The apartment building where our next guest lives is designed by one of Iceland’s most renowned architects, Sigvaldi Thordarson, something which becomes obvious on the approach to the big building and his signature colours, white, mustard yellow and blue, become visible. The highly functional mid-fifties design, like so many others that you can find in Reykjavík, define modernism, an era that influenced not only architecture in Iceland, but also opened up the door to a new ways of using and living in domestic spaces.
Our guest, who want’s to remain anonymous, was born in the north of Iceland where she lived until going to college when she moved to the capital, Reykjavík. Upon finishing college, as the time to choose a profession approached, the options were more limited than they would be today. You either decided to be a lawyer, a priest or a doctor. As she could not go abroad to study, she chose instead to become a doctor rather than pursuing her main passion, architecture.
When the doctor opens up the doors to her home you are in for a big surprise when leaving the austere staircase, to enter a world that makes your mind drift away in any possible direction. You realize that this home is something unique and a rare find, both here in Iceland as it would be almost anywhere in the world. The home is a mosaic of collections of different types and sizes, from so many different ethnic groups and countries that you feel more like you have entered a museum dedicated to anthropology than a private home.
The first thing that demands your attention is an entire wall covered with a collection of masks, something our guest says started one day when she bought a mask to make sure she did not feel too alone in her home. That idea later developed into an impressive collection of around 150 masks that now keep her, and her family, company every day. There are so many interesting things, chess players from Gambia, Navajo dolls, mathematical tools from Russia, persian rugs, Indonesian puppet collection, a Dutch ceramic collection that has few competitors in this country, Icelandic craft and art and last but not least a very impressive sea shell collection, the only collection she says she is taking with her to the grave. And the list could go on and on.
We sit down and have a coffee and start talking about different countries we have visited and the countries we would still like to visit. Our guest has already traveled to many countries in the middle East, but a visit to Morocco is still on her list over places she would like to visit, but her next destination is Montreal to visit family. She points out the obvious, that when traveling abroad she never shops anywhere other than in antique stores, markets or museums. She carefully selects every object that goes into her house and has done for the last decades, creating this map of her life that now has gained a life of its own. But she not about to stopp and is now contemplating her next collection, wooden dolls by the designer Alexander Girard produced by Vitra. They would without a doubt fit in perfectly, even though we find it hard to figure out where she will find space to place them. But during our visit, we did hear her mention that the bathroom would be a nice place to have them on display, just besides a coat rack already hanging there, designed by Charles and Ray Eames. We agree on that location.
At last when leaving we ask her if she has any thoughts about what she might have been doing in past lives. The reply is short and precise; “ I have no idea about that, but I know perfectly what I will be in my next life. A minimalist.”
We walk out the door realizing that less is really a bore and we thank our host for the journey she has invited us on, knowing that best kept secrets are always best kept secret, so we decided to only share our exotic discovery with you.
Text: Auður Gná // Photography: Íris Ann