Swedish style meets New England simplicity in Portsmouth
This Portsmouth home meets The Moodie family’s needs for space and efficiency.
Scandinavian homes are recognized for their clean lines, functionality, use of light and beauty. Katherine and Iain Moodie—long-time Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, residents who moved to New Hampshire by way of Sweden—combined all four characteristics in their New England-style home, creating an unexpected and fun landmark in Portsmouth’s South End.
The Moodies lived on Nantucket for eighteen years, where Iain, a builder and contractor who’s originally from Scotland, had a successful home-building business. They moved to Sweden to escape the island’s hustle-bustle. “We loved the design elements we saw in Sweden and Denmark,” Katherine says. After a year abroad, the couple decided to make a fresh start and chose Portsmouth, attracted by its artistic nature and sense of community.
It only took Iain a day to find their “dream” home: a decaying nineteenth-century house shadowed by large, overgrown trees in the city’s historic district. “It was definitely a tear-down,” he says. But he recognized the potential: an in-town lot on a quiet side street, within walking distance of area schools and downtown.
Located in Portsmouth’s historic district, the Moodies’ New England-style home is new construction, but its simple style fits easily with other homes in the neighborhood.
Inspired by the homes and interiors the Moodies saw in Sweden, they had a clear vision for their new house: a modest, energy-efficient home that was stylish, modern and comfortable for their family of five, which includes Essa, 13, Charles, 11, and Isanna, 8. Because the South End is a high-density neighborhood, they also wanted an on-site parking space.
The first hurdle was getting approval from the Portsmouth Historic District Commission (HDC). The house sat on a 2,250-square-foot lot, and Iain wanted a variance to accommodate for setbacks on three sides as well as approval to tear down the existing structure. Three workshops were held for HDC members and neighbors; Iain acknowledged their concerns for tearing down the structure while pointing out how the lot could be improved with better construction.
“Iain and Katherine genuinely wanted to satisfy all our inquiries and those from residents on the street,” says Joseph Almeida, chairman of the HDC and a commissioner during the Moodies’ approval process. “We ultimately decided that the old house was so decayed from neglect that the best result was to take it down.”
With approvals in place, the Moodies moved forward. Friends Patrick and Don Wallace helped Iain tear down the dilapidated structure by hand (they also helped with construction of the new house). To finish the job, the Moodies invited the Portsmouth Fire Department to use the house as a practice site for fighting fires and SWAT maneuvers. The old structure was completely demolished, including the foundation.
Working within the parameters
To save money, the Moodies bought what are typically high-ticket purchases—cabinet hardware, kitchen and bathroom fixtures as well as kitchen appliances—on Overstock.com or Lowe’s Home Improvement, and stored the items until they were ready to be installed. Building materials were from Ricci Lumber in Portsmouth. Kitchen and bathroom tile was purchased at Portico Fine Tile & Design in Greenland.
There’s no wasted space in the streamlined kitchen. Orange cabinets provide storage, and a roll-top shelving unit (on the far left) acts as an “appliance garage” where the family can stow small appliances. Countertops are poured concrete. The stove and sink were purchased on Overstock.com; the refrigerator and dishwasher are from Lowe’s Home Improvement.
The Moodie home is easy to spot. Its front entrance is perpendicular to the street, accessed via brick walkway from the carport. The 2,100-square-foot, New England-style home has a traditional, neutral blue-gray clapboard exterior—except for its street-facing wall, which is painted a bright tangerine orange, a nod to Swedish house design. Exterior plantings are minimal, and there’s no grass in the back yard.
Inside, the two-bedroom, three-bathroom home reflects the same less-is-more aesthetic, with many smart details. “Nothing is superfluous,” Katherine says. “There are no window trims or baseboards to collect dust.” To save space, Iain installed finished-plywood sliding doors in two bathrooms and in the master bedroom. French doors swing out to the back yard. Another space-saver: wall-mounted, poured-concrete sinks in all three bathrooms.
The first floor is open concept, with spacious kitchen, dining and living areas. The kitchen, painted the same cheery orange as the exterior wall, features sleek appliances, tall cabinets and poured-concrete counter tops, creating a low-cost, high-design element. Dining and living room furnishings range from a magnificent eighteenth-century Swedish sailors chest to a wooden armoire and leather couch and chairs, discovered in Nantucket and Portsmouth. Hanging throughout the house are original artworks and photographs by friends and family. “We wanted the furniture and artwork to speak to us,” Katherine says, “like an art gallery.”
A sleek, steel staircase and railing from EeStairs of Canada helps define the first-floor space.
Adding to the home’s contemporary appeal is its energy-efficiency. The structure is insulated with spray foam, which helps the home stay cool during summer and warm during chilly winters. A hydronic in-floor heating system, hidden beneath corded white oak floors, provides constant warmth throughout the house; a heated slab foundation provides additional insulation. A heat recovery ventilation system circulates fresh air throughout the house, and there’s also a central vacuum system for convenient cleaning.
A stainless-steel and ash stairway, by EeStairs of Canada, leads up to the main sleeping areas (downstairs is a cozy TV room and laundry space, both below-grade but dry, thanks to two sump pumps and French drains). Upstairs, the master bedroom and children’s spaces are cooled by ceiling fans; eight-foot cathedral ceilings and skylights help keep the rooms filled with light. Iain built two sleeping lofts for Essa and Charles; Isanna’s bed is in the room’s common area. Accessed by ladder, each loft has a built-in bed, closet and desk. For privacy, each loft is partitioned by bright yellow, plywood panels with Swiss-cheese-style holes, “perfect for Nerf gun fights,” Iain notes. And the children enjoy the big common room, which is large enough to accommodate gatherings of friends.
To say the Moodies enjoy their house would be an understatement. Their enthusiasm is obvious when they show off the space. “Our experience shows that with patience and creativity, you can create a stylish home that’s energy efficient and family friendly,” Katherine says. “I love that the house looks historic on the outside but is contemporary on the inside.”
The Moodie children prefer their cheerful sleeping lofts with their yellow, Swiss cheese-style “portals” and common play area over a traditional bedroom. Each loft contains a built-in bed, desk and closet with drawers (inset), providing storage and privacy.