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Catarina Lundgren Astrom for The New York Times
BALTIC REFUGE Karin and Steve Trygg bought a cottage on a Swedish island.

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. Map: Skarpo Island




Home Furnishings

Restoration and Rehabilitation


Catarina Lundgren Astrom for The New York Times
PERIOD PIECES A porch with antique country furniture is painted in traditional red and yellow.

Catarina Lundgren Astrom for The New York Times
A staircase inspired by ferries.


Carl Larsson Meets Ralph Lauren


SKARPO, Sweden
WITH Labor Day behind them, Karin and Steve Trygg are preparing to close their summer house. The trek home to Manhattan, though, involves more than fighting traffic on the Long Island Expressway. For them, it means an eight-hour flight from Stockholm to New York, a trip they have taken so many times that Mr. Trygg calls the plane the trans-Atlantic bus.

Born in Sweden, Mr. Trygg, 56, and his wife, 57, have lived in the United States since 1982, when he came to New York to open a branch of a Stockholm advertising agency, Anderson & Lembke. They raised three children in Darien, Conn., and now live in an ultramodern brownstone duplex on the Upper West Side. But when summer rolls around, instead of vacationing on Nantucket or in the Hamptons, the Tryggs head for their country house on Skarpo, a rustic Swedish island about 4,000 miles away.

They did try to find a place a little closer to their year-round home, often visiting Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard. The New England coast "looks similar to the coastal areas of Sweden," Mr. Trygg said. But somehow the simple clapboard cottage they had in mind never materialized. So they settled for their own floating island, a 54-foot motorboat with three cabins. They were as surprised as anyone when in the summer of 1993, while visiting friends and relatives near Stockholm, they impulsively decided to buy a cluster of small wooden waterfront cottages on Skarpo, one of a chain of 25,000 islands that stretches into the Baltic Sea.

Like Nantucket, Skarpo was a fishing village until 100 years ago, when ferries from Stockholm transformed it into a popular summer community for city dwellers in the late 1800's. Here the Tryggs found what they had been looking for in New England: a red-painted wood cottage near the shore (the former laundry of a larger house), and six minuscule outbuildings, including an outhouse. "Karin was in love with the little wood house, and I was in love with the big rock on the water's edge — and the view," said Mr. Trygg, who is now a consultant. They bought the property for about $150,000.

The couple had come back to the land of their birth, but was it home? "Being first-generation immigrants to the States, I think Karin and I will never at heart become true Americans," he said. "On the other hand, we have been away from Sweden for over 20 years, so we no longer feel like Swedes, either. I guess we're foreigners in both the U.S. and Sweden, and prefer to be Swedish foreigners in America than to be American foreigners in Sweden. Call this hybrid nationality if you like."

In the beginning, the Tryggs were content to turn the little red cottage into a retreat with one bedroom, a living room, a kitchen and a bathroom. Mrs. Trygg said it was the summer house she always longed for, close enough to the water for comfortable sleep on warm summer nights and early morning dips in the chilly Baltic.

But for her husband, the cottage was not enough. It did not have sufficient space for visiting family members and their own three children, Tobias, now 31, an art director who lives in Darien; Jenny, 27, who lives in Stockholm; and Charlie, 22, a college student in the United States. And Mr. Trygg wanted to be involved in an architectural project. "It was my dream to build a real house," he said. In 1997, he got his wish when a two-acre property next door became available. The property's centerpiece was an old wood house built in the National Romantic style of the early 1900's, a form of art nouveau, and much of its decorative exterior detailing had Viking-inspired motifs. But indoors, what might seem charming to Swedes was less appealing to a couple who had spent decades in the United States.

The Tryggs wanted amenities not usually found in old Swedish country houses, most of which have been lovingly restored but not extensively modernized or even plumbed. They didn't miss paved roads or cheek-by-jowl neighbors, but they felt a need for a heated garage for two cars; spacious bathrooms with showers and tubs; and a kitchen with a center island and a ceiling-hung pot rack. So after buying the second parcel for about $225,000, the Tryggs embarked on a major renovation project with Bjorn Greitz, an architect who lives and works on the neighboring island of Vaxholm.

"It was a challenge to work on a multicultural project," Mr. Greitz said. "I knew a lot about traditional Swedish houses but I have never lived or worked in America."

The renovation cost $800,000 — more than twice the price of the two properties — and it blends the best of modern American conveniences with folksy Swedish details.

"The bathrooms were important," Mr. Greitz said. "It was funny because there wasn't enough height in one of the bathrooms for an American shower, so we installed a low one with a tile easy chair so you can sit and soap your toes."

To retain the house's period looks, the Tryggs replicated the detailing on the exterior of an addition that expanded the living area to 2,465 square feet, twice its original size. Those details, comparable to Victorian gingerbread fretwork in America, were also adapted for the kitchen cabinetry and the living room bookshelves. But the doors and windows are finished with the square-cornered wood moldings common to New England rather than the mitered style typical of Sweden.

They joke that the house's dιcor is "Carl Larsson meets Ralph Lauren." Most of the antique and vintage Swedish country furniture in the house is from Mrs. Trygg's family; she herself wove all the rugs and blankets. The old copper cooking pots are from island yard sales, and Mr. Trygg bought seven tall ceramic tile stoves to heat the house from a local man whose barn was full of them. The pot rack in the kitchen, however, came from farther afield: Williams-Sonoma. "We schlepped it on the plane with us from New York," Mr. Trygg said.

An important part of the architectural overhaul was the construction of a dining pavilion along a boardwalk that leads from the house, high up in the woods, to the dock below, where their motorboat, complete with an American tuna tower, is tied up.

"In Swedish, a building like this would be called a pleasure house, a building that you would entertain in, eat and drink," Mr. Trygg said. The new dining pavilion is an oval-shaped wood building, painted red and yellow, both traditional colors in this part of the country. But borrowing from the summer houses of Nantucket, it has a large wood plank deck and American lounge chairs. Once the building was finished, the Tryggs realized that they had not thought about how food, drink and kitchenware would be transported from and to the main house. The solution was simple: a secondhand baby carriage purchased on the island.

Another space that blends New England with Skarpo is the new tower room in the main house. Tower rooms, a typical feature of Swedish seaside homes, are like American widow's walks, only with windows on all sides. Historically they were used as lookouts to check the weather and sea conditions, as well as to watch passing ships.

With that past in mind, Mr. Greitz and Mr. Trygg decided to make it seem as much like a boat as possible. For structural reasons it had to have a double floor; so as not to waste space and to continue the nautical effect, they dropped a cooler into the floor for beers. But it was the tower staircase that presented the biggest design conflict. The architect wanted to design something very plain; Mr. Trygg resisted.

"One day Steve called from the ferry," Mr. Greitz said. "He said, `Here it is! The yellow metal railing on the ferry. This is it.' " So now ship-spotters and cloud-checkers climb to the tower room using stairs modeled after those on Swedish ferries.

The Tryggs also often carried fittings they liked from the United States in their carry-on luggage — bathroom faucets, for instance. Mrs. Trygg cradled a ceramic bathroom sink on her lap on one flight. But nearly everything else about the renovation, which took 12 months to complete, was local, from the materials to the laborers. "It's my philosophy to use local workmen," Mr. Greitz said. "They are not always the most qualified, but they have the interest."

Long-distance construction is not for everyone, but Mr. Trygg was not too concerned. "I wasn't anxious even though I wanted to be involved in every decision. I was there every six weeks for five days," he said. At other times he, the architect and the contractor communicated by phone and fax. Money was wired automatically each week so workers could be paid on Fridays. Only once did the money not arrive as scheduled — there had been a two-day delay — resulting in a note in the mail from the contractor that said, "Luke 14:28-30." When Mr. Trygg looked up the Bible reference, he found an admonishment. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish."

Otherwise everything went smoothly. Mr. Trygg has only one regret: that he didn't install central air-conditioning for the occasional heat wave.

"It's an unknown feature in Swedish homes," he said, "but one I surely miss on hot summer days."

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