Just looking up at Lísbet’s windows, especially when lit up at night, makes you imagine that something really magical must be going on in that house. Situated on one of the most sought-after streets in downtown Reykjavík, her house keeps a different history to many of its neighbours. Designed by one of Iceland’s most renowned architects, Guðjón Samuelsson, the building was initially built as a doctor’s facility, never with the intention of becoming a residential house.
Lísbet, the owner, is not known for turning down a challenge, which is clear from the companies she has founded, ranging from one of Reykjavík’s first cosmopolitan restaurants, which still exists today, to starting a well-known fashion brand called ELM, which she ran with her partners for almost 15 years. In the true spirit of someone who sees opportunity where others see obstacles, and having already done some very successful renovations on other houses where she had lived, she and her husband decided to buy the house on Skólavörðustígur, along with her parents, who moved into the first ground floor, where her mother still lives. The apartment needed to be adjusted to the new owners, changing the distribution of space and turning the top floor, then not in a fit state to occupy, into the family sleeping area.
It was important to keep in mind that the house is part of Reykjavík’s cultural heritage; something that is difficult to forget, as it is overlooked by one of the city’s most iconic buildings, Hallgrímskirkja, which was designed by the same architect. She therefore decided, out of respect for the building and its history, to adjust her initial ideas to the original architecture. When finally entering the building, you realise that what you had imagined many times from looking at it, is just the tip of the iceberg. A beautiful, wide marble staircase welcomes you when you enter, telling the story of an ambitious project, architect and builder. Once inside the apartment you enter a different world, completely tailored by the owner to her own personal style.
Lísbet has a background in fine art, having studied in Sweden, initially doing ceramics and then developing her art into printing and, later, paintings. It is clear that her home was not made in a day, and it somehow gives you the impression of joining together the more raw creative side of an artist and the elegance of the fashion designer Lísbet later turned into. These different phases of her life are what form this genuine and exquisite home. It is a home of a world traveller, a small escape from the sometimes common Nordic ambience, a house that almost invites you to travel in your mind to places of warmer climes.
Having already seen too many cities turn into big shopping malls for worldwide brands, Lísbet says the thrill of the surprise is hard to find, and for that reason she does not travel as much as she used to, other than to her favourite destination – the city of Essaouira in Morocco. Therefore, her next project is located on a remote island in Iceland; a house she recently bought and is starting to renovate. But no matter how isolated and how far she goes, we know her houses will always be one of a kind, and the element of surprise will not be lost, for she still has the thrill for the hunt, the energy and the will to create something new. It is best explained through her own words: ‘I get bored when I’m not busy enough’. And with that we take a pause and wait patiently for an invitation to a dream house on an remote island.
Text: Auður Gná // Photography: Íris Ann