A coffee and sit down with Icelandic designer Helga Guðrún, owner of Stáss Design and one of four companies in the artistic collective Netagerðin, to learn about Iceland opened my eyes to everything design and architecture in Reykjavik, Iceland. We talked about everything from Reykjavik’s turf house beginnings to the cities love of modern, new products with traditional influences.
At first glance, Reykjavik seems like a New England coastal town. I was interested to learn that up until the early 1900’s most of the home and buildings in Reykjavik were turf buildings, made out of stone and turf material like matted grasses. The first permanent stone structure was their parliament building, built in 1881, and the oldest areas of the city only date back to the 1930’s.
Icelandic people love new design; they always want to be up-to-date, sometimes even to a fault. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, as the country’s economy thrived, there was a craze to remodel and update. Sadly, as they did this, they would tear out and tear down the old designs and literally throw out old furniture and home decor. When the economy crashed in 2008, people in Reykjavik modified the way in which they remodeled their homes and became much less frivolous about their previous possessions.
Places such as Netagerðin have tried to incorporate Icelandic antiques as well as local materials and traditions into their design. Their shop was once a warehouse in the 1960’s that was shut down for years before they bought it. When they opened the doors, it was filled with vintage ceramics, furniture and appliances, some of which Helga incorporated in the design of the attached restaurant, Forrétta. The modern sleek mini-pendant lights mixes it up and gives the design a modern look. And note the nod to Bjork in the form of the stork pouf…
Helga went on to tell me that all the artists in the collective at Netagerðin focus on using local materials, local traditions and traditional Icelandic patterns in their design. She tells me that there is always a story behind the product that ties in with the country. One significant design inspiration in Iceland has always been the sea as the country, especially Reykjavik, is surrounded by it and it is such a big part of their history.
Until recently, Helga tells me, there were not any monumental structures in the city. Thankfully the construction of the Harpa concert hall survived the economic crash and is now a gorgeous structure on the edge of the coast. It was a collaboration between design firms Henning Larsen Architects and Batteríið Architects and artist Ólafur Elíasson to create a beautiful, interesting, monumental space. Harpa was awarded the World Architecture Award in 2011. The building is a cultural icon reflecting the sea and the city, and glows like a jewel box through the summer nights as the sun coasts along the horizon.
Another significant building in the city center is the Hallgrímskirkja church. The style of the building is supposed to resemble the lava flows of the Icelandic landscape. Taking over 38 years to build and only being completed in 1986, the church stands as the tallest building in Reykjavik. It is beautiful to see how it is illuminated in the midnight light during the summer.
Icelandic design in Reykjavik is still quite young, but I have a feeling that it will soon be a city to watch in the design world.
Written July 12, 2012 by Allison Rosenberg