Living in a glass dome saved this family of six a fortune
On a mission to save the environment, the intrepid Hjertefølger family decided to build a sustainable house within a glass dome in the Arctic Circle. Despite the challenging climate, the innovative property has been their home for the past five years and, thanks to a host of clever gadgets, their household bills have dropped to almost nothing. Here’s how they did it…
An intrepid family
It seems fitting that Hjertefølger translates as ‘heart-followers’, as this family of six were determined to bring their dream of sustainable living to life, despite the obstacles involved. If building their own house wasn’t already a challenge, the couple also needed to take on nature, as Sandhornøya is located in middle of the remote Arctic Circle.
Inspired by a similar property built inside a greenhouse, parents Ingrid and Benjamin had their hearts set on constructing their own eco house in one of the coldest places in the world. Nestled amongst thick woodland and the freezing Arctic tundra, the breathtaking location was a far cry from the suburban backdrop of the average family home.
Home to just a few million people, areas located in and around the Arctic Circle experience some of the most extreme weather conditions in the world. Winters are long and extremely cold, while summers are short and cool, so their home needed to be able to cope with this harsh environment.
The weather wasn’t going to stop them from achieving their dream though. “We came across an article about a Swedish family living in a ‘nature house’ (pictured), which is a house inside a greenhouse with its own water recycling system,” Ingrid says. The home was built to help the residents survive the cold weather in Stockholm, Sweden, so the Hjertefølgers immediately saw that this ingenious system could overcome the bitter conditions in Sandhornøya too.
Swedish architect Bengt Warne designed the Naturhus back in 1976. His idea was to wrap a greenhouse around a house, which would help to keep homeowners warm and allow them to grow their own fruit and vegetables, even in the most extreme of environments.
Building with cob
And this is exactly what the Hjertefølgers sought to do too. “We were doing research online about different natural building techniques, and fell in love with cob houses [homes made with natural materials]. But that seemed like a difficult thing to do in Northern Norway, with short summers and a lot of rain,” Ingrid says.
A group effort
The family had plenty of help when it came to building their unusual home, with the process itself proving very hands-on. “The house was built out of cob, which is just a mixture of sand, clay and straw. You can mix the cob with your feet, a cement mixer, or whatever tools you have available,” Ingrid says. “Eventually the cob becomes a solid mass, which you can make bricks out of.”
Incredibly sustainable and cheap to build, cob homes are a favorite among eco homebuilders. A robust construction method with a tiny carbon footprint, it’s easy to achieve curved walls with this method – a must for the family’s dome structure.
A labor of love
“But building takes time,” Ingrid adds. “It took one year for the initial build and five years all in all. Even when we moved in there was still lots of work to do!”
True to the design of a Naturhus, the family built their cob home inside a glass, geodesic dome. Designed by pioneering construction company Solardome, the structure contains 360 glass panels, with double doors, 11 windows and a large door to allow access to an outdoor decked area.
A warm oasis
As chilly as it can be on the outside, the glass dome acts just like a greenhouse and retains plenty of heat on the inside. There’s even space at the top of the dome to kick back on a hammock and admire the stunning ocean views.
Powered by nature
The couple splashed out 3,200,000 kr (£306,609/US$402,677) to build the property, but their lifestyle is now cheaper than ever. An array of solar panels power the house with energy derived from the sun. The cost of running the unconventional family home is very low, with minimal impact on the surrounding environment too.
Fit for a family
Measuring 2,583 square feet, the quirky house has more than enough room for the family of six. The interior layout, which features five spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms, a lounge, a kitchen, dining room and a garage, has provided a comfortable home for the Hjertefølgers for the past five years.
Inside, the home’s cob walls have been left bare with rough, exposed plaster. Natural materials have been used throughout the interior, from the warm wood front door to the storage units used to organize the family’s belongings. “Being inside the house is relaxing. There are many who tell us that when they visit they feel a certain calmness,” Benjamin says.
In the main open-plan living area, rustic beams add a characterful touch to the home, while hand-shaped doorways reflect the architecture’s organic structure. However, it’s the floor-to-ceiling tapestry of an old oak tree, offset against a sunny yellow canvas, that draws the eye and offers a welcoming focal point.
Salvaged and repurposed
Decked out with every essential appliance, the kitchen is a masterclass in breathing new life into salvaged materials. Wooden crates offer tabletop storage, while old drawers have been repurposed as wall-mounted shelving. Meanwhile, the cabinetry and breakfast bar, created from off-cuts of wood, are the result of thrifty craftsmanship.
Cozy family spaces
While the home embraces rustic, natural living, it doesn’t go without its fair share of comfortable touches. The curved sofa, which was built from recycled wood planks, features an array of boho-style printed cushions and cozy throws. Offset against a colorful tapestry and plenty of greenery, this snug space offers a zen-like feel.
Relax and unwind
Even the bathroom benefits from a few indulgences alongside its characterful fixtures – just check out those wall-mounted storage units crafted from branches! An oval freestanding bathtub offers a peaceful space to soak and unwind under whimsical strings of fairy lights.
Outside the walls of the home, there’s plenty of green space to enjoy. Not only is the large glass dome that surrounds the property a powerful insulator, but it also houses a flourishing vegetable garden so the family can grow their own produce all year round, from apricots, plums and kiwifruit to cucumbers, carrots and beetroots.
They use an innovative irrigation system to feed the garden. Waste water from the house is recycled and used to nourish the soil and grow toxin-free produce. “A timer regulates the amount of water for the plants. Irrigation and fertilization takes care of itself,” Ingrid says.
Back to basics
Embracing a vegetarian and vegan diet, the family have always been eco-conscious, which is why they were especially keen to ensure the house had the space and facilities for them to grow their own food. “We used to buy only organic products, grew food in our garden and so on, so we wanted to continue that lifestyle,” Ingrid Hjertefølger says.
A second dome
In 2017, the family’s quirky settlement expanded, as construction began on a second smaller geodesic structure, again designed by Solardome. Nestled against the rugged mountains, it’s a space where the public can experience this unique style of architecture for themselves and soak up the natural surroundings.
Space for relaxation
Named the FreeDome, the family built this new structure as a space to hold meditation retreats and yoga classes, and they even rent out the dome as a unique party and wedding venue too. We can’t imagine a more relaxing outlook than that tranquil waterfront!
Under the Northern Lights
While the architecture is undoubtedly fascinating, we’re most envious of the family home’s remote location. In this part of the Arctic Circle, the bewitching green ripples of the Northern Lights are a regular sight. In fact, you couldn’t get a much better view of them.
The key to happiness
This incredible home has been a labor of love for the intrepid family. “I think that if everyone fulfilled their dreams and did the things they were good at, the world would function wonderfully,” Ingrid says. “I believe there’s an intelligent design behind everything. Everyone is supposed to do their part, and what’s needed. I have devoted my life to permaculture. I want to show that it is possible to do whatever you want, even though no one has ever done it before.”