16 Sep - 2019

Sweden to the Jersey Shore

It’s not every day that a Swedish family decides to spend their vacations at the Jersey Shore. To enhance their summers in Spring Lake, Eva Wisemark and David Wertheim decided to expand their traditional one and a half story Cape to better accommodate their family and friends. FKA transformed their cottage into a spacious two and a half level home with water views, step-out sheltered balconies, and additional features designed to protect against storms. Among the pleasures of working with this knowledgeable, international couple were our discussions of cultural experiences and aspects of building in Sweden and America. Over a cup of tea, Eva shared some additional thoughts.

FKA: I’m so interested in how your experiences building in the U.S. relate to your experiences in Sweden. Are there similarities in this project with what it would have been like at home?

EW: I think many family homes in Sweden are also designed with the idea of living outside in the summer. We have long dark winters and even people who live in apartments have balconies that they will use to live outside in the summer, to have their breakfast, other meals, and just sit outside. So many times architects will build with this in mind. Prefabricated homes are also designed with openness and light, and with natural elements, wood floors, and light walls.

FKA: Are there any residential equivalents to New Jersey towns in Sweden?

EW: New Jersey is full of all these towns that used to be villages. What it’s like in Sweden outside of Stockholm is more of a mix. Sweden is a very large county with more than 10 million people. Still, when I drive from the east coast close to the Stockholm area, I’m always astonished as to how much open space there is between towns and villages. Here, especially on the NJ coast, one township runs into the other. In Sweden, there are woods and great open spaces. If you go north, you can drive for a couple of hours without hardly seeing a house.

There is a very specific law in Sweden called Everyman’s Right.  It gives you the right to go anywhere in the woods except within 70 meters of somebody’s house. So when I grew up and we were sailing and stopped on various islands, my brothers and I would take the dinghy and get on an island, even if it was privately owned. We could pick blueberries or lingonberries and play around on the island as long as we stayed within a certain distance from the home.

FKA: What drew you and the family to the Jersey shore? 

EW: I grew up and have always lived by the sea. I also lived in Somerville and the shore was the nearest way to get to the sea.  I grew up with sailing so being near the ocean is very important to me.

FKA:  How do shore houses here compare with vacation houses in Sweden?

EW: Well here you don’t have much land. It’s very congested. I have here a group of neighbors and we are all very close. Whereas many times in Sweden if people have a home, there is more open space and you won’t see any neighbors around your house or in the woods.

Whether on the sea or on the coast, second homes in Sweden are much smaller than here. It’s often much grander here. Some cottages in the woods in Sweden don’t have running water or they may be a summer farm, and in some cases are a bit primitive.

FKA: Americans tend to think people in Sweden are very much involved with the outdoors.

EW: Absolutely. People like to sit outdoors and enjoy the very long summer days, maybe even more, because of climate change. Swedish people like the sun.

FKA: Here there’s a realization of how difficult it is for young people to get started with the purchase of a first house. Is it similar in Sweden?

EW: It’s difficult for young people in Sweden as well. I think it is almost universal, certainly in the developed western countries.

FKA: Are there any differences you noticed between building in NJ and building in a town in Sweden?

EW: Well, when I first lived in NJ and my father visited, he was amazed at how fast wood homes in the neighborhood went up. The materials here are quite different. In Sweden, houses are generally prefabricated. The architect will use standard prefab segments and there is a crane that lifts them into shape.

The “Golden Hall” of Stockholm’s City Hall

FKA: A recent American movie The Wife used the Stockholm City Hall for its climactic scenes of the Nobel prize ceremony. Is this building iconic in Sweden?

EW: Yes, it is known for its ceremonies, its social functions, and its grand staircase. My parents were there many times and always described how the waiters came down the stairs with sparklers and a spectacular ice cream dessert.

FKA: I found out that visitors to the Stockholm City Hall can sample this traditional dessert at the Nobel Museum. They’re adorned with spun sugar, cloudberries, and even a golden Nobel medal in chocolate.

View more images from the home expansions here.

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