There are several different types of residential homes in Sweden: lägenheter (apartments), parhus (semi-detached houses), radhus (terraced houses), or villor (detached houses).
Hus is a false friend because it can mean “building” as well as “house”, for example rådhus (town hall), sjukhus (hospital or literally “sick building”) or flerbostadshus (apartment block, or literally “multiple home building”), although it’s mostly used for either residential buildings or those used for collective purposes, such as workplaces, buildings used for care, or other public buildings. More generally, the direct translation for “building” is byggnad.
So a villa is a detached house. It doesn’t have the same connotations as in English, where it suggests a certain grandeur and often refers to extravagant holiday homes. A Swedish villa could be a relatively modest construction, although they are generally more expensive than apartments or terraced homes.
You will also hear Swedes talk about a villaområde, which you could translate as “residential area”, “suburb”, or most directly as “area with detached homes”. The subtext here is that there won’t be much else besides the detached homes; Swedish towns and cities tend to have amenities, restaurants and other facilities very closely concentrated in centres, where you’re also most likely to find apartment buildings.
One of the most famous Swedish villor is Villa Villekulla, the fictional home of children’s book heroine Pippi Longstocking, along with her horse and monkey.
In times gone by, Swedish used the word stuga to talk about smaller detached houses and villa for the grander homes. These days, the meanings have shifted slightly so that a stuga is a holiday cottage and a villa a permanent home. You would rarely call someone’s permanent dwelling a stuga (this could sound patronising), but you might hear someone talk about a grand sommarvilla.
Owning a villa is a common aspiration in Sweden, not just because of the cost but also because of the high cultural value placed on privacy.
Jag drömmer om att äga en villa
I dream of owning a detached house
Han växte upp i en villa strax utanför Göteborg
He grew up in a detached house just outside Gothenburg
Villa, Volvo, Vovve: The Local’s Word Guide to Swedish Life, written by The Local’s journalists, is now available to pre-order. Head to lysforlag.com/vvv to read more about it, and use the discount code VOVVELOVE (valid until October 27th) to get a 10% discount on all pre-orders.