What one should expect from the home of a woman who decades ago started the first vintage furniture shop in Reykjavík is hard to imagine, but it was clear that it was not going to let us down. Anna is what you would call one of the first and original downtown ‘rats’ of Reykjavík, a term used when describing a person who prefers not to move out of so-called ‘101’, the area mostly referred to by its postal code and the oldest part of Reykjavík.
She and her late husband, Sveinn, belong to a generation of people who, when looking for apartments to buy, decided to look for cheap housing in the rundown area of downtown Reykjavík. They ended up buying an apartment in an unusually big timber house, built in 1918 on Frakkastígur, a downtown street. This was in the late eighties/early nineties, at a time when a colony of people had started forming in the area, which later ended up creating a home base for many of the most influential artists living here and abroad today.
New bars, shops and restaurants started to emerge, and Reykjavík began to change slowly from a small fishing village into a proper capital. Anna and her group of friends contributed in many ways to the new lifestyle that was forming, being owners and founders of many of the most renowned businesses of the time. In 1981, Anna opened up her now-famous vintage store Fríða frænka, after having lived both in England and Sweden, where she developed her lifelong passion for vintage furniture. Returning to Iceland, Anna became friends with Sveinn, her future husband, and he ended up helping her to find the first location for her shop, as well as assisting her in setting it up. A few years later they moved in together to the top-floor apartment where Anna is still living today. Since then the apartment has gone through the necessary changes to adjust it to the needs of the family of four they ended up becoming. Being more of a storage space when Anna’s husband bought the apartment in 1981, with four small rooms and no bathroom, he decided to tear it apart, installing a bathroom and raising the ceiling. Later, they built a new addition where the dining room was situated. In those first years the family shared a small mezzanine, which they used as a bedroom, placing one mattress on the floor where they slept. Gradually, the two children moved to a different room, and at the age of twelve they moved down to the second floor where they had their own separate rooms, today used as guest rooms. By that time Anna and Sveinn had started buying separate parts of the house, and ended up owning the whole building, apart from a small apartment in the basement. Their good nose for real estate also led them to buy another emblematic building in Reykjavík, on Vesturgata, where Anna ran her store for over 30 years. The shop closed on 6 April 2014, 33 years after she first opened the doors on that very same date in 1981.
Anna and Labbi, her dog, now live together in the apartment, after the sudden death of her husband in 2008. Now that the children have moved out, she rents out different parts of the house, as well as owning two apartments in the old building where her shop used to be, which are now rented out to tourists. She says that she is in the process of simplifying her home, having dedicated her whole life to gathering and finding unique objects. What is left in her home today is what has most sentimental value to her; the sofa she bought when she first moved in and objects collected throughout her life. She says she has never been one for owning too much and likes the idea of people living in small spaces. Everywhere you look in her home you see second-hand furniture and objects – the only thing that actually seems like a strange invader is the flat-screen TV she recently bought. But there you have two opposites living in one person, the one with a strong fondness for things from the past, and the other that understands everything must undergo a change. You look out of the window of her house, over the rooftops of the old neighbourhood houses, and right there on the horizon are a jungle of cranes, creating tall buildings for high-end apartments.We discuss for a while the changes the city is undergoing, with rapidly rising prices, and with the calm perspective of a true businesswoman she predicts which neighbourhood will be a good investment in the future.
You can still find her working, opening up her warehouse once a month to all the vintage enthusiasts who are looking for the right buy. It is no surprise that she is situated right in the area where you should have invested a few years back. So if anyone is looking for good advice on property, she might be the right person to talk to.
Text: Auður Gná // Photography: Íris Ann