Outlook Magazine - Fall 2023

Skol!-worthy experience

Alums’ Viking ship tiny house one of 100 ideas from around the world to win Airbnb lodging, design competition.

M innesota is rightly proud of its deep Scandinavian roots. After all, the NFL Vikings play in a Viking-themed stadium and fans chant “Skol!” (or cheers) after a touchdown. That’s what Elena Mercurio ( ’ 09) , thought of in 2022 when she saw on social media that Airbnb had a contest seeking out-of the-box ideas. When her research showed that there was no Viking ship lodging in Minnesota — or apparently in the world — she and partner Thomas Hynes (’10) knew they had an idea with cachet. Hynes, an industrial design graduate, did some sketching in Illustrator, dusted off his blueprint skills and drew up plans for a 425-square-foot wood tiny house shaped like a Viking ship. They entered the idea, along with “tens of thousands” of others from around the world, according to Airbnb. They made the first cut, down to 500, and the second down to 200. For Mercurio and Hynes’ final entry submission, a video, they included a Min nesota Vikings helmet to help seal the deal. And they won $100,000 — one of 100 winners from 20 countries — to create a Skol!-worthy addition to the OMG! page at Airbnb.

Hynes recalled a design project at UW-Stout in which students fused ele ments of nature with modern design. This challenge was similar. “When you can nail form and function together really well, that’s the best as far as design goes.” The structure has been named Knarr House, in honor of a type of Viking merchant ship. Booking is available exclusively on Airbnb for the first year. Search for Viking Ship Knarr House or follow @knarrhouse on Instagram or Facebook. Mercurio and Hynes live in Columbia Heights, Minn. She is a product trainer and content marketer for Aura Cacia essential oils. “I’ve missed having a creative project,” Mercurio said. “This has affirmed that we are both designers with creative ideas.” Hynes is an associate manager for Whole Foods in Maple Grove. If their Viking ship project goes well, they have ideas for other themed tiny houses and could envision this becoming their full-time work. “It’s creatively validating for me. Something I conceptualized is now a reality,” Hynes said. “There are days when I just want to go up and work on the Viking ship.”

“I couldn’t believe it,” said Mercurio, an apparel design major. “I knew we had a really cool idea, but what are the chances they would pick us?” “When I got the text from Elena that we won, I thought she was messing with me,” Hynes said. “Shortly after that we realized, ‘Oh, man, we have to do this, build it and promote it.’” They spent the next 10 months working to meet Airbnb’s Aug. 1, 2023, deadline. They found a builder to make the 1-bedroom-plus, 75-foot-long ship. It will have a shiplap, cedar-sided exterior and aspen and white oak interior. A key feature will be a deck, with an interior staircase leading to a rooftop hatch. A mast on the deck will have a pull-down sail that will function as a screen for watching, say, the Vikings on TV or a movie. Their design melds Viking longship — they went to see a re-created one — with Scandinavian minimalism. The bow will have a dragon head and the stern a dragon trail, with Viking shields on the side. The couple, who are expecting their first child, are doing most of the interior finishing. “We’re blending the old Viking world along with modern design and creature comforts,” Mercurio said. “The deck is where you’ll really feel like you’re on a Viking ship.”





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