The Grand Tour

This 18th-Century Barn in Sweden Is Now a Functional Modern Farmhouse

The interior designer owner preserved the magic and history of the island home
Gotland light showcases the old barns exterior.
Gotland light showcases the old barn’s exterior.

Sara Lerner, founder of interior design studio Palta Studio, was living in Stockholm in March 2021, working a corporate job in tech, and feeling pent-up pandemic energy. At the time, she had run out of projects for her apartment and was craving more space, creative outlets, and a garden. Spending every summer visiting friends’ homes in Gotland had allowed Sara to form a special connection to the island, which is characterized by pine forests, white sand beaches, long grass, and rolling fields reminiscent of her childhood summers in Cape Cod and Maine.

Sara Lerner, founder of interior design studio Palta Studio, pictured outside her home

On one particularly dreary winter afternoon in Gotland, Sara found herself driving down a winding dirt road when she stumbled upon an 18th-century barn. The location—just five minutes from the beach and nestled among the island’s beloved sheep farms—was an instant draw. “The property was sprawling and overgrown, a large plot with apple, plum, and cherry trees, and giant hundred-year-old trees trailing a winding dirt road from the ocean,” the designer recalls.

The entryway storage was made by hand.

After having successfully flipped three Stockholm apartments, she saw the potential for the old barn, so without even stepping inside, she made an offer on the spot. “When I bought the house, it had a dilapidated 18th-century salt cellar, once used to cure root vegetables for winter,” she explains. “An addition in the 1960s added a plumbing line to build a kitchen and bathroom, and a traditional-style cottage room was brought down from the north of the island to be attached as a guest room extension.” The interiors, she adds, hadn’t been meaningfully touched since the 1990s, when original limestone details had been covered over by cheap (now crumbling) plaster. Despite the hard work in store, it was the island’s sense of history, sustainability, and commitment to craftsmanship that made the process of restoring the old home a sort of spiritual exercise.

The farmhouse kitchen invites guests to hang out all day. Plus, it incorporates the oceanic hues of the nearby sea.

An original bread stove from the 1800s is paired with a modern Bertazzoni range.

Custom oak cabinetry handcrafted by local carpenter Wisby Kök pairs with French cement tiles and wood-paneled walls for a more textured backdrop.

A farmhouse pantry was built by hand to store the extensive kitchen supply.

Sara spent two and a half years refurbishing nearly every room herself. She received help from local craftsmen for the full gut renovation in the kitchen and bathroom and to restore the limestone in the salt cellar. “I wanted to bring the history of the original limestone foundation back through to the house and create a modern farmhouse that didn’t hide its uneven corners and strange history,” she reflects, adding that she was deeply inspired by her coastal New England upbringing, as well as the functional beauty of rural French farmhouses. She used the island’s local wood and stone, mined from a village on the island, in nearly every space—from the kitchen countertops to the custom cabinetry.

A traditional vintage Swedish daybed was reupholstered in a wool blend fabric to bring warmth to the kitchen hangout. Vintage Hagafors dining chairs, thrifted table, and lamp by deVOL Kitchens.

A mix of old and new can be seen in the barn’s dining room area.

“I wanted to build a proper farmhouse kitchen that invited you to hang out there all day with the windows wide open,” she says. The kitchen’s color palette pulls from oceanic blues to complement the traditional white and blue exteriors of many Gotland homes. Meanwhile, floors and chairs are swathed in island sheepskins, which add warmth for winter months and cool windswept summer evenings. Much of the furniture and decorative pieces throughout the home were sourced at Swedish yard sales and antique markets, or loppis, as they’re known in Gotland.

A handcrafted table made from ancient oak trees on the neighboring island of Åland is seen by an oversized sofa. Textiles made from local sheeps wool.

A traditional 18th-century fireplace with a neighboring tub, once used to wash clothes, makes for a cozy seating area during the colder months.

Sara’s respect for the local community and surrounding environment were evident all the way down to the water supply. When asked why she didn’t build a second bathroom or install a bathtub, she explains that it was simply out of respect for the island. “Everything on an island is about water—water in, water out, having enough water in the summer, or avoiding a flood,” she explains. “It would put stress on the fragile ecosystem, so it’s important to not create unnecessary waste and [to honor] the simplicity of the island and the role we play in it.”

A view into the old barn from the dramatic doorway of the salt cellar.

A local craftsman was brought on to restore the 18th-century salt cellar. Arched ceilings and dramatic windows were reshaped to create a unique wine cellar that connects the old barn with the newer additions to the house. Sideboard designed by Palta Studio and commissioned to a local Stockholm carpenter.

The layered rugs mix with Mexican art and Sri Lankan crafts sourced by Palta Studio.

A sandy color palette in the primary bedroom contrasts with the blue tones used elsewhere in the rest of the home.

Tumbled Botticino marble stone pairs nicely with custom oak shelving and a classic pedestal sink. Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue paint evokes an underwater energy in the house’s main bathroom.