Hotel Skeppsholmen, Stockholm
Was I dreaming? Was it the lingering effects of jet lag? Faintly, but as steadily as waves reaching shore, a chorus of shrieks lapped the window of my room at Hotel Skeppsholmen. The cries, it turned out, were of false terror, erupting from the roller coaster at Gröna Lund—Stockholm’s version of Copenhagen’s Tivoli—a slingshot’s distance across the water. Of all the sounds I had expected to hear at what is perhaps Stockholm’s most central hotel, this had not been among them. The next morning, the breakfast terrace provided a more restful sound track: birds scuffling for crumbs; lanyards slapping against metal masts; the clink of cup finding saucer.
Like the still eye of a swirling storm, the island of Skeppsholmen is a calm oasis in the center of Sweden’s largest city. Yet it is not a hub. It is convenient enough that every section of the city is a mere walk, bike ride, or ferry trip away, but it is apart. The hotel itself is one of the few commercial enterprises on the island, the others being a restaurant, a hostel aboard a fully rigged 19th-century sailing ship, and two museums. None of them were going to contribute to disturbing the peace. Nor was traffic. Roads on the parklike island are few, cars even fewer. My taxi scarcely found the hotel in the dark, its signage was so minimal.
The discretion is fitting. Built in 1699 to house royal marines—the architect, Nicodemus Tessin the Younger, also designed the Royal Castle—the two 328-foot-long buildings are now protected as significant historic structures. Alteration is so restricted that when the hotel was created in 2009, any modifications needed to be reversible. I could as easily have been a midshipman returning to the barracks in the 18th century as a guest checking in, so little changed is the classic exterior—butter-yellow stucco walls; orderly rows of windows trimmed in gray; chimneys in strict formation atop dormered metal roofs, all in severest black.
Inside, in spite of the restrictions, Hotel Skeppsholmen steps fully into Scandi-modern mode. Sweden’s architecture firm of the moment, Claesson Koivisto Rune, turned constraints into assets, emphasizing timeless materials such as wood and stone and adding dimension by playing with light and bursts of color. Punctuating the long corridors and stairwells like guiding beacons are outsize light installations by David Trubridge, Carola Lindh-Hormia, and Jameelah El-Gashjgari. In the 81 bedrooms, plain in the manner of a Jil Sander suit, the colors of the Swedish flag turn up in a bright-canary side table and small club chairs upholstered in soft blue. For bathrooms, the designers inserted stand-alone pods, all right angles save for the sensuous porcelain sinks modeled after skipping stones.
Luxury in Scandinavia is never obvious, lest it be mistaken for a French import. At Hotel Skeppsholmen it comes in the form of soaped pine floors smooth to the feet, Duxiana mattresses, duvets sheathed in crisp cotton, and body products from Byredo, an exotic yet made-in-Sweden line with graphics as chic and direct as the hotel’s own. Down in the dining room, where the menu is limited but the quality is high, glass walls extend the shimmery effect of light bouncing off water, and a basket of sheepskins sits beside the door to the terrace, ready for use outside as seat cushions, baby blankets, or wraps when the wind picks up. At Hotel Skeppsholmen, in summer, you want to be outside as much as in, enjoying its greatest indulgences: the sea at your feet, quiet in your head, and the city all around you.