A Sauna With an Observation Deck

Maybe it’s the colder temps, damp weather and need for warmth that drew us in to this story. Or, perhaps it was the idea of a view added to our favorite room in the house, the sauna. Regardless, featured in NY Times Style Magazine, A Sauna With an Observation Deck caught our eye.

Sauna is such an indispensable concept for cultures outside of Long Island, New York and North America. It’s no surprise to us that a story such as this would make headlines. We are only surprised that there are not more local headliners, bringing the world of sauna bathing to the forefront of our culture (especially in the Northeast, it’s chilly today!!!).

A Sauna With an Observation Deck, Dreamed Up at a Designers’ Retreat

One extraordinary (and totally nonessential) space. This month: a tar-covered hut for warming up, and winding down, in the center of a Swedish island.

by Nancy Haas, November 5, 2018

In 2014, Tom Gottelier and Bobby Petersen, young designers who had graduated from London’s Royal College of Art, visited a friend whose family has lived for generations on Gotland, a rugged island four hours south of Stockholm.

Instantly smitten with the exposed limestone and the dense juniper trees, as well as the carpets of wildflowers that bloom in July — the only month Sweden is reliably warm — the duo dreamed of starting a creative getaway there for artists and designers. The island, which was first inhabited in 7000 B.C., has its share of rich vacationers, especially along the coasts. But Gottelier and Petersen, who are now in their 30s and design stores and products together in Los Angeles, were enamored with the raw farmland of Gotland’s less glamorous interior. Charmed by their enthusiasm, their friend’s mother offered them a good deal on a 1.5-acre rocky plot in the island’s rural center.

Designers on Holiday, as the retreat was named, is now headed into its fifth season. About 20 craftspeople, artists and architects (some of them repeat visitors), are invited for a two-week stint every summer to create permanent, semi-permanent or transitory structures on the arid, sweeping site: There are now several sleeping pods, a hot tub, an alfresco kitchen and a shower tower. Although some of the simpler projects, such as a series of billowing white tents, were built in a day, the more permanent structures were constructed over a few years.

The sauna, in the shape of a wedge, was finished last summer — the London designers William Yates-Johnson and James Shaw conceived of it in 2015, for the retreat’s inaugural season. While such badstugor (“bathing sheds”) aren’t as ubiquitous in Sweden as in Finland, they have nonetheless been considered as indispensable as kitchen sinks since the Middle Ages for Nordic people, who live in frigid climates most of the year. Yates-Johnson and Shaw, also in their 30s, built the 76-square-foot pine structure during their first residency together; the following year, they completed the exterior; and this year, they outfitted the interior, installing aspen-wood benches that seat nine people and an old cast-iron and enamel stove. They also sealed the exterior of the building with a traditional Swedish tar, which some Gotlanders slather on their buildings annually to prevent water damage. The tar melts in the summer heat, filling in cracks that may have emerged in the off-season. The sauna also has an observation deck on its 10.5-foot-high roof, where summertime residents can drink vodka and admire the sorbet-colored sunsets, which conclude around midnight.

Many of the retreat’s structures, including the sauna, are intended for relaxation — an irony that escapes none of the participants: It’s not uncommon for the designers, who come from the world over, to work upward of 12 hours each day, giving them little time to unwind. It’s usually late before the group gathers for dinner in the outdoor pavilion, near the concrete-and-limestone kitchen with its terra-cotta bread oven. Still, when life and light are so concentrated, every moment of pleasure and repose is turbocharged, Yates-Johnson says. Last year, a Norwegian chef came for the residency and made a point of foraging the land for most of his ingredients. “It was basically pine needles and dust,” Gottelier says. “And it was fabulous.”