Designer Brian Patrick Flynn gave Natipernavigare all the details about his tiny, but delightfully functional Icelandic home.
You live in Atlanta. Why do you keep a pied-à-terre in Iceland?
I hate bugs, and I hate to sweat. Raised in the tropical humidity of Florida, I was constantly enduring plenty of both, and Atlanta is almost as bad. During the hottest months, I want an escape. I visited Iceland for the first time three years ago with my partner, Hollis Smith, and I found it magical. Majestic subarctic mountains, white snow, black basalt, and teal oceans with breaching whales. I couldn’t believe a place like this existed. When I learned summers in Reykjavík are cool—like wear-a-sweater cool—and there are virtually no insects, I was in. Now I spend almost the entire summer in Iceland. It’s a dream.
What sold you on the apartment?
It’s at the top of a traditional 1933 row house, three blocks from the city center in the low-key harbor area of Grandi. The apartment is a ’70s attic conversion overlooking the water. The moment I gazed out the windows and saw nothing but endless ocean, I knew I had to buy it. I didn’t care that it was up three flights of stairs, or that it had super-angular ceilings—and I’m six-foot-five! Knowing it could be overhauled quickly was also appealing. With my place in Georgia, a weekend home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, my design business, and a product line I’m launching, I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with a major remodel overseas. Amazingly, the redo was finished in just seven weeks. That was ahead of schedule—and in a country with a different currency and its own unique building codes.
Any unforeseen hiccups?
There are almost no trees in Iceland—Vikings razed most of the forests a thousand years ago—so all wood has to be imported. Simple plywood to frame walls costs five times what it does in the U.S. But I splurged on timber because I didn’t want the apartment to be a drywall box. On most of the ceilings and in the kitchen, I added tongue-and-groove pine paneling for texture. I also installed a wooden beam—one of my biggest splurges—overhead in the living room for instant architecture. But the real shocker? The project went 100 percent over budget. What I didn’t plan for—or know about—is the fact that in Iceland, remodeling materials are taxed at a rate of 25 percent. My contractor didn’t think to mention it—living his whole life here, it wasn’t unusual to him. I didn’t freak out, though. Things happen, it was done fast, and the craftsmanship was perfect.
What was the strategy for countering the apartment’s small size?
Aside from learning to live a very, very minimalist life? Any decorating trick I could think of. White-painted floors to create airiness and bare windows to guide your eye to the outdoors. A unifying blue-and-white palette and simple furniture with sculptural lines, like armless banquettes, sleek recliners, and modular ottomans. Removing the kitchen’s upper cabinets to open up the space. But sometimes, there was no getting around the tininess: The master bedroom is just 140 square feet and awkwardly shaped, with bizarre angles and intrusive slopes. By wallpapering all the walls and the ceiling in a blue-on-blue plaid, you don’t notice that the room is teeny and wedge-shaped. Continuous pattern and dark colors make it about the mood, not the size.
Were you tempted to hit the local Ikea and buy everything flat-packed and Nordic?
Everyone in Iceland does seem to shop at Ikea. I did, too, but I didn’t want the rooms to look like they were lifted from a catalog. My idea was to put an American spin on traditional Icelandic style—woodsy without being “lodgey,” eclectic in a balanced way, without any Arctic clichés.
You were recently married on an ice floe in Antarctica. What’s with you and polar locales?
When I was 11, my cousin told me about her family trip there, and I’ve been obsessed with Antarctica ever since. Its quietude, the total lack of permanent residents, the temperatures that are the coldest on Earth. As a designer, I wanted a spectacular backdrop for our vows, and the icebergs delivered that. And I love the symmetry: We literally went to the bottom of the world for our nuptials, and we’ve set up a life and a home together at the top of the world.