Rachael Le Goubin | Staff Photographer
The Bensons built their Swedish-inspired home five years ago, but modeled its exterior in the style of the homes from the 1880s.
Edith and Steve Benson’s Chautauqua cottage sits at 19 Wiley, surrounded by an aged picket fence. Pushing open the gate, walking under the arched trellis draped in akebia and along a short curved stone walkway dripping with yellow roses, blue Russian Sage and the hardy remnant of a purple clematis up to the Benson’s porch is akin to visiting a home from a bygone era.
Except … it’s not bygone. The board and batten white wood Victorian-cum-Swedish style house may appear to be a resident of the 19th century. A friend insisted that it was always there. It was built in 2008, proving among other things, that great style is timeless.
The house may not be an exact reproduction of its Victorian forebears, but it bears a strong resemblance. Swedish style elements, with its echoes of the Swedish artist Carl Larsson, distinguish it. These features are in a sense an architectural proclamation of the Bensons’ respect and appreciation of their Swedish heritage.
It does not take long to understand that family is the Benson’s touchstone. It is not surprising they would turn to their son Matthew, an architect with the Charlotte, North Carolina, firm Meyer, Greeson, Paullin, Benson to translate their vision for the home which would replace a small studio apartment on the property the family brought in 1996. A patio links the new house with its actual 1892-93 forebear, which the family still uses.
The Bensons have been Chautauquans since 1975, and Matthew and his brother David — and their families — recently joined the ranks of property owners as well.
Matthew Benson said he enjoyed working for his parents once he thought of them as clients and not “Mom and Dad.”
“Our firm’s philosophy is to build a custom house for the client, based on the client’s interests and preferences,” he said. “Once I remembered that, all went well.”
He said that one might call the Bensons’ new home a Swedish-inspired Victorian Cottage.
“The Swedish elements are specifically the porch columns, the gable brackets, and the balusters on the porch and the house stairway,” Matthew Benson said. “Swedish farms and cottages used board and batten siding. It is a departure from clapboard and shingle.”
Her son may have been in charge of the exterior, but Edith Benson’s palette was the interior. She’s something of a magician with color, and designed a home in yellow and blue, the Swedish national colors. Though the scheme is in every room, except the basement where red dominates, it is never monotonous. She mixed different shades of yellow and blue so every room is distinctive. Swedish antique furniture, paintings, a Larsson print and Swedish embroidery are scattered throughout the house. Matthew Benson designed a Swedish-inspired, box-like closet/drawer combination with cut out hearts for one bedroom.
Lakewood resident Helen Gilbert’s painting continues the Swedish tradition of painting scenes, flowers or words on the walls. Edith said that this is particularly popular in the Swedish province Dalarna.
The staircase attracts the eye immediately. Gilbert painted Swedish churches which the Bensons’ ancestors attended. She painted the “Home Sweet Home” (in Swedish) in the kitchen, the edgings on floors and ceilings, the window mural in the bedroom, the grandmothers’ names and birth dates on the pale yellow dining room chairs — even the rug underfoot in the living room.
The Bensons’ new home might be described as the best of both worlds. It combines both personal and architectural tradition, but revels in modern bath and laundry, cable and Wi-Fi, air conditioning and heat. To the visitor, the house is a visit to the past without leaving 2014.
“Outside, it’s Chautauqua,” Edith said. “Inside, it’s Sweden.”