Five minutes’ walk from the chic suburb of Grünerløkka in Oslo, a late 19th-century apartment has undergone a moody and minimalist reinvention. But when Oslo-based Nikki Butenschøn of Haptic Architects explains the design parameters of creating such unique architecture within a tight 125m² historically listed dwelling, he laughs: “Rules are for other people – we wanted to make something beautiful.”
Breaking rules is always more fun when your best friend of 15 years is your accomplice. The owners, former Norwegian hip-hop star Thomas Gullestad and his wife, were only too happy to have their tired and tight one-floor apartment reinvented by Butenschøn.
The usual suspects – space, light and storage – needed to be captured in the new design, but with only one floor, a creative approach was imperative. Luckily, the couple was able to buy the apartment building’s loft space which, in Norway, is typically owned by all of the building’s tenants and used for storage.
To add to the useable space, the floor plan was extended to include an outside bathroom, five stairs up from the ground level (quite common in buildings of this age), thus gaining the owners another five or six square metres. But this strategy, in turn, created the tricky proposition of a number of unusual levels in the building.
Butenschøn’s solution was to create an ensuite and bathroom over three levels. The ceiling of the loft was removed to gain standing space for the ensuite and a shower and bath is located on the middle of the three levels.
The staircase is another feat of creative thinking. Ten different designs were sketched – timber ones, with bookcases, with storage – but ultimately, the idea that the staircase might hang from the strong timber beams above was the most attractive proposition. It would be a sculptural feature, signifying a division in the open-plan living space and would connect with the mezzanine level.
But there was just one problem with the design: the height of the space meant the elevation of stairs wouldn’t reach ground level. “We were missing four steps,” he says. “So I sketched the different stairs meeting each other.”
Fabricated by local Oslo cabinetmakers Partikkel (who also created the bathroom cabinetry), the bespoke Norwegian oak timber stairs double up as storage and as a seat for the dining table. The 30mm steel staircase is powder-coated white to bring out the warmth of the oak.
But it isn’t all ‘Scandistyle’ in this moody apartment. The kitchen makes a serene, yet dark, statement against the lightness of the white and blonde oak. “We were looking for a contrast,” says Butenschøn, “we thought it would be sexy and sort of calm.”
He says the decision to include a fireplace in the kitchen – and the resulting soot that would mark the back wall – meant using a dark colour was a necessity. The tiling behind the fireplace is a fire-retardant stone exterior cladding and is available only in a yellow tone, so it was stained with a grey paste to ensure continuity.
The fireplace itself is not typical – although in wealthier Norwegian homes, an open fire in the kitchen isn’t uncommon – but to create a seamless transition from bench space to fireplace is an original idea. “It is clean and minimal. It works,” says Butenschøn.
The kitchen cabinetry was lacquered to a dark and moody bluish-grey and rubber pendant lights from Muuto add a sculptural aspect. The kitchen bench is “ridiculously heavy” concrete and pigmented to be the exact match of the cabinetry to enhance the minimalist aesthetic.
But while design decisions were a seamless affair – Butenschøn says his friend is “super cool, laid-back and patient” – the build was not without its hurdles. Relations with the building contractor did not run as smoothly, and the budget was blown by around $300,000. Nonetheless, the clients are incredibly happy with the result.