Since I have visited Sweden more in winter than in any other season, I am well-versed in daytime candlelight and soothing saunas and “Jansson’s temptation,” a hearty potato casserole. But for my latest trip, I wanted to follow the Swedes following their midnight-sun bliss, to sample their various notions of perfect summer, and to fantasize about endless time, which the Swedes, given their generous vacations, seem to have. And I wanted to stay briefly in four new or recently reimagined hotels—in wildly different places, from Stockholm and the island of Gotland, in the Baltic, to the woods and mountains—that would allow me to breathe deeply and eat purely, from land and lake. On uniformly good beds under clouds of goose down, I slept peacefully in spite of the near-ceaseless daylight. In each place, I felt distant from regular life, yet never removed from civilization. Because if there’s one thing the Swedes do as well as summer, it’s put design on a pedestal as high as nature. Through textures and light, materials and craft, they demonstrate a sensitivity to the environment that, far from being one-note, is a many-splendored thing.
Fabriken Furillen, Gotland
Though I didn’t know it at the time, my arrival on the island of Gotland set me up for the moody, monochromatic experience I was to have at Fabriken Furillen, a small hotel that opened in 2000 and expanded for the better part of the next decade. The brief flight from Stockholm descended into fog at little Visby Airport. Then the rain began in earnest, falling so hard and fast that the quick walk to the rental car was a soaker, the 45-minute drive to Furillen a wiper-whipping swim along narrow roads until it slowly lightened to a mist. The gray immersion had begun.
Furillen is itself an islet in the Baltic Sea off the northeastern coast of Gotland. Unlike Fårö, the island just to the north that Ingmar Bergman long called home, a ferry ride isn’t required to get there. Still, the sense of crossing to a wholly different place was profound. Craggy limestone formations loomed to the side of the road like tipsy sentries. Just before dipping to sea level and reaching the causeway to Furillen, the road traversed odd, empty, unnatural pools—as if a giant had taken an ice cream scoop to the earth, the flavor of the day being cement.
Everything about Fabriken Furillen is unlikely. What kind of person would look at an old cement factory (fabriken) operating out of a limestone quarry, dormant for some 30 years, and see the bones of a hotel? It would have to be someone as visionary as a photographer used to conceptualizing and improvising while on assignment in exotic locations. Tired of being on the road much of the year, away from family, Johan Hellström moved permanently to Furillen in 1999, first renovating the factory with his wife, Anna-Karin, as a studio before expanding it into a hotel. The idea was to promote the factory as much as a location for photo shoots as an unusual escape.
At Fabriken, the visual trumps all else. There is beauty: in a coat tree draped with gray wool throws and the silvery curly pelts of Gotland sheep; in the rough and smooth textures of raw and polished concrete; in the delicate sprig of green leaves laid atop white napkins at the dinner table; and then in the plate of tuna tartare followed by tender slices of reindeer with lingonberry coulis (the food is all the more delectable for its isolated genesis). And there is drama—in spades. Heavy chains still hang from the ceiling of the former workers’ canteen; they’re no longer used, except as a super-scale necklace-like adornment. Large single-pane windows in the dining room frame a Charles Sheeleresque image of a hulking concrete tower next to a gargantuan heap of slag. There is a rugged, surreal, even romantic allure to the setting that the overcast sky only abetted, allowing all the subtle shades of gray to emerge. Like sound carrying across water, a woman in a bright orange jacket could be seen in the fog, sharp as a spark, way down the beach. One can only imagine the scenes Bergman, were he still filming, could have produced here.
But along with cinematic effects there is a degree of discomfort that comes from a slavishness to style: a small, handsome bar but no cozy lounge; poorly arranged, bare-bones bathrooms; no bedside reading lamps but instead an industrial fixture casting a hostile glare over the pillows. I felt at times like an interloper on a fashion shoot, moving amid a stylish young crew who are hospitable and earnest if not so experienced. Yet even interlopers have a fascination with the scene before them. Fabriken Furillen is so unusual a place, one of such brutal beauty, that despite its faults, it stayed with me far longer than I stayed with it.