The house on Þingholtsstræti 29
Facts about the house on Þingholtsstræti 29
“On the upper corner of Skálholtsstígur (no. 29) is a beautiful wooden house with graceful trees in its garden. It now houses the Sigurður Nordal Institute. This is a Norwegian Sveitserhus, ordered from a catalogue and brought ready to assemble to the country. The façade has many fine carving details and wooden shapes. Some of the towns’s oldest and most striking trees are located in its garden where they can easily be admired. An elm stands by the side of the house, a maple in the back and around the corner, as well as a scented rowan and silver rowan.” (Guðjón Friðriksson. 1995).
History of the house
The beautiful house in question stands on Þingholtsstræti 29 in Reykjavík. At the end of the 19th century, Jón Magnússon, Head of the Governor's Office and later Prime Minister, and Jón Jensson, High Supreme Justice, who later became Sigurður Nordals’ father-in-law, bought plots of land next to each other in Þingholtsstræti. During the years 1898 and 1899 both men built houses for their families, Þingholtsstræti 27 and 29. The house on no. 27 was damaged in a fire in 1975 and was moved across the street to the lot of no. 28 two years later. The house on no. 29 is still in its original place.
Jón Magnússon lived in the house on Þingholtsstræti 29 with his wife, artist Þóra Jónsdóttir, and their foster daughter until the year 1912 when the moved to a stately home on Hverfisgata 21 which Jón had built.
Later, Pálmi Pálsson, principal teacher at Reykjavík Junior College (Menntasskólinn í Reykjavík), gained ownership of the house. His wife was Sigríður Björnsdóttir, their son Páll Pálmason. Pálmi’s family lived in the house until the 1980’s. The house is featured in the writings of poet Stephan G. Stephansson who visited it during his visit to Iceland in 1917 while Pálmi lived there. Halldór Laxness also mentions the house in his self-biographical novels where he describes how he was summoned to a meeting with Pálmi in the house as the principal teacher did not approve of his student’s peculiar spelling.
The Ministry of Education purchased the house in 1987 as the office of Sigurður Nordals Institute. The Institute has been located there since its foundation on 1 January 1988 but in 2006 it merged with other institutions in Icelandic studies under the name of the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies. The Institute’s office is on the main floor but above it is an apartment available to foreign scholars who come to Iceland for research purposes. The house has been well preserved but before the Sigurður Nordals Institute was founded, painter Hörður Ágústsson and structural engineer Leifur Blumenstein created an evaluation report of the house. The report is an insightful summary of the building’s architectural context, the condition of the house by that time and plans for renovation. The house has now been declared a preserved house.
The house on Þingholtsstræti 29 is timber-clad and adorned with traditional Norwegian wood decorations. The cladding is vertical on the upper floor and port, but horizontal on the ground floor. The house is one of the first houses that were brought ready to assemble to the country from Norway and is most likely a so-called Norwegian “catalogue house”. “According to one source it is claimed, however, that Johan Klev from Mandal built the house. If so, the house serves as an example to show that the traditional craftsmanship was not abandoned when the industrialized production of catalogue houses began.” (Translation from: Birgit Abrecht. 2000, bls. 62).
Only two houses in Reykjavík are now believed to be exclusively made from ready-made, imported materials. Those are the house on Þingholtsstræti 29, which is a Sveitserstil (Swiss chalet style) building, and Höfði which is a Jugendstil building. “Both houses are by the Strömmen company in Norway.” (Translation from: Birgit Abrecht. 2000, bls. 62).