The Box, a tiny house built by architect Ralph Erskine for his family of four
“The Box” is a tiny house in the woods hand-built by architect Ralph Erskine. He would later go on to design influential buildings in Sweden, England and Canada. In 1941 though, he was a young unknown English architect who had traveled to Sweden to work alongside architects he admired. With the start of the war, economic conditions took a turn for the worse and left work scarce. Having a wife and two baby girls to shelter, Erskine set about to build a temporary home for his family on land given to him by a farmer friend. The Erskine family would spend four years living in the two-room house.
Ralph Erskine built the house with the help of a friend. The stone came from the site and other materials were salvaged, including brick from an abandoned kiln and an iron bed frame used for concrete reinforcement. These items were collected and brought to the site using a horse-drawn sleigh.
The finished house had roughly 20 m2(215 ft2) of space divided into two rooms by a large masonry fireplace. On one side was the kitchen with a wood burning stove, and on the other was a living room that also functioned as the bedroom and as Erskine’s architectural office. The roof extended on the north side to provide covered firewood storage and on the south side to form a covered porch which had an outdoor fireplace.
The Box had no electricity, no running water and no bathroom. There was an outhouse and the couple carried in water from the farm’s well. The south-facing living room wall was all glass to let in warmth and light, while the other sides had limited window area.
To make the small space work for a family, Erskine devised and built inventive furniture solutions. The couple slept on a bed that could be folded into a couch during the day. They could also get it completely out of the way by hoisting it up to the ceiling (as seen in the photo above) using a system of pulleys and a hand winch.
Except for the entry door, the north wall of the house was devoted to clothes closets and storage cupboards. The last cabinet at the living room end was Erskine’s office. Sliding doors opened to reveal a fold-out desk and pigeon-hole compartments filled with his architectural drawings.
After a few years, the Erskine family moved to a new home on Lovön, an island close to Stockholm. They continued to use the Box as a summer cottage. However after several decades, the original Box was in poor condition and was demolished. The house seen in these photos is a replica, built with Ralph Erskine’s participation on Lovön in 1989. It was donated to the Stockholm County Museum, which offers tours of the tiny house.
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