Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland
Decorated Farmhouses Of Hälsingland
Cultural Sweden Europe And North America

In a comparatively small area of north-eastern Sweden, bordering the Gulf of Bothnia and known as Hälsingland, are a concentration of large richly decorated, wooden farmhouses and associated farm buildings reflecting the peak of prosperity for the farming landscape in the 19th century and the social status of its farmers.

 The seven sites are, spread across an area 100 km from east to west and 50 km north to south. Six of these are in Hälsingland Province with a seventh just across the border in Dalarna Province –although this area was culturally part of Hälsingland in the 1800s. The farmhouses are seen as the best and most representative of the decorated farmhouse tradition, and have been selected from some 400 surviving decorated rooms.

 Hälsingland is mountainous and fairly densely afforested province with the small amount of cultivable land (approximately 5% of the total) in long narrow, flat, valleys alongside lakes and rivers.

 The rural landscape of small villages and scattered farmsteads has evolved over at least seven centuries. The landscape reflects the comparative independence of the farmers, traditional communal use of pasture, and mixed farming based on cattle breeding, arable cultivation, forestry, flax growing and hunting.

 In the 19th century, communal use of woodland and pasture and traditional sharing of valley fields was replaced by a legal apportionment of land to farmers, part of a national land regularisation scheme This change brought considerable prosperity to the farmers who invested their new wealth in large buildings.

 A particularly distinctive feature of the new or enlarged farmhouses was the provision of either a separate house, a Herrstuga, or rooms in the main house, set aside for festivities, special occasions or assemblies, and hardly used for the rest of the year. These rooms were usually the most highly decorated in the farmstead.

 In the 18th century, most farms had houses and farm buildings arranged around a courtyard with a Portlider, or access building on one side. During the 19th century, the layout was often changed to a more open arrangement of house with side wings. Gradually during the hundred years from around 1800 many houses also changed from one storey to either one and a half or two storeys.

 Most buildings were constructed of jointed horizontal timbers of pine or spruce from the village’s forests. By the 18th century, the face of the timbers was planed smooth and in the 19th century many buildings were faced first with broad, hand-sawn, vertical timber boards, and later machine cut ones, often painted, to make the houses look more similar to those constructed of brick. Dark red paint using pigments from the Falun copper mines was also used in Hälsingland (and all over Sweden) and came to be seen a symbolic of Swedish rural life. Later in the 19th century lighter pastel colours were also introduced. The traditional roof covering was birch bark, held in place by thin split rods. This was supplanted in the 19th century by nailed shingles and in the 20th by tiles for dwellings and tin sheets for outbuildings.

 A distinctive feature of the 19th century houses is their elaborate decoration, a fusion of popular art and contemporary landed-gentry styles, such as Baroque, Rococo and “le style gustavien”. On the outside, this elaboration is commonly found in carved decoration around the main entrance door or porch, the work of local cabinet makers. Within, the houses were decorated with canvas or textile paintings affixed to the walls, or with paintings directly onto the wooden ceilings or walls, some supplied in the 19th century by itinerant painters from neighbouring Dalarna (Dalecarlia), and known as Dalecarlian paintings. The subjects were often biblical but with the people depicted in the latest fashions of the time. Four hundred painted interiors have been recorded, the majority from the 19th century. The names of ten painters are known, although the majority of the work remains anonymous.

 The seven sites selected consist of farmhouses with a number of decorated rooms for festivities (between four and ten), with largely intact ranges of farm buildings, and sited within a landscape context that has the capacity to reflect their agrarian function.

 In detail, the property consists of the following farms.

 1. Kristofers farm, Stene, Järvsö

Kristofers farm, with two houses and service buildings arranged around three sides of the courtyard, is on the outskirts of the village of Stene. It was reconstructed in the early 19th century. The larger of the two houses was used solely for festive occasions and both its banqueting house and other domestic rooms have been richly decorated with freestyle and stencilled floral paintings, created by Anders Ädel in the 1850s, and which are typical of the upper Ljusnandal area.

The festivities room in the banqueting house –where the most important celebratory meals were served –has a free-hand painting of landscape views, divided into panels and framed by columns, wreathed in red and blue drapery. The central panel has a cross crowned with an eye, a symbol of God’s all-seeing eye that marked the place for honoured guests.

 2. Gästgivars farm, Vallstabyn

In the 1860s this farm, at the edge of the village of Vallsta, had an enclosed plan –four buildings around a courtyard. The fourth side was later removed and a further group of farm buildings constructed around a yard to the south.

The farm has two dwellings. The residential building was constructed around 1800 but refaced with smooth wooden panels in 1882. The second building, which was reserved for festivities, was constructed in 1838. The building for festivities was decorated throughout by Jonas Wallström over a period of some years. On the ground floor the main room is still in its original state, whereas some of the others have been partially repainted since the 1950s. The unrestored room has stencilled paintings on stretched linen fabric in a vertical design in imitation of silk brocade that is characteristic of Wallström’s work. Around the paintings is a printed wallpaper border.

 3. Pallars farm, Långhed

Långhed village is characterised by large farmhouses often of two and a half stories and impressive complexes of farm buildings.

 Pallars has three houses, dating from the 1850s or slightly earlier, grouped around a courtyard. Both the main house and a house reserved for festivities in the east wing have Dalecarlian paintings. Pallars represents the time when large residential buildings had reached their zenith in Hälsingland. The main central house is of two and a half storeys with a mansard roof. Its façade is finished with smooth wooden panels now painted white and presumably originally painted to imitate pale stone. The house has a large richly carved porch. Within, two rooms retain their painted decoration. On the ground floor a living room has landscape paintings by Svärdes Hans Errson. The paintings executed in oils, together form one overall panorama of trees and bushes.

 4. Jon-Lars farm, Långhed

Jon-Lars is the largest of all the Hälsingland farmhouses with seventeen rooms over two and a half storeys. Built for two brothers and their families in 1857, its empire-style porch shelters have two doors that lead to two separate residential quarters. The house is unusual in that all the rooms for domestic functions were within one roof and there is thus no separate festivities building. There are also no flanking farm buildings, the main group of farm buildings dating from the mid-19th century being a short distance away.

 5. Bortom åa farm, Gammelgården

Bortom åa is a remote forest village in the border district between Hälsingland and Dalarna, an area that was colonised in the 1600s by Finnish immigrants. Its main farmhouse, built in 1819 and extended in 1835, was originally enclosed by a second house and farm buildings but these were moved further away at the end of the 19th century.

 The entire old house has been preserved with its fittings and fixtures so that it now reflects a complete farmer’s house from the mid-19th century. Some of the rooms were decorated in the 1820s and 1830s and others between 1856 and 1863. The lower of the two festivities rooms was decorated in 1825. The main image is of Sweden’s Crown Prince in a covered carriage, flanked by soldier. Around the rest of the room are flower motifs on the walls and landscapes with buildings and figures above windows and doors. On the first floor, a festivities room was decorated in 1856 by the Dalecarlian painter Bäck Anders Hansson with stylised flowers in strong colours within simple frames.

 6. Bommars farm, Letsbo, Ljusdal

Bommars farm consists of winter and summer houses built in the 1840s at right angles to each other, of two and one and a half storeys respectively. Both have late 19th century porches.

 The rooms for festivities take up the entire upper storey of the winter house. The main room has walls covered with hand printed wallpaper, the design copied from wallpaper preserved at Ekebyhof Castle near Stockholm. Two other chambers were decorated at the same time, one with painted, marbled panels framed by a stenciled border and the second with a factory produced Renaissance revival style wallpaper.

 7. Erik-Anders farm, Askesta village, Söderala

Construction of Erik-Anders farmhouse was begun in 1825 and, with its originally yellow painted facades, and hipped and gabled roof with classical moulding, it resembled a small manor house. Its one multi-purpose

farm building was constructed in 1915.


There are festivities rooms on both of its two floors and these were decorated in 1850 by members of the Knutes family from Dalarna. The ground floor room now has wallpaper from the 1890s, while the decorations in the upper rooms survive. The largest room has restrained decoration with marbled dados, below marbled panels with patterned border, and with garlands of flowers over the doors.