Posted by: Sarah | July 30, 2010

There’s No Place Like Home…A Guide To Norwegian Houses

Eliot and I recently moved house.  We had to because our landlord was back from South Africa so after weeks of searching on we found a place not too  far from where Eliot’s job.  We’re now located further west of Oslo, which worried me at first, but after realising we have IKEA 2 mins away, the biggest shopping center in Scandanavia 5 mins away and a beach on the island we’re living on…I got over it!  Anyway, this prompted me to write a quick post about the type of housing in Norway.  Øystein and Tom at work gave me a short masterclass over coffee of which I’m now going to try to recall…along with my own bit of research.

It’s quite rare to see a brick house in Norway – must be something to do with the cold cracking the mortar.  Almost all of the houses are built out of wood with slate tiles on the roof..  However, it’s not unusual to see houses with grass on the roof.  This was a technique used in the Viking and Middle Ages – people would lay birch bark down on a sloping roof and then put turf on top to keep it in place – it also made for great insulation.  In the summer, the grass would grow and apparently they would put a goat on top to keep the grass short!  If I recall correctly, this technique was also used underneath the house.  They would build the house up on stilts with the turf underneath.  I could have just made that bit up – I’ll check on Monday!

It’s also quite common to see houses painted in bright colours such as red, yellow, blue or green.  Our first house was black and the one we’re in now is white but this place is surround by a multi-coloured mishmash of cottages.  In fact, some of the islands in Oslo Fjord have rules about which colour you can paint your house and if you take a boat ride around the fjord they’ll tell you which islands are red and which are yellow.

Boundaries are not common in Norway unless you have a lot of money and can afford quite a nice plot.  We’ve seen quite a few properties where the gardens are divided by low fences…that is if they’re divided at all.  Where there is communal gardening they have specially organised “dugnads” (left) which is where the community will get together for a big clean up – usually followed by a big booze up!  They do this to tidy up gardens, communal areas, schools and offices.  We have yet to experience one.

Another little fact for you.  All houses in Norway have to have a chimney and open fire by law.  This is because it gets so cold and should the power go down, people need to have another way to heat their houses.  I think it’s also law that all properties have external lighting. This may have something to do with the very cold dark winters – you need lights to find your house at 3pm in the afternoon!  Again, I could have made this up but you look out at night and the whole town in twinkling.   It’s very common for people to rent out floor space in their home and they do this because you can lease up to 50% of your total floor space tax-free.  It’s quite a nice little income for many. 

Finally – the summer and winter cabins.  These are VERY old and dotted around everywhere in Norway.  These are the places that Norwegians escape to in the summer (to go swimming in the sea) and winter (to go skiing in the mountains).  Quite often these cottages are small, sparse and basic – sometimes there are no roads to these cabins so you have to ski, walk or snowmobile your way to the front door.  Others don’t have running water – it’s a case of chipping the ice until you find some.  However, these cottages often come with a lot of history and are mostly handed down the family tree.  During WW2, the Germans occupied many of these cottages as posting stations in the mountains.  One of my friends, Catherine, remembers finding cans of food from 1943 in the basement when she was little.  Amazing. 

The Folk Museum on Bygdoy is the best place to see Norwegian architecture at it’s best.  Go on a dry day – much of the museum is outdoors and it’s quite amazing to walk around and in some of the old houses.

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