Twenty five years have passed since the historic summit of Reagan and Gorbachev took place at Höfði House. But that is only a small part of the rich history of this century-old building by the Reykjavík seashore.
Published in the 2011 winter issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.11. By Mica Allan, photos by Páll Stefánsson and Ragnar Axelsson.
Reykjavík’s financial and business district, Borgartún, is like many modern cities and hosts a number of grand buildings fronted with dark, glossy glass. Somewhat incongruously set amongst this is a French Art Nouveau house, surrounded by a broad expanse of lawn. Built in 1909, this little, white house is from a different era and through its history has been witness to passion, poetry and politics. It has an illustrious and diverse heritage and it’s also fallen on rough times, losing its sparkle and majesty and becoming a meager shadow of its former glory. Furthermore, in 2011 it celebrated a special anniversary. But more of that later. In the meantime, sit back and relax as Iceland Review looks back on one of Iceland’s greatest historic buildings and on the many lives it has touched.
Fish and Dragons
Unsurprisingly, being a story involving Icelandic heritage, it all started with fish.
French fishermen were regular visitors to Icelandic shores and their presence in the 19th century was strong, with up to 350 fishing vessels and 6,000 crewmen. The 1820s saw a growing number of vessels and a growing catch of cod, but sadly also a growing number lost their lives, with 4,000 French sailors perishing. Consequently, the French government dispatched hospital ships and then three French hospitals were built; one in Reykjavík, one in the east in Fáskrúðsfjörður and one in the Westman Islands. A French consul, Jean-Paul Brillouin, was appointed to safeguard the interests of the sailors, and it was in 1909 that he and his Norwegian wife ordered a Norwegian catalogue house that although not quite IKEA arrived in kit form ready to be assembled into their new home. The house was, and remains to this day, a blend of French and Norwegian design, with doors and interior fittings influenced by the Louis XVI style and the lobby’s medieval-inspired ornate wood carvings reflecting the Norwegian dragon style.
You can read the remainder of this article in the 2011 winter issue of Iceland Review – IR 04.11. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country's majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.