Today, I’m so excited to be teaming up with the amazing Victoria Smith of SFGirlByBay to bring you the exclusive look — inside and out — of Gossip Girl actress Caroline Lagerfelt’s 18th century farm house on the Swedish island of Gotland.
Caroline, who played real-life best friend Kelly Rutherford‘s mom on the hit show, bought the historic home two decades ago. Located south of Visby — a medieval town that was inhabited as early as the Stone Age — the house and its lush grounds make for a blissful escape. Here, no television, internet or phones exist. All you have to do is pull up a lawn chair, pour yourself a glass of chilled rosé wine (the property makes its own small batch) and listen to the birds sing.
Decorated with a mix of auction finds and antiques from Caroline’s childhood home — the famous Sabylund Manor — the farm house is as eclectic as it is beautiful. In our interview, Caroline tells the story about finding and decorating her historic home. After you’ve read about her auction adventures and treasure hunts in old attics, head on over to Victoria and SFGirlByBay for the exclusive look inside!
Ulrica: You live such a busy life in Santa Monica and New York City. How do you feel when you arrive on Gotland?
Caroline: When I land at that tiny little airport and start driving on the small country roads to my house, I feel all my worries flow away. I look outside at the sheep grazing, the beautiful meadows and the emptiness — there’s no traffic here! — and all the stress I have about life and my job and everything else just disappears. I get happier the closer I get. Life is simple and peaceful. I have my mother’s library filled with books and I’m surrounded by things I love. Here, I live a peaceful country life with my neighbors. I feel happy to just be.
Ulrica: Tell me about the first time you saw the house.
Caroline: I flew to Gotland for one day to look at houses with a real estate agent. I knew I didn’t want a tiny cottage where I had to go outside to pee — I’m too Americanized for that! I wanted something really special. We went to an old church, an esoteric artist’s studio and a huge villa but nothing felt right. Late afternoon in the pouring rain, we pulled into our last property. The agent turned off his car engine and I just sat there and looked at this incredible farm house and said, ‘I’ll buy it.’ When I got home to the U.S., I bought it by fax machine.
Ulrica: You bought this house when your boys where three and seven years old.
Caroline: It was the best experience, because we didn’t have internet or a television on Gotland when they were little. I still don’t have internet! So when they first arrived every summer, there would be this hysterical excitement of opening all their old toy boxes. But after a few hours, they would say, ‘What do we do now?’ They were used to life in Santa Monica, with organized play dates and soccer and baseball. But my godmother always gave me the best advice. She said, ‘It’s good for children to be bored. No poet or artist ever came out of summer camp.’ So they’d be sulking for a while, complaining that there was nothing to do, and then suddenly there would be absolute silence. And I’d find them digging in the dirt or making things out of twigs, as happy as anything.
Ulrica: The house is very big — it has seven bedrooms and expansive common areas. How did you furnish it?
Caroline: I started out with seven beds from IKEA and a box of kitchen utensils and plates, just so we could sleep and eat. Then I went up in the attic at Sabylund, my childhood home. I love the idea of not buying anything new, so I wanted to re-use things that had been a part of my family’s history. I found beautiful chinzes and a closet full of old curtains that I had re-made into bedspreads and roman shades. I found a pair of rotten old rattan chairs that I restored. My cousin gave me a wonderful old leather arm chair that he had completely ruined with cigarette burns. I had it recovered, but I left a couple of the cigarette burns so we always knew where it came from. So piece by piece, the house came together.
Ulrica: Gotland is famous for its countryside auctions, and I know you went to a bunch of them!
Caroline: I would be there in the crowd, happily raising my arm and sometimes not even knowing what I was buying. I got massive amounts of stuff! They’d have these boxes called “bargain boxes” that were basically boxes filled with crap. But some of them had amazing treasures, like antique handmade linens and tablecloths. I remember sitting outside one of the auctions with an absurd amount of boxes and an old organ. A friend with this huge tractor came by and we loaded up all the stuff and drove home. Slowly! The old organ went into my son’s room and he still loves it.
Ulrica: What are your two must-haves for a home?
Caroline: The first thing I always buy is a piano. I think it’s so important to have a piano in a home. I have many friends who are musicians, and it’s nice to sit down and have someone play or to sing together. To me, it’s sort of part of life. The second thing is books. You have to have books in a home. Books and a piano!
Ulrica: You recently attended the premiere of Tommy Lee Jones’s The Homesman in Cannes, in which you play Sonja Richter’s mom. What was that experience like?
Caroline: The movie is about the devastating realities for early frontier women in the 1850s. I play a mother whose daughter becomes mentally ill, and I come out to help her get through the loneliness and the brutal marriage she is in. We really had to transform ourselves for the roles. We grew our eyebrows and we had to be very skinny because we were starving. We filmed for three weeks in New Mexico covered in mud and sand, with the wind blowing the entire time. I was falling out of stage coaches and I didn’t wear any makeup and I was completely filthy. So when we reunited at the premiere in Cannes and walked into this incredibly glamorous party, Sonja and I didn’t recognize each other! We started at each other for a while before the light went on and we realized who the other person was. It was pretty funny!
The Homesman, based on Glendon Swarthout’s acclaimed novel and starring Tommy Lee Jones and Hilary Swank, will premiere in November. Caroline can next be seen this fall in Tom Stoppard’s play Indian Ink in New York City. You can follow Caroline on Twitter and on Instagram.
Now, head on over to Victoria Smith and SFGirlByBay for the exclusive look inside Caroline’s Gotland farm house!
• Ulrica Wihlborg
All photographs by Ulrica Wihlborg ©2014.
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