrain and the cattle’s grazing area. “The land had a pathway that the animals used to cross and access the steep hillside below, which is still the path to the house. Now the sheep stand under the house in the summer months to protect themselves from the weather,” shares Lexie. The stilts have the added functionality of preventing the house from being snowed in during even the most severe of winter, and offer an elevated viewing platform that overlooks the valley.
The accessibility of the house means that the family can fully embrace the outdoors lifestyle they love. Between the colder months of November and April, going to the market is a simple matter of putting on their skis and heading downhill. When the weather is clearer, the summit of the mountain is a short 20-minute hike away, offering not only breathtaking views but also hidden streams where they can fish and swim.
The exterior of the home was designed to blend in with the surrounding rugged landscape and forested vegetation. As a nod to rural architecture, the structure is clad in skigard, 3-metre long quarter-cut logs that are traditionally used by Norwegian farmers for fencing. During winter, snowfall builds up in the gaps between the logs, creating a softer silhouette reminiscent of tree branches laden with snow. The grass top of the cabin also alludes to traditional sod roofs, a common sight on rural log houses in Scandinavia until the late 19th century.
“We took great care in studying the rural vernacular and analyzing local building typologies as we wanted to fully understand what their forms accomplished functionally and how they shaped the local architectural culture,” says Casper.
Inside, the space is kept minimal in order not to distract from the view. Light, smooth pine paneling runs all the way around the house, creating an understated look that simultaneously soothes the senses and frames the ever-changing outside scenery through the generous glass walls. The warm wood tones are complemented by other neutrals like grays and the occasional pastel, so nothing jars the eye.
“We were hesitant to have any non-wood materials exposed, so the shower walls and floors, toilet flush plates, ventilation plates, and even the refrigerator handles were crafted from either Furu or Norwegian pine. The sauna is clad in Osp, which is a type of Aspen wood,” says Lexie. With all the pine, even the interior of the house itself smells like the forest it stands next to, bringing in the outdoors in a whole new way.
Opting to keep the structure itself simple, the couple built a main dwelling and guest annexe in the 144sqm cabin, both separated by a veranda. The focal point of the home is the great room, a communal space which houses the kitchen, lounge, and dining area. Here, the two six-metre glass walls steal the show, offering panoramic views of the valley on one side and the woods on the other.
The intimate scale of the interior works to its favour, cocooning the family in the space and providing a counterpoint to the vastness of the valley stretching below them. Designed not to dominate the natural surroundings, but rather to blend into them, the cabin is truly a part of the landscape itself.