Around the kitchen table of Anne Marie and Henrik’s home in Skanderborg there are sky-high ceilings and uninterrupted views across undulating fields and forests all the way to Himmelbjerget, Denmark’s famous hill. On a hilltop 110 metres above sea level, the couple have built a country house that was designed by an architect with room to take your time – time for eating, family, nature and time for living.
If you were about to build your dream home today, what would it look like? It’s likely that many of us would describe a home that does not necessarily resemble the one in which we currently live. Our needs, dreams and desires for everyday life change over time – a fact Anne Marie and Henrik Smit were very much aware of when they were about to create a new home together a couple of years ago.
“We were both approaching 50, we no longer had children living at home and we didn’t have to look for neighbourhoods with walking routes to schools and so on any more. So we looked at one another and asked ourselves, what recharges our batteries and brings us joy? We wanted light, air, nature, space and room to bring our own dreams to life,” explains Anne Marie.
The couple decided to look for beautiful, rural surroundings to build their new house in and, after a prolonged search, they eventually turned down a small country road near Skanderborg and drove all the way to the top of a hill, where they were faced with magnificent views over forests and fields, with Himmelbjerget on the horizon.
“It was one of those beautiful September days when everything was still green, the autumn air was warm and not all the crops had yet been harvested. The plot is situated 110 metres above sea level and it’s rare to find a location where you can look out so far across the horizon without seeing any buildings. We were completely sold,” says Anne Marie, and explains that neither she nor Henrik had given much thought to what sort of home they wanted to build, just that it had to be built here.
Himmelbjerget on the horizon
“Initially, our inspiration was the location, so we sat down and described ourselves as people, rather than sitting down to draw a house. The everyday pleasures we care about, such as how we spend a lot of time in the kitchen, enjoy welcoming guests and cooking tasty food. The fact that we enjoy nature, that Henrik likes to hunt – everything that described us. We figured that these would be the things that would be crucial to the architect, rather than a fixed idea of how the house needed to look.”
Architect Rasmus Bak met the couple out at the plot on a rainy day later that autumn. Together, they took a walk around the old, run-down rural property that still stood on the plot, they trawled through the fields and down to the edge of the forest, all the while discussing possibilities and dreams.
“We created the very basic outline that day and did not even think about more specific plans for materials and building types. The architect used the expression ‘modern farmhouse’ and I remember thinking that he wasn’t referring to a farmhouse with three wings – but that’s what he came up with: a traditional ranch-style house. It has a very classic appearance, but he’s still managed to update it in a completely modern way that makes it both simple and exclusive.
“Anne Marie and Henrik had a great desire to get closer to nature and we used that as a springboard to add some magic to the very simplified and sober farmhouse that we designed for them. By creating such a streamlined house, we have also achieved something very refined, elegant and fascinating. The composition resembles what we have seen before – reflected by the rural surroundings – and the materials add soul to the architecture using cedar wood mouldings, zinc and brick, which all interact with one another. We wanted to create a home with no expiry date and I think we have achieved exactly that. The house is so low-key that it is the surrounding rapeseed fields that you end up remembering,” explains architect Rasmus Bak.
Anne Marie and Henrik chose an iconic Form 1 kitchen island in smoked oak, bringing natural materials inside. “The kitchen must be able to claim this vast space and offset the huge fireplace we have and it manages to do just that. The kitchen fills the space up without taking over. The kitchen is exactly what was needed to create balance,” explains Anne Marie. The rear wall in the kitchen has been fitted with open shelves housing the couple’s pots and pans and kitchen equipment. It is reminiscent of the informal layouts in traditional country kitchens without compromising the clean lines that Anne Marie and Henrik prefer.
Anne Marie and Henrik’s three-winged country house on the hilltop currently creates a strong impression against the blue sky. From the main part of the house you have far-reaching views outside as well as inside the house. The wings consists of a garage and an orangery that have been dimensioned in proportion, ensuring that the house is symmetrical and meaning that the couple have ended up with a lovely courtyard that also shields the buildings from wind and weather.
“What is incredible is that the interior and the exterior flow together and we have complete views throughout the 60 square metre open plan kitchen/living space, surrounded by fields and forests. The interior is completely exposed to the outside, but no one looks in as there are no neighbours, which is why we would never have been able to build such a house in a more built-up area. You can be generous when it comes to opening a home up to nature when you are in a location like this. This is why we have also installed an outdoor shower with hot water. I think it’s fantastic to stand under the shower in the sunshine, listening to the larks singing,” Anne Marie explains, before continuing:
“When you move into a house like this, surrounded by so much sky and nature, you realise just how the sun moves across the sky and you see the stars so much more clearly than ever before. Deer walk in front of our windows and there are red kites flying above the fields, to mention just a couple of the natural phenomena that we now experience up close. Every day we say to one another: “Look how beautiful the sky is.” The sun has always come up and gone down, as it does, but never before have we experienced it the way we do now.”