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A Traditional Swedish Log Cabin Encased In A Green House Allows A Family To Live A Self-Sustaining Lifestyle

Inspired by the ideas of eco-architect Bengt Warne, Anders Solvarm shows his Naturhus via AppleTV’s docu-series, Home

AppleTV just released Homes, a documentary series on uniquely inventive homes around the world. It takes viewers from Sweden to Chicago, Bali, India, Hong Kong, Malibu, Austin, Maine and Mexico.  Unlike most in its genre, this is not a decorating or a DIY show meant to improve the home from the surface.  This show also delves into the lives of the homes’ dwellers and the rich stories that built them, offering perfect quarantine content.  "I don’t want this series to be something viewers would watch and just think, 'Oh, that’s nice but I can’t have that. I don’t live in Sweden, or I don’t have money, or I’m not an architect.  I want the opposite. I want people to think, 'You know, maybe we could do that in our house to a small degree. Maybe we could put plants on our balcony in Brooklyn; maybe we can’t put a greenhouse around it, but we could get the benefit of these plants. Maybe we can recycle our gray water,” Doug Pray, the show’s director and executive producer tells House Beautiful

The first home featured is Naturhus by Anders Solvarm in Sweden.  In a nut shell, the home is a traditional log house encased in a glass house.  The glass house protects the log house from the harsh Swedish weather, all while providing the family with a Mediterranean climate within the glass house, making it more suitable for planting fruits and vegetables.  “Space in between log house and green house is not as cold as outside.  Because of that, the growing season is longer.  That’s the most important thing… [there is] a longer summer,” says Anders Solvarm, the father of the family who lives in the home and the engineer who built it.

"It’s a long process. Sometimes, you need to be stupid enough to start this kind of project. And then you have to be brave enough. You have to finish it," says Anders Solvarm, describing his building process for his Naturhus. | @chaysedacoda

Inspired by the ideas of Swedish eco-architect Bengt Warne who built the first Naturhus in in Saltsjöbaden, Stockholm in 1974-76, Solvarm adapted his learnings from Warne’s book, Under the Conditions of an Acacia, written in collaboration with Marianne Frederiksson. Warne defines a Naturhus (Nature House) as "any building that enriches without destroying, looting and poisoning.” In designing his own Naturhus for his family, Solvarm adapted Warne’s four principles for building and living more pleasurably, healthily and economically:

Rule # 1: Look after the actual needs and not the artificial ones. The technology should be subordinate to the basics of biology. In lifestyle, construction and housing we must learn from nature.

Rule # 2: Let our homes cooperate with nature. Organisms live on original flows such as sun, wind, rain, soil and plants. We can design our houses according to the same principles.

Rule # 3: Give the inhabitants of the houses the opportunity to control flows and cycles themselves. Let us fire, breathe, water, cultivate and change according to our own needs and likes.

Rule # 4: Use sophisticated but environmentally friendly technology when nature's energies are not enough.

“The longer you live in the house, the better the house gets. It starts connecting with you," says Anders Solvarm in Homes. This is one of the spaces between the green house and the log cabin where a profusion of lush vegetation grows, owing to the Mediterranean climate created here. | @im_hjerte

The result is Solvarm’s self-sustaining family sanctuary.  “Sometimes, when you build a house, you push nature away.  You protect yourself from the nature. Naturhus is all built around trying to enhance the interaction between people and plants… A home is not only shelter. It can also be a place to feed you, both with food and energy. I have always [wanted] to build a house for my family.  It was a dream, but when I started out, I did not understand that a home can heal you,” says Solvarm in the documentary’s introduction. 

Not only is his family able to grow their food within the comforts of their own home.  The nutrients for the plants also come from them via a waste water treatment and management system in their basement.  “In my brain, it’s just nutrition for the plants.  I don’t eat the plants’ nutrition. I eat the actual tomatoes… I don’t think I would want it any other way.  I’m not victimized by my dad and his vision for this house.  To me, it was just a question of becoming more aware and what chemicals I put in the system.  I like makeup, I like products.  I use shampoo.  I use conditioner, and I don’t want to eat the chemicals that are in those things, so for me, it was like stocking up on and finding alternatives that are safe for the system,” Solvarm’s eldest daughter, Nathalie says of the cycle that fulfills the needs of every organism that lives within their home.

True to Warne's Rule #3, this home has two chimneys going through it, which allow the family to control the temperature in the log cabin.  "The fireplace is always there.  It is very unique. My favorite place in the house during the winter is on the roof… because it is warm in the winter.  The heat rises up," says daughter, Nathalie.

This home’s story is intertwined with the family’s story, one of finding the most suitable place to raise their children, including Jonathan, their eldest son who is living with autism.  “I realize how healing this house is for Jonathan… He has so much empathy, he has so much interaction even if it’s against his diagnosis,” says Solvarm’s wife, Rosemary.

The log cabin was a passion project that was also taken up by Anders Solvarm's father, Jan Axelsson, who he describes as "an excellent craftsman with an artistic eye." | @im_hjerte

It is also a story of Solvarm’s determination to bring forth his ideas, and receive favorable results from them.  “I don’t know if I can change the world, but I know I can change the way I live.  Our house is giving us hope, and that hope is really, really strong,”  Anders Solvarm says, concluding the episode on his home.

Since the completion of Solvarm’s Naturhus in 2010, the idea has caught on, even to public spaces.  Upgrenna Naturhus is one such example.  It is a meeting house, café and spa in Upgrenna, Sweden.