Morten is a tech startup advisor helping American and European companies scale healthily, and the co-founder of a competitor-comparison platform called Leap. Sofie is an HR manager, and a strong believer in making a home beautiful. Both have a keen eye and passion for good design. After working with them to outfit their home workspace, I chatted with Morten to hear the story of their historic house’s transformation.
- Ken Tomita (co-founder and CEO)
Morten: I took a degree in graphic design when I was younger. Design is the enabler. I like when things are cut down to the bare minimum. I'm a big fan of nature, and it's a great source of inspiration to find a solution based on the simplest idea.
Morten: In a hotel, everything is done by purpose. There's a reason why everything is built the way it is. We wanted to have that here as well.
We wanted to merge Japanese and Scandinavian design. So all the furniture and surfaces are very low, never reaching more than a meter and a half.
When you take in your surroundings, you're not going to get distracted by anything. When you wake up and are laying in bed, you can see past the couch because it's on a very low level.
It’s a Japanese minimalist way of thinking that goes through the whole house, though I actually got the idea from the height-limitation on houses in Copenhagen. They're not allowed to go above four stories because then you can't see all the beautiful buildings. So, same here. I wanted to keep the view of the outside.
That height thing really resonates with me because I'm from Japan. When I was a furniture maker, everything I designed was low.
Morten: My wife and I were living in an apartment. We had a very beautiful top floor apartment in an old part of the city—the center of Copenhagen. It was newly renovated, and everything was perfect. We weren't looking for anything. But then this house came up for sale, and it needed to be sold very fast.
On an impulse, we went for it. Financially we weren’t ready to buy a house, but it was a good price. We were scared by what we’d done, and the first few months of living here were a hassle. Then add on two years of construction! It was crazy.
Morten: Yeah. I would never recommend that, but we didn't have an extra place to go. We lived upstairs while they were doing the downstairs. And we didn't have a kitchen almost the whole first year. That was such a struggle. Makes you really appreciate having a home cooked meal.
Ken: Wow. Well, that makes it a more intimate experience, I guess.
Morten: Yeah. The kitchen is custom made as well, so it took a really long time. A space for every heirloom knife!
Everything is very purposeful. You have to wait for a kitchen like that.
Morten: For the first six months, we didn't have a couch, we didn't have a dinner table.
Morten: We took a theme and stuck with it. We each made a Pinterest board and pitched to each other. Where there were similarities in those two presentations, we’d ask ourselves, “What is it about this that makes sense?"
Morten: The house was built in the 1800s. Copenhagen still has a lot of regulations, especially in the historic center. The Stable House has one of the highest levels of preservation regulations, so you have to ask permission for everything.
Ken: You can't put up partition walls?
Ken: That's a crazy limitation!
Morten: The glass wall in the bathroom came out of that limitation. It allowed us to let in light while keeping the original layout. It was a solution to a problem, but I wouldn’t change it if I could. It’s amazing the way it opens up the space and brings out different hues of light. Especially since we couldn’t just build a wall or buy a big sculpture lamp to achieve the light we wanted.
Morten: It depends on which one, but you’re not allowed to have lights built into the walls. We also couldn’t change the width or material of the floor. You can change the finish or treatment, but we actually just preserved the ones that were already there.
In general, every material we used was supposed to be a material that existed when the house was built.
Ken: Let's talk about that detail. It's quite stunning. Definitely catches the eye. I've never seen anything like that!
Morten: It's custom made for the house. It's very beautiful. And it’s a result of the deep walls we had to work with. Standard blinds wouldn't work because the windows sort of bend at the top. You’d have to put the curtains on the upper wall, but we couldn’t because of the sloping. There was no way we could add curtains or blinds to this window without it looking silly. Instead we had the brass coverings custom-made by the same designer who did the sculpture that hangs from the living room ceiling.
Morten: One of the lovely things about brass is that it ages quite fast and becomes something completely different.
Ken: I really like the contrast. In the photos at least it's so minimal, which initially to me, it represents perfection. But you have these surfaces that are going to be imperfect and over time they develop this patina. There's fingerprints, there's a grease smear. And that contrast against the white is pretty cool.
Ken: There's the brass mobile too. Really nice piece.
Morten: Yeah. Everything becomes this gold brass color and it moves around. It's such an amazing piece. it was built for showing off the house but we decided we wanted to buy it. We fell in love with it.
When we open the windows in the morning, the sun hits those brass sheets and blows up the whole room.
Morten: Cassandra was amazing at helping us with this. She solved the angle problems so that when you're actually on the toilet, no one can see you. The mirrors and wall are all set in a way where you can't see the toilet. The beautiful part of the bathroom is the top and the terrazzo and the brass. Those things should just be by themselves without having any disturbing factors. When I wake up in the morning, I don't want to look at a toilet!
Morten: Plus, it's rare that you have natural light in the bathroom. It took a very long time to achieve what we have there, but I think the results are stunning. I enjoy it every morning when the sun rises and you get this orange glow throughout the whole house, especially in the bathroom.
Ken: Natural light is so important. Can you tell us about the sink? It’s my favorite thing in the bathroom.
Ken: The hardware is magic. How do you even attach hardware to terrazzo?
Morten: You try a lot of times. I don't know how they got that much into that small amount. Also, there’s only one pipe from the sink that goes right into the wall. It doesn't go down to the floor and neither does the toilet plumbing. Nothing should touch the floor.
Morten: When we built the house, I worked in another startup full time. I was CCO in another company. And time to time, I often joined startups full-time for three months to six months or a year, where I don't use my home office that much. I need it to be a place where I could relax. Wake up Sunday morning, make my coffee, and retreat into my study if I want to.
I like to call it a study instead of a home office—a place to learn things, free of distraction.
Morten: Yeah. Actually, it's designed by one of my friends—super cool solution. The desk itself is 100% brass, so it weighs a bit. And then the top is covered with this big piece of leather. It took a long time to find the perfect skin. You have to get a cow where they didn't imprint it in an awkward place, because you needed to use every single centimeter of that cow skin to wrap around. And it needed to be perfect all around. Then we got a really amazing guy to affix it.
It was completely pink when we got it. Like a rose color. The first time I stained it, I wanted to cry. But now I remember every single stain on it and I really enjoy that. It becomes darker and darker.
Morten: The brass pen, it's the only one I have on my desk. It's amazing. And the notepad with brass base to go with it. There’s a synergy between your product purpose and the way we built the house. I really like that.
There are also a lot of tours of old Copenhagen. Some of them come by here for all the history. If Sofie and I are outside drinking a glass wine, we’re happy to open our house and give a tour. We enjoy that. We didn’t remodel the house just for our own benefit.
And of course we've had people staying here. We never thought that it could bring in so much income, but it's quite substantial when you do things in a unique way. For example, the bathroom upstairs is one of a kind, and the people who love it really love it. And brands especially really want to take advantage of that unique angle because it doesn’t look like any other property in Copenhagen.
Ken: I find that hard to believe!
Morten: Me too. But when I look at the pictures, there's so much you don't get. You don't get the scale from pictures. So that's one of the things that we really enjoy. And we love showing out the house when people arrive on Airbnb.
Everyone just gets blown away from the moment they walk in the door, across all the senses.
We also like to meet the people who stay here. We invite them to grab a glass of wine or go out for dinner if they’d like.
We didn't redo the house with a purpose of renting it out. But sharing it came naturally. everyone deserves to stay in and discover what it's like waking up with the sun rising at the end of the house, bringing out this beautiful orange light that we have in the northern part of Scandinavia. And that experience of going to the bathroom in the morning where it's flooded with natural light. I like sharing all these small things that you would never discover or see in pictures.
Morten: Finish a project, then there’s a crisis. There's always the next project. When we pass this house on to someone else, I want to look back and say, "I've done something good for this place, so the next one can come in and preserve and do their part for it."
For me, home is where Sofie is. The house doesn't matter that much.
Ken: Let's hear about it. What are a couple things that you learned that you want to apply to your next project?
Morten: I would’ve gone greener. The bathroom downstairs is heated by electric floor heating. It's expensive and bad for the environment. We rarely even use it.
Two, because the process would be more in our control, instead of leaving it to contractors who may or may not get it just right.
I’d also love to video document our next project. YouTube channels that show people doing renovations of old buildings are amazing to me. I would've loved to have had a YouTube video for this house. It’s a way of letting the next person know what's behind the walls, know how things are constructed.
Ken: That's really interesting. If you had made a YouTube about this house, you would have 10 million views!
Thanks so much for taking us through your home, and honoring Grovemade products with a space in your study! You and Sofie are an inspiration! Until we meet in Copenhagen…