Houzz Tour: Personal warmth in the Swedish 90-year-old villa
The area of Viggbyholm, 20km outside central Stockholm, has the feel of an old seaside resort – mainly because it used to be one. “Before the improvement of roads and building of train lines, this area was out in the countryside,” says Lesley Pennington. “Now it takes just 30 minutes or so to the centre of Stockholm with Roslagsbanan – it’s a charming little railway, even in the winter, when it reminds me slightly of an old ski train.” The house was built in 1926 and the garden is an old apple orchard, that still produces a plentiful harvest. “We have had such a bad conscience about all that fruit for years, there is only so many apple pies you can make (and eat),” says Lesley. “So for the past two seasons we have taken the fruit to an open-to-the-public press in nearby Åkersberga and made apple juice from it instead.”
When the family moved in in 2012, the house was freshly renovated by the previous owners and decorated in neutral hues. “It was like a clean palette waiting to be discovered, with quite a lot of good furniture already here,” says Lesley. “My first thought was that I wanted to take nature into the house in various ways, but I was also inspired by the lovely orange color of the roof tiles. So greens and a burnt, terracotta orange became the leading shades.”Ikea Karlstad sofas covered in Bemz covers. Cushions Bemz and H&M. Table, Hay. Diamond Chair, Harry Bertoia. Bruno Munari floorlight, DesignTorget.
Lesley is originally from Toronto in Canada, but met her Swedish husband Fredrik when they both worked at Apple. The idea behind her company Bemz, that produces and sells personalized textile covers for Ikea sofas, chairs and beds, came about when she was on maternity leave with her daughter. “I was keen to have my own business, but with a degree in Fine Art and Art History it wasn’t a plan to work with textiles. I just bought an Ikea sofa and wanted another cover for it rather than the one it came with. But I couldn’t find anything like that online, so I just thought ‘hey, good business idea’. And sat down and wrote a business plan!”
Lesley started almost from a blank page with the furniture in the house as well, and didn’t bring a lot of stuff with her from the family’s previous home. “I bought quite a lot of recycled furniture, on Blocket and auction sites, like the Bertoia chair in the living room. But I have to watch myself so I don’t get into an obsessive behavior – it’s easy to get pushed over the limit you’ve set yourself.” The table was a big splurge, the Super-Circle by Piet Hein and Bruno Mathsson, but when 10 guests are happily squeezed around it for an animated dinner it’s worth every penny.Antique Chinese cupboard from Blocket. Pendant lamp from Louis Poulsen
Letting the home come together gradually can be quite time-consuming, but as with all things in life, if something is worth waiting for you have to be patient. “This house is our sanctuary, from a hectic world outside. So it’s worth taking time to find out exactly how you want to live in your home, and with what furniture. Otherwise you just end up stuck with furniture that doesn’t work. So if you can use some pieces from previous owners that sit well in the house, all well and good. It’s a like an ecosystem.”The painting ‘Former 1’ is by Kenneth Börjesson.
The giant Chinese glass cabinet was chosen first and foremost for its size, though the rust-red color also fits in perfectly with Lesley’s style. “That was one of the things I had to get used to when I moved to Sweden, how small the rooms were compared to my American and Canadian standards. But it is absolutely the most important thing to consider when buying furniture, the wrong size (too small or too big) can destroy a whole room. So space first, style second.”Inside the cabinet, Lesley stores her treasured glass and crystal, some of it from Orrefors in Småland.
The porch is what Lesley happily calls ‘non-Swedish’. “I love the fact that I’ve created a bit of New England outside Stockholm. We have created several areas for different functions here, there are chairs for a simple morning coffee and a covered living-room area so we can sit outside even when it’s raining.”
Everything is stored below the worktops, on smart shelves, drawers and in cupboards. Lesley doesn’t get much time to cook in the week, but likes to take her time and entertain properly on the weekend. “It’s how I relax. I don’t cook complicated things, but I love seasonal, locally sourced produce – mushrooms in autumn, asparagus in spring, berries in summer…”
The top-floor hang-out zone lies between Zoes and her parents’ bedroom and is the family’s preferred place for Friday movie nights and everyday socializing. It’s also the spot where the Christmas tree takes pride of place every year. “The Söderhamn sofa from Ikea is huge, and I love the fact that it’s modular so you can break it up into two pieces and move it around if you want to talk or play games instead of watch TV.” As Lesley’s company is so closely linked with the Ikea output, does she follow the giant retailer closely? “Absolutely, if they discontinue a product, we need to produce more of those covers as we will be the only place to get a replacement.”
On the upper, glazed balcony the family has uninterrupted views over the waters of Stora Värtan. The circular pendant that fits so well into the space was another ‘leftover’ from the previous owners that Lesley thought it would be a shame to remove. The family also has a summer house in Grisslehamn, about 110km north of Stockholm. Isn’t it tricky to choose which place to be in, during warm summer days? “They are so very different. The place in Grisslehamn is very simple, right by the wild sea and very close to nature – there’s not even a garden to look after.”
14-year-old daughter Zoe’s room differs in colors and mood from the rest of house – something which was fully intentional. “She had very strong opinions on how she wanted it to look,” says Lesley. “She especially chose the colors coral and light blue as a base, and then we worked from there.”Bedskirt and bedcover Bemz. Rug, Ikea. Bedside table, Hay.
The guest bedroom also has great views for visitors to enjoy, indeed the whole house faces the sea – a clear indication it was built as a summer dwelling rather than a winter home, when storms and ice batter the Baltic coastline.The painting ‘Svårt Besked’ ("Bad News") was discovered by Lesley at the annual Spring Salon at Liljevalchs in Stockholm and was painted by the artist Jan Berg.
The bathroom is a perfect mix of careful modernity, with all the mod cons but without feeling cold or clinical. The concrete bathtub was also installed by the previous owners but Lesley couldn’t have chosen a more perfect one for herself. “My style is eclectic, and a mix of modern and classical. I don’t like just one style, I want a more personal home than that.” And there is nobody who can argue that she hasn’t succeeded – beautifully.