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
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
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
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
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.
"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."