Icelandic designer Halfdan Pedersen‘s house is located in the remote fishing village of Flateyri, in the Westfjords of Iceland. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic and grand location: with the open sea and gigantic mountains as a backdrop, the interior and film set designer (who used to work in Hollywood) created the most dramatic and unforgettable setting for his own home.
But the real beauty of the house lies within. Its imposing black exteriors uncover a wealth of treasures as one steps inside – a warm and wondrous house built of 100% reclaimed materials, each corner telling a story of lives lived before. Everything in the house – the walls, floors, furniture, even the toilets and sinks – is personally sourced and reclaimed by the designer himself, from all over Iceland. It took him ten years to complete it.
I spoke with Dani – as he is called by friends and family – and discovered the story (and the fond memories) behind this truly majestic house.
What inspired you to build the house?
I came across this house while shooting a documentary film about an annual rock music festival, Aldrei Fór Ég Suður, which takes place in the nearby town of Ísafjörður. I lived in Los Angeles at the time and this was the first time this now-annual festival took place. This was in 2004.
While there, I drove to nearby villages to observe and to film everyday Icelandic fishing village life. That was the first time I ever came to Flateyri and it got to me right away. It was a still and sunny, winter afternoon. Not a cloud in the sky. Every camera frame was breathtaking, with gigantic mountains quietly looming in every background. I must have spent hours observing stray cats jumping from the ground attempting to catch butterflies. This total tranquility was a huge contrast to my life in LA for the past ten years, and it had a big impact on me. Big enough that I decided to move back to Iceland and revive this strange house.
Every camera frame was breathtaking, with gigantic mountains quietly looming in every background
The house was in total neglect and obviously haven’t been cared for for a long, long time. Nobody had lived there for 15 years. There was no heating, no water, no electricity and a big part of the floors and outer walls were missing. It was basically totally ruined, even the support beams were soggy. There were piles of snow in every room and dead kittens everywhere. I was told it was scheduled to be demolished.
I didn’t know the first thing about rebuilding a house but I was dumb and optimistic enough to want to give it a try. Despite the fact that friends and family tried to persuade me otherwise.
And so it began, a ten year hobby rebuild. It became a total obsession. I’ve never been as dedicated and passionate about anything in my life before. And I had such amazing friends join me with such amazing enthusiasm that in retrospect, I think it would not have moved anywhere forward without them. We had unforgettable fun in each trip but it was always all about work, work, work. And so much more never-ending work.
In the very first work trip there must have been about ten of us, one of whom was a girl named Sara Jónsdóttir, a niece of a friend of mine who came to help out. We fell for each other and been together ever since.
And so it began, a ten year hobby rebuild. It became a total obsession.
What is the story behind the house?
It is one of the oldest houses in Flateyri. The original part was built by a fishing boat captain of a shark vessel in 1896. New wings or enclosed additions were added to the house in the 1940s and 1950s. Now, it is all very open on the inside. It holds very little official record. But as with many old remote structures, it has served many different purposes throughout time. I’ve heard it was once a makeshift hospital and once an office of the town’s governor. People have been born here and people have died here. I have records that show that, at one point in time, it was the legal residence of 38 people.
People have been born here and people have died here.
Can you tell us your favourite pieces or rooms in it?
My favourite space is the upstairs living room. It is the oldest part of the house and truly the heart of the house. It’s hard to find words that truly describe how important that space was to us friends while demolishing and rebuilding. Each and every night, we somehow found that extra energy to make that section cozy so that we could sit down in our dirty down-overalls and talk for a few hours, in unheated sub-zero temperatures, before we crashed into our sleeping bags on the floor. We did endless renovations to it, as we did to the entire house, slowly.
Each and every night, we somehow found that extra energy to make that section cozy so that we could sit down in our dirty down-overalls and talk for a few hours…
Sounds so fun! Can you tell us more about your friends who helped you?
I got incredibly generous help from two dear friends, Árni and Brynjólfur – throughout the whole process – who joined me in nearly every trip out there, from start to finish. And also, I was fortunate to meet an incredibly skilled local carpenter, Arnar Guðmundsson, from a small village nearby, whose work and soulful touch can be seen and felt throughout the whole house.
Do you live here with your family?
Yes, but we only live here part time. Sara is the director of Design March, an annual design festival in Reykjavík. We now have three children and our work requires us to live in Reykjavík as well. We are trying to find the right balance between these two places.
Is there such a thing as Icelandic design? What characterises it?
Design is so many things and it is hard to generalise. So many categories. If I were to try… Icelandic design is in its infant stages, which can best be described as experimental and playful.
What makes a home a home?
A home is our mothers womb, our private, personal place of utmost untouchable comfort. It is our life’s most important architectural structure. It’s our own private terminal of arrivals and departures and therefore it needs to be a place that genuinely says Welcome and Goodbye. A home is a refuge for us to instantly unwind in comfort as our hectic day come to an end, as well as a place for us to comfortably recharge and become stimulated for a fresh new day.
A home is our mother’s womb, our private, personal place of utmost untouchable comfort. It is our life’s most important architectural structure.
Design March celebrates fresh and exciting Icelandic Design.
March 23-26, 2017 at Reykjavik
Dani’s house is featured in my book Scandinavia Dreaming, among other inspiring Nordic interiors, homes and design.