Tromsø, Norway: Catch the Northern Lights Over Mountains and Fjords at Moxy TromsøBy Hamish Kilburn
Eleven stories above the arctic circle, a panoramic view — of Norwegian mountains, fjords, and the Northern Lights — sweeps travelers into the natural world.
That’s the first thing you’ll see when you check in at Moxy Tromsø, because the hotel lobby is intentionally perched on the top floor. A welcome drink and an uninterrupted view make this a one-of-kind introduction to one of the most breathtaking landscapes on Earth.
Sculpted by Copenhagen-based designer and longtime mountain backpacker Mette Fredskild, the hotel is designed to help travelers embrace mother nature, whether that means taking in the vista or putting on their boots and trekking into the mountains.
In addition to being a great home base for hiking, sledding, whale watching, and other outdoor adventures, Moxy Tromsø immerses travelers in a multilayered interior design that pays homage to the Northern Lights, the midnight sun, and the community huts that Mette visits during her trips through the mountains.
In this episode, Mette shows Hamish why she chose to “flip the hotel upside down,” how she used adaptive lighting to ensure that nature would always be front and center, and why it was so critical to offer travelers a space where it’s easy to let go of the modern world.
- 01:56 — Why and how Mette “flipped the hotel upside-down”
- 04:50 — How it feels to trek through the mountain hiking trails of Tromsø
- 07:20 — How to design interiors for a great view of the Northern Lights
Featured Hotel: Moxy Tromsø
Featured Designer: Mette Fredskild, Mette Fredskild Studio
Explore more stories about hotel design at Travel by Design
Hamish Kilburn: Those mountains are stunning. And facing that landscape, it can make people feel almost insignificant …
Mette Fredskild: Exactly.
MUX Begins — “Obsidian” by Amaranth Cove
So, it’s very relieving sometimes to feel something is bigger than yourself, right?
Something is bigger than you. You cannot decide everything, you cannot control everything, you could just sit down and be yourself.
It’s not so often we have, in our daily life, this chance to actually let go.
HAMISH VO: This is Travel by Design, where we chat with the visionaries behind the world’s most extraordinary hotels.
I’m your host, Hamish Kilburn, professional hotel reviewer and the editor of Hotel Designs.
Today, our destination is Moxy Tromsø, in the mountain fjords of northern Norway.
From hiking, to kayaking, to dog sledding — Tromsø is perfect for outdoor adventures.
And my guest today is Mette Fredskild, who brings a lifelong passion for the outdoors to her work as an architect and designer.
Mette Fredskild: I am the owner of a small interior architect studio in Copenhagen.
We are about six people, and we have specialized ourselves in doing hotels, and designing experience …
HAMISH VO: Moxy Tromsø is eleven stories tall, with panoramic, floor to ceiling windows on the top floor.
That makes it one of the best hotels in the world for seeing the Northern Lights — brilliant, dancing ribbons of color that light up the sky.
The top floor is also where Mette placed the hotel lobby.
So, to check in, you go all the way up, stop by the bar to get your room key (and a complimentary welcome drink), then you simply turn around, to see this sweeping view of mountains and fjords.
And you know you’ve arrived in Tromsø.
Act 1: Flipping a hotel upside down to cross into the vastness of nature
Mette Fredskild: When we start to plan this hotel, we got, um, drone up to the height of 11th floor …
Hamish Kilburn: Wow …
Mette Fredskild: … got some pictures taken, and then there was just no doubt that this view should be for everybody.
So we took the decision to flip the hotel upside down to give everybody the same view.
So when the guests arrive, you go into the elevator and go the whole way up.
And when the elevator doors open, in front of you, you will see, like, a big fire stove chimney with the amazing view of the mountain.
And I think you, naturally, you will walk around this fire stove, go right to the window, forget about your check in, and then you view the mountain in the background.
Hamish Kilburn: I guess for me with check in experiences, I arrive, I want to check in and get to my room as soon as possible.
But I imagine here, people check in and then they want to chill out, have a drink, have a coffee, just soak up that view for hours. (Chuckles)
Mette Fredskild: I do believe so, honestly. Yeah. Yeah.
Hamish Kilburn: As a designer, when you first saw the site of the mountains and of the fjords in Tromsø, what was it that you wanted your guests to feel as they were experiencing this hotel and capturing their first impressions?
Mette Fredskild: A little bit of relief that you need to lose control here.
Because this is what you feel when you come up there, you feel a little bit detached from the city; it’s, I know it’s only 11 floors, but in Tromsø is very high, so when you sort of take the elevator up, you leave the whole thing behind you.
Just forgetting all the daily thing, all the rush and the busy street and your shoulders get down …
And It’s very relieving sometimes to feel something is bigger than yourself, right?
Something is bigger than you, you cannot decide everything, you cannot control everything, you could just sit down and enjoy, and be yourself.
It’s not so often we have in our daily life this chance to actually let go.
So I think that is what nature, at least for me, gives me a very strong experience, and that would be very lovely if I could share this very special feeling with a lot of guests.
And I think it’s a big privilege …
Hamish Kilburn: Mm.
Mette Fredskild: … to have this kind of space.
Hamish Kilburn: Yeah! Especially with that specific view.
Mette Fredskild: Yeah.
Hamish Kilburn: Those mountains are stunning.
Mette Fredskild: (Laughs) Yeah! We can, we can do so much, but there’s something which is even better than what we can do, right?
Hamish Kilburn: And facing that landscape can make people feel almost insignificant with the vastness of nature, and I don’t say that as a criticism.
Mette Fredskild: No.
Hamish Kilburn: Because it just reminds us who’s boss, you know? Mother Nature is boss.
Mette Fredskild: Exactly. So that’s why we actually feel the biggest thing we could do here was to turn the hotel upside down, because we could make it possible for everybody to experience it.
Act 2: Tromsø’s mountain hiking trails
Hamish Kilburn: I know we’ve been talking a lot about the view of nature, and that obviously has been a clear influence of the hotel’s design, but it is so critical, because people don’t come to Norway just to look at nature from a distance, they travel from all over the globe to really immerse themselves within it.
And I understand that you’ve actually got a long history with hiking through Norwegian mountains and trails yourself …
Mette Fredskild: Yeah, actually, I think since I was a kid, my parents were dragging me into the mountain hiking for weeks with your backpack on.
So I feel I have very strong emotions to this mountain, and I’ve been so many hikes, but it’s a certain point each time, which stay very clear for me, and it’s like, when you, get off your car, or the bus, you get your backpack on …
AMBI: A mountain stream flows in the distance
All what you have is yourself and your gear …
SFX: Footsteps along a trail atop dirt and soil
… and then you start to hike.
You know, typical day in the mountain will be like …
SFX: Hands splash in a stream
You wash yourself in the cold water running —
SFX: Water pours into a bottle
and the next moment you drink of the same water, because you of course drink directly from the nature …
SFX: A match lights a stove burner, and liquid boils
You get your little stove out, and you make your own little coffee, which, uh, has a lot of bean in, and it would be an awful cup of coffee at home, but at the mountain it tastes wonderful!
SFX: Footsteps along a trail atop crunchy snow
It’s about walking, drinking, resting, eating.
SFX: As footsteps come to a stope, a soft, higher-pitched tone rises and falls beneath Mette’s words of reflection, slowing down as she continues reflecting
And because of this enormous space and also maybe the feeling of being very little and sometimes a little bit alone out there, the thing you stress about or fuss about in your daily life, you could say, “Mm, does it matter?”
It’s a good feeling.
AMBI: Sounds of the mountain setting fade away under Hamish
Act 3: How a hierarchy of design enhances the indoor-outdoor connection
Hamish Kilburn: And I think for me, one thing that strikes me if, if I’m visiting Tromsø, and I’m spending the day out in the mountains, and I come back to the hotel to this warm and cozy environment, I just want to understand like some of the interior design choices you’ve made, to keep me fully connected that outside landscape and that feeling that I’ve had outside, and … what was your approach?
Mette Fredskild: We do it by going dark.
Hamish Kilburn: Oh!
Mette Fredskild: Dark background.
Because of these big windows, everything is so bright in front of you, so by doing the interior a bit darker, you respect the hierarchy of the experience, that nature is just the biggest thing there.
Hamish Kilburn: It’s the ideal place to see the Northern Lights.
I’ve actually had a chance to experience Northern Lights before, and there’s this curtain of, like, illuminating light, just appears across the sky, and it’s, it’s so beautiful, but the first thing I go to do, as a modern traveler, is take out my phone to try and capture it.
Obviously, it can’t keep up with the beauty of nature, because it can’t capture the moment at all.
For me, that was really beautiful because it just, it forced me to really enjoy that experience with the people around me …
Mette Fredskild: Yes, yes.
Hamish Kilburn: … and it’s not true what they say, you know, “take a picture, it will last longer.”
Actually, I think the memories lasted longer because I had that experience with nature and with the people around me.
How did you approach designing for travelers who are coming to Tromsø hoping to really capture the Northern Lights experience?
Mette Fredskild: So the Northern Light is a big thing in Tromsø, and of course we cannot guarantee the guests to see it …
So we also thought it was interesting to work with the Northern Light as a theme in our lighting concept, so we have one, like, long big snake going through the whole lobby which actually imitate, a little, bit the Northern Light.
And at the moment, the real Northern Light appear on the sky outside, there’s a button, and you dim, and all light goes down — so your eye can actually see the Northern Light outside.
You could say you sit in the movie theater, right?
So we make the interior a little bit darker to emphasize the big view.
And then, when it’s over, we can turn on more light again.
Hamish Kilburn: Earlier, you mentioned about “respecting the hierarchy around the experience.” Um, I can really picture, really clearly now, how you shaped the interior to meet that exact moment.
Mette Fredskild: Exactly, exactly.
Because when you are a guest, naturally you can experience few things at a time; you cannot absorb everything.
So as a designer I think we have to help the guest to see what is most important, and as long as you stay, you can dig down in different layers.
Hamish Kilburn: Sure.
Mette Fredskild: So the whole lobby is a little bit dark. And then … few big elements to hold the whole interior, like the fire stove, we made huge.
Hamish Kilburn: I love that, by the way.
Mette Fredskild: Then you could say underneath there, we put another level on, which were from the folk dresses. And there was like a beautiful flower from Tromsø.
You will see in the carpets, these flowers in big scales, small scales, it’s a Norwegian check patterns, which you would meet the same kind of check patterns if you reach to a hut in the mountain …
And you can always dig one, one step deeper, but you have to also decide as a designer what is the hierarchy, and not make everything shout.
Hamish Kilburn: And I really respect the way you’ve downplayed those colors to allow those other elements to really take center stage, because they are moments that connect you back to nature, but also allow the guests to feel warm and tranquil within that space.
Mette Fredskild: I totally think it’s connected, how you feel going “up there.”
And I also would believe that people in Moxy Lounge will talk together.
You know, you cannot sit there watching out without almost telling your neighbor on next table:
“Where did you go? Where did you hike? Could you cross the water? Did you climb that mountain? From which side did you climb? Isn’t that fantastic?”
You just, you just want to share it, right? Yeah.
Hamish Kilburn: I love that.
Mette Fredskild: Yeah.
Hamish Kilburn: Mette, I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken to talk to me about this project.
You helped me understand just, kind of like, the subtle ways you’ve created this gateway to such a beautiful location on Earth.
MUX Begins — “Overlander” by Steven Gutheinz
Thank you so much for joining me.
Mette Fredskild: Thank you so much for being so open. (Laughs)
Hamish Kilburn: Yeah. Thank you.
Mette Fredskild: Yeah.
HAMISH VO: Travel by Design is a podcast by Marriott Bonvoy Traveler, the online travel magazine where you’ll find more inspiring hotel design stories.
If you’re curious about the craft of hotel design, then check out marriottbonvoy.com/travelbydesign.
And if you want to go behind the scenes of my travel experiences across the world, then follow me on Instagram @hotel_travel_editor.
This episode was produced by Narratively Creative. Our Senior Producer is James Boo. Our Associate Producers are Nidhi Shastri and Greta Stromquist.
Interview recording by Kim Günther Hansen.
Story edits by Priscilla Alabi, sound design by James Boo — and audio engineering by Dorian Love.
Our Marriott Bonvoy Traveler producers are Valerie Conners and Robin Bennefield.
Special thanks to Mette Fredskild, for speaking with me about her work.
I’m your host, Hamish Kilburn. Don’t forget to subscribe to Travel by Design in your podcast app. And tune in next time to hear more design stories behind the world’s most extraordinary hotels.