‘There is a really incredible natural scent to this place. Almost all of the doors are open most of the time – there is the salt of the sea, the freshness of the greenery,’ says Ben Gorham, founder of fragrance house Byredo, of his stunningly modern beach retreat on Gotland. ‘There’s also a faint whiff of sheep,’ he adds with a smile, referencing the animals that share their name with this remote dot of land in the Baltic Sea.
The Swedish island may be best known for the medieval architecture of Visby, a picturesque town and UNESCO world heritage site, but it also has a wild side. It is the latter that attracted Ben to build a home here to share with his wife Natasha and their two daughters, Ines and Anouk. A place to unplug, often literally, from the hustle of their urban base in Stockholm.
‘There is hardly any signal here at times,’ he notes, clearly happy with the arrangement.
Sweden is Ben’s birthplace and the country in which he chose to launch his successful business, but the entrepreneur often describes himself as a gypsy. Indeed, Byredo’s iconic fragrance ‘Gypsy Water’ is inspired by this feeling that the whole world is his home. His mother is from India and his father from Canada and, growing up, he moved between Toronto, New York and Stockholm for his studies.
Those experiences of exploration from his youth now play into his brand’s scents, but smell is not something that has always fascinated Ben. At an athletic six feet and five inches tall, his first plan was a career as a professional basketball player, but visa issues cut that path short. Instead, he headed to art school, where a chance encounter with a perfumer had a profound effect on him.
Byredo was founded in 2006 and its mission, to translate memories and emotions into perfumes, home fragrances, lotions, and, most recently, jewellery and make-up, is still core today.
For adventure-loving Ben, that ethos doesn’t just refer to nostalgia for the past. This is a man with a passion for making new memories. A fan of the great outdoors, he’s never happier than when communing with nature. Even at home in Gotland, he’s rarely indoors.
‘The house is the perfect pit stop for its environment,’ he says. ‘Its panoramic views really call you out.’
Heeding the sea’s siren song, Ben’s newest passion pulls him from the sofa to the surf every day. It’s the latest in a long line of outdoor pursuits that include skiing, hiking and climbing. On every expedition, he carries a small notepad, ready to impart his experiences from paper to scent. Perfume ‘Eleventh Hour’, for instance, was inspired by trips to Alaska and northern Iceland. He hoped to bottle and share the bitterly cold air in these extreme places. A pop-up shop featuring the new scent and camping equipment was set up in Paris’s Marais district for the product’s launch.
Always one to explore new opportunities, Ben has launched many collaborations over the years, including with Ikea (the ‘Osynlig’ range of scented candles are an affordable entry point to his world) and Virgil Abloh’s cult streetwear label Off-White, with which he created not just a fragrance, ‘Elevator Music’, but also a capsule fashion collection.
Most unlikely at first glance was the clothing he created in partnership with outdoor brand Peak Performance – the result of not being able to find suitable pieces for a walking tour in Riksgränsen, northern Sweden, a short hop from the Arctic Circle. But, once again, it demonstrates Ben’s commitment to conveying the benefits of being in nature, which, he says, ‘has a certain power to liberate the body and mind’.
It’s no surprise, given his affinity with the outdoors that nature has seeped, ‘unconsciously’ he says, into the design of this family retreat. With vast windows that drink in the landscape, it is a temple to organic materials. The exterior is clad in wood that has aged to a silvery finish, while inside there is a strict palette of oak, terrazzo and concrete.
‘My youngest loves the floors, as they are ideal for her roller boots,’ explains Ben. A daredevil quality is obviously in the DNA. For him, however, the most important thing about home is to create a place that is comfortable and practical for his children. That extends to not being overly precious about the furniture here, which includes an ‘Alanda’ coffee table by Paolo Piva for B&B Italia and ‘Sawbuck’ chairs by mid-century Danish master Hans J Wegner for Carl Hansen & Søn.
Ben’s favourite piece, though, is the kitchen table. ‘You can see the sea from there and it has a constant stream of activity around it,’ he says.
Even when relaxing, it’s apparent that he is a man not keen on sitting still. For that reason, the pandemic could have been a struggle for him. Sweden did not enter a strict lockdown, but overseas adventures were off the cards and Ben, Natasha and the girls spent more time than ever at their Gotland retreat.
‘I miss that sense of anticipation and excitement from travelling,’ he admits, ‘but staying at home has afforded me so much precious time with my family.’
‘I definitely have more time to think here,’ he adds. One of the results of these extra moments of reflection is Byredo’s newest scent ‘Mixed Emotions’. Designed as a meditation on the tumultuous nature of our times, it is described as ‘a distillation of highs and lows, mirroring unstable realities and a world in flux. A reminder that it is okay not to be okay’.
The sentiment is a prescient one as we all work on our individual ways to move forward after a year like no other. For Ben, that process involves reconnecting with what inspires him.
‘I will catch waves as often as I can, jump on the bike, eat, hang out with the family,’ he says, listing the freedoms he enjoys most at his beachfront escape. Everyday luxuries that have their own healing power. ‘The consistent thing about the days here,’ he has realised, ‘is the overwhelming sense of calm that comes from the house and the island.’ byredo.com