I arrived in Norway last week to meet Ene and Aili and a group of friends gathering from around the world to celebrate our friend Wencke’s 50th birthday. Wencke was hosting the group on her family’s compound in Tvederstand, a tranquil hamlet of wooden buildings on a fjord about 220 kilimeters South of Oslo.
Tvederstrand developed in the nineteenth century as a shipbuilding center and has retained its maritime character despite having transitioned into a vacation town for Norwegians on summer holiday. Wencke spends summers living in her family’s old furniture factory overlooking the fjord, which she and her husband (both architects) have converted into an open, rustic house, with ample room for guests. Wencke spent her childhood in Tvederstrand and her family stil owns the hill on the side of the fjord opposite town, including a cluster of houses and a still functioning furniture factory called Solfjeld Mobler, which her brother Osbjorn oversees to this day.
Wencke showed me her father’s ledgers from the factory in the 1940’s and ’50’s and shared her childhood memories of the building when furniture was made there, with cotton batting everywhere and the stuffy smell of burlap and raw wood. in the loft. Osbjorn still uses local woods in the kitchen cabinets and windows now made by Solfjeld Mobler, consisting mainly of pine but to a lesser degree maple, cherry and ash.
Pine is everywhere in Tvederstrand, and features prominently in the town’s maritime heritage. Whether the simplest out-building or most elaborate Inn, the old buildings in the town center are built almost entirely out of pine on cut stone foundations, with tile roofs of Dutch clay. I could imagine great stacks of rough pine floating into the fjord on wooden ships, with clear boards culled for building boats and knotty ones for buildings.
Board and batten over timber frame construction is the preferred design language, befitting a Northern clime with a short building season and harsh winter. The pine is traditionally washed with zinc white to protect it from the elements. With the aid of a blanket of snow, the white wash also reflects back light, which is in short supply during the brief days of winter.
Like many Norwegians, Osbjorn Solfjeld is an avid sailor and told me of the traditional Sjekte (pronounced See-yehk-teh) still in production on the fjord. A sturdy, stout double-ender, the Sjekte are descendants of the Viking longboats, adapted over time to local conditions. They are ‘clinker built’ of clear pine over steam bent frames and perfectly capture the Norsk spirit. Similar hulls are to be found on fjords throughout Norway, with minor variations reflected in the different names given them, sometimes on the same fjord.