Torfhildur’s House

Torfhildur’s house was built at Laugavegur 36 in 1896, moved to Reykjavik’s West Side in 2015 and restored.

The writer Torfhildur Þorsteinsdóttir (later Hólm) was a remarkable woman. She was born in Kálfafellsstaður in Austur-Skaftafellssýsla in 1845. She lived in the pictured house, built at Laugavegur 36 in 1896, from 1898 when she bought the house until she died of the Spanish flu in 1918. Torfhildur became the first Icelander to become a professional writer. She was also the first woman to receive a grant from the Icelandic Parliament, 500 ISK. However, not everyone was satisfied with a woman receiving a poet’s grant, so the grant was reduced to 200 ISK and called the wife’s grant. Although Torfhildur was a widow, she had married Jakob Hólm, a merchant at Skagaströnd, in 1874, but he died a year later. Torfhildur was the first Icelander to write historical novels. She wrote novels about the two bishops, Jón Vídalín and Benedikt Sveinsson, in the house on Laugavegur. She was then the first Icelander to be a magazine editor, but Torfhildur published Draupnir in 1891-1908, the Tíbrá annual for children 1892-1894 and the magazine Dvöl, which was published monthly from 1901 until her death.

The bakers Guðmundur Ólafsson and Stefán Sandholt bought the house in 1925. When they built the magnificent building that still houses the Sandholt bakery on Laugavegin in 1936, the house was moved to the back of the plot and raised to a concrete floor. When it was allowed to build a hotel on the back part of the plot in 2015, the house was not in good condition and was in the way of the new hotel. The City of Reykjavík and Minjavernd agreed to move this historic building and restore it. Torfhildur’s house, or the bakers’ house, was given a future location at Starhagi on Reykjavik’s west side and slightly modified by Argos Architects. Torfhildur’s home is now privately owned, a stone’s throw from the end of the runway at Reykjavík Airport.

Reykjavík 28/07/2022 : A7R III, RX1R II : FE 1.8/135mm GM, 2.0/35mm Z

Photographs & text: Páll Stefánsson