The Danish Sommerhus – Design Series by VOLA

Words by Bronwyn Marshall
Photography by Alex Wilson
Filmmaker Chris Turner & INTERFILM Produktion

As a ritualised immersion in nature, the Danish ‘sommerhus’ is the ultimate sanctuary destination during the warmer months. As part of VOLA’s architecture and design focused platform ‘On Design’, Creative Director of the Utzon Centre, Lasse Andersson, reflects on the ingrained need for the Danes to escape to their summer abodes, the sustainable passing on through generations and their importance as a cultural pilgrimage.

Traditionally, Danes have spent their summers headed to the coast, basking in the long days and cool nights and embracing a collective calm. The architectural typologies that dot the coast are the physical manifestation of that matched state of escape and ingrained connection to the natural world, celebrating a shared embrace of sustainability, passing on from generation to generation, as an integral part of Danish culture. Constructed utilising crafted techniques and traditional methods, these coastal homes are founded on principles of longevity and the shared story through space. In an almost ritualised manner, the masses vacate the city and take occupancy in what is known as their sommerhus. Creative Director of the Utzon Centre, Lasse Andersson, speaks to the creation of coastal sanctuaries and how they shape the Danish summer for so many. The connection between immersion in place and an appreciation of context has then shaped design of the region and the resulting approach that sees the natural, textural and humility of subtleties woven into everyday life so effortlessly, underpinning the VOLA ethos.

The connection between immersion in place and an appreciation of context has then shaped design of the region, and the resulting approach that sees the natural, textural and humility of subtleties woven into everyday life so effortlessly, underpinning the VOLA ethos.

The Danish sommerhus is identified for the modest and reductionist principles from which they are all built. It is about a conscious state of living, consuming and valuing a sense of simplicity, usually in contrast to their more urban residential settings. The importance of sustainability and being able to pass on craft and design through generations underpins the VOLA ethos and encapsulates an effort to design pieces that will last and remain relevant. Lasse describes the importance of the sommerhus for him, saying “the tradition of Danish summer houses goes way back, and it’s about appreciating nature. During the 19th century, people moved to the vast coastal areas during the summertime, in their small cottages. And today we still have that tradition of small houses in close relationship to nature. It’s about a simple life, and it’s something we remember from when we were kids. So, in that sense, it’s a tradition. Being here gives a feeling of togetherness. It evokes new senses, it’s a way of life that we build upon. And to me its related to the good life and also the clarity of thoughts, you get new inspiration. You reset when you enter the summer house, and that’s just perfect to me.”

Similar to the story of VOLA, in the still-relevant designs that are now fifty years old, there is a shared understanding of quality and endurance at the core of Danish design. In 1968, VOLA developed its modular modern tap that still remains a popular selection today, and it is the early recognition of the importance of designing to last that connects to the core Danish principles that the sommerhus is framed around. The emphasis on high quality materials, not responding to trends and instead focussing on a natural and honest approach to materiality and form, has ensured their position as a market leader. Lasse explains, “Danish architecture is influenced by the site you build on, the materials at hand, the people living there and the nature surrounding us. And in a way, that is the perfect combination. That’s the essence of Danish architecture. You have the soft dunes, the sand and it’s all about the closeness to water, the tranquillity and a sense of freedom. Summer houses are about traditional techniques that go back in time, like the use of carpentry, the use of simple stone, and thatching techniques. Natural materials bring you as close to nature as possible.”

Key to the homes is the careful integration and celebration of handcrafted techniques in the construction methodology, offering a connection to the past, while also acting as a reminder of the strength in longevity.

With an emphasis on minimal and considered living, the resulting houses are likewise intelligible and interactive within their natural contexts. Lasse adds, “the interesting thing about summer houses is the restriction in space, and the solution it gives us. Being such a small space forces you to think differently, but it also forces us to design differently. The emphasis on small living in summer houses is influencing how we think in traditional architecture, because now, and in the future, we have to use less space. Sustainability has always been ingrained in the Danish DNA and is brought into our architecture.”

Representing a closeness to nature, the Danish sommerhus is an opportunity for full immersion. It is a principle that connects back to both VOLA and Danish design philosophies of tactility, humility and honest materiality, where a focus on the future and handing down culture is key.