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The Project That Shaped Me: Erik Nissen Johansen, Stylt

In our recurring series, we explore the projects that have most shaped the people behind them.

23/03/2022 3 min read
© Emelie Otterbeck

Erik Nissen Johansen is the founder and creative director of Stylt, a hospitality design studio founded in Gothenburg in 1988 and now most famed for its ground-breaking hotel and restaurant work.

The project

Pater Noster Lighthouse, a one-of-a-kind, nine-bedroom hotel on a remote Swedish island.

The role

My role in the project has been incredibly varied. I have been – and still am, in this ever-ongoing project – creative director, designer, carpenter, fisherman, skipper, artist, guide and entertainer among many other things. Also, I’m an active partner in Pater Noster’s operating company.

The why

At Stylt, we have the privilege to work with projects that are all formative in their own, certain way. We work globally and local, with small independent entrepreneurs and big, international chains. But after working for more than 30 years within the hospitality business, I have rarely come across such a unique destination as Pater Noster. It ticks all the boxes when it comes to offering transformative guest experiences and is a fantastic ambassador for the new definition of luxury.

This is a project that has it all and where even what seems to be an obstacle or a problem can be turned into a unique selling point. The bumpy boat ride to this remote island, the isolated and weather-exposed location, the small-scale of it all – everything is a part of the experience.

That a place that is so inaccessible and barren beats traditional luxury and has won so many awards says it all, I think. It has what today’s guests are looking for: authenticity, personality and privacy, spiced with fantastic nature experiences and a thrilling history.

The challenge

Of course, one of the biggest challenges was launching Pater Noster in the middle of the pandemic. On the other hand, I think this actually helped to put the spotlight on the isolated location, far away from civilization. The budget was low and ambitions high: to turn this abandoned island into one of Sweden’s top destinations. The remote location was a real challenge when it comes to the extensive renovation and to get everything out to the island, no matter the weather.

The education

Everything we do at Stylt is based on extensive research and storytelling. Using our method, we all learnt so much about the island and its history; about generations of lighthouse masters and their families who lived here for more than 100 years; about the sea, the weather and the nature. I qualified for a coastal skipper degree, learnt how to harvest and prepare seaweed, and how to make our signature rum with the island’s herbs and flowers. The project reminded me how important it is to be able to improvise and to apply the do-it-yourself attitude that has been a part of Stylt’s DNA since the beginning.

The collaboration

The island with its lighthouse and buildings is owned by the Swedish government and managed by the National Property Board of Sweden. The collaboration between us was crucial to get the project going. To cooperate with the local coastal community has been really important. We found some of the best talent and created unconventional partnerships and collaborations with individuals, companies and organisations such as The Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, seaweed divers, the Gothenburg Film Festival, The Academy Awards (the Oscars) in Hollywood, World Ocean Day and many more. This is very much in line with Stylt’s original concept, inspired by the Renaissance’s ideas of cross-border collaboration, creativity and innovation.

The inspiration

It confirms that the field of luxury has changed dramatically, going from possessions to poetic experiences. It’s about meaning, purpose and learning. Even if every project is unique, I’m sure that many of our future ventures will share this principle one way or another. We will continue our mission to tell inspiring and meaningful stories, to create amazing guest experiences and hospitality design extraordinaire the Stylt way.


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