Sheryl and Dave Johnson's great-grandparents are from Norway and Sweden. The couple met at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn. And their children are named Britta and Lars. So, it seemed like the next logical step to build a Nordic-style home on their wooded 1-acre lot in Eagan.

"We love to celebrate our Scandinavian heritage," said Sheryl. "It's been a special part of our lives."

The Johnsons, who have traveled to Sweden several times, said they were attracted to the architecture and design showcased in the country's provinces.

"Scandinavian design is clean-lined and functional, yet it can be warm and comfortable for a family," said Sheryl, a former commercial interior designer who volunteers for the American Swedish Institute. "We wanted to create that feeling in our home in Minnesota."

Working with Norwegian-American architect Rolf Lokensgard, they built a custom home that boasts subtle Scandinavian influences. The exterior is painted Falun red (a brick-red color used for centuries in Sweden) accented with simple square windows trimmed in white.

Inside, a massive limestone wood-burning fireplace anchors the vaulted great room and light-stained maple woodwork provides a neutral backdrop for the home's palette of rich green, gold and deep red.

By placing their home on a hill overlooking a ravine, the Johnsons also were able to embrace a Swedish design ideal: bringing the outdoors in. Lokensgard burrowed the three lower-level bedrooms into the hill. "I love looking out and feeling like I'm in the middle of the woods," said Lars, 17, who sleeps in one of those bedrooms.

Contemporary Christmas

But the home Lokensgard designed isn't cookie-cutter Scandinavian. It also integrates contemporary elements.

"I didn't want to copy a house you might see in Sweden," said the architect, whose firm is in St. Paul. "But [I] use some of the Scandinavian design details in a modernist way."

Two-story peaks with skylights rise above the home's functional open floor plan. Lokensgard also used some green building techniques -- such as a geothermal heating system and long-lasting fiber cement siding -- to make the home, built by River City Builders in Nerstrand, Minn., more sustainable and energy-efficient.

"Scandinavian design is famous for combining beauty with form and function," said Dave. "We always look forward to coming home."

That's especially true during the holidays, when Dave and Sheryl unpack their Scandinavian-themed Christmas decorations, many of which they bought during their travels. To honor their ancestors and pass on the rituals they grew up with, Sheryl trims their home with classic holiday decorations such as a Julträd, a handcrafted wood tabletop Christmas tree. Traditional Swedish Christmas symbols such as the Tomte (an elf who delivers gifts) and Julbock (a straw goat) decorate linens, tableware and ornaments. And candles are everywhere, including the Advent candles the family takes turns lighting on the four Sundays before Christmas.

"Candles are important in Sweden," said Sheryl. "They bring warmth and a glow during the darkest days."

Another cherished custom is the celebration of the Festival of Lights or St. Lucia Day, which is today. Just as her mother did when she was a girl, Britta rises early in the morning, dresses in a white gown and a crown of candles (today's version is battery-operated) and serves coffee and home-baked Lucia buns to the family. When he was younger, Lars wore the pointed hat of the Star Boy and assisted Britta.

"I always got excited to wake up and pass out the buns," said the teenaged Britta, who has performed the role since she was 4. "It's unique to Sweden and it's special."

Since Lars has outgrown being Star Boy, he sleeps in. "Now he waits for me to serve him, too," Britta said.

Lynn Underwood • 612-673-7619