Northern Exposure

After a life-changing trip to the land of fire and ice, Brian Patrick Flynn transforms a historic Reykjavik penthouse into his very own Icelandic home for the holidays

In December of 2015, after watching The Secret Life of Walter Mitty almost daily, I took four of the most important people in my life on the trip of a lifetime to the Nordic island nation of Iceland. From the moment the flight attendants woke us up at 6:15 a.m., we opened our eyes to discover a magical snow-blanketed world of pure white, deep teal, jet black and icy blue. To me, this subarctic, outer space-esque world of glaciers, arctic foxes and lava fields felt like paradise.

We arrived at the beginning of an arctic snowstorm, reminiscent of scenes from It’s a Wonderful Life and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Due to this extreme weather, our planned glacier and volcano expeditions were pushed an entire day, so we explored the capital city of Reykjavik by foot. Soon thereafter I knew I wanted to make this magical land my home.

After loading up on Nordic sweaters and blankets, we called it a night, then woke up early the next morning to meet our guide, Árni Hallgrímsson. Arní was early, prepared and personable; we had the same taste in music; plus he happened to be a skilled carpenter and contractor; so we had a lot in common. After two absolutely perfect days exploring volcanoes and glaciers in an amphibious SuperJeep, seeing the Northern Lights and looking for arctic foxes, a lightbulb went off in my head: perhaps Árni was the perfect person to help me find a Reykjavik fixer-upper, see it through to completion and make my Walter Mitty dreams come true.

I returned to Reykjavík to meet Árni at a potential property just eight weeks after our initial trip, hoping it could become the perfect Nordic holiday home. It was perfect, and soon thereafter Árni started demolition and construction, pulled all-nighters doing much of the labor himself with his fiancée Olof in tow, hired top-quality subcontractors and finished the project two weeks early. As a designer, I know finishing a project two weeks early is a true Christmas miracle. 

 Come that November, I dressed my place up in arctic holiday style: sheepskin throws, a framed Nordic sweater above the bar, a bare tree in the living room for texture, cut pine branches in vessels and organic twig garland. And although my Icelandic is super rusty, there’s one sentence I got down just in time, “Gleðileg jól og farsælt komandi ár.” Translation: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!