It is a quirky old house. At the back, the garden forms a slope, down towards River Helge. Here in Åhus the northern confluent of the river flows into the Baltic.
Once upon a time tobacco plantations were situated on the banks by the river’s lower stream. In old photographs one can see fermenting seaweed gathered in dark piles.
The seaweed was used as fertilizer. Once the tobacco had been harvested, it was dried in wooden tobacco barns.
The plot in Sjögatan was settled in the 18th century. The house dates from 1869 when an original building was done-up from scratch, getting a new brick façade and roof, which proved to be a stroke of luck when the Great Fire broke out a few years later, in 1897. Fortunately for the owner, S. A. Engström, he was in at the time and managed to cover the building in tarpaulin, perfused with water.
23 houses and 18 tobacco plantations were destroyed in the fire. Roving flames lit one building after the other.
In those days the house in Sjögatan was a simple construction with a saddle roof. The blocks that made up the rock foundation came from the medieval bailey.
Around 1920 the house was re-built; nooks and crannies were created, mixing Modern Style and National Romanticism. A storey was added underneath a steep mansard roof, and at the back an extension with a porch and accompanying balustrade were built. The wonky wooden annex was replaced by a thin brick wing, reportedly to hide the view of an unsightly old tobacco barn. The oldest bricks have darkened with time, the new ones a lighter shade. They may have come from elsewhere, perhaps a different brickworks. Making bricks is an old tradition in the village.
Åhus is a classic rural village. For as long as anyone can remember people have been braiding rope, growing tobacco, shipping merchandise, fishing for eel and distilling spirits. Rope makers, tobacco farmers, skippers, fishermen and spirit distillers make up the rich history. Ropewalks and tobacco barns are still reminiscent of the past.Going back even further, Åhus was an episcopal seat. A wall towers over Sjögatan, as high and as long as the Swedish records in pole vault and triple jump. The wall is a relic from a cloister that was built 750 years ago by the Blackfriars, a monastic order formed in the High Middle Ages. In the vicinity of the cloister a university emerged, the first in the Nordic countries.
Today, many cultural practitioners in various fields are based in Åhus. The architect and famous furniture designer Börge Lindau was born here. His father, a carpenter, was probably the same age as Gustav the Joiner in Kvänum. In the 1980s, Lindau returned to Åhus to found the company Blå Station (Blue Station), which is still local to the area. Lindau’s final big project was the culture building, Aoseum, named after Åhus, medieval name Aos, meaning river mouth. There are publishers and galleries in Åhus, and lamps and glassware is manufactured by Ateljé Lyktan and Studio Glashyttan.
The older buildings, low stone houses, still form part of the centre. In the square stands St. Mary’s Church with stepped gable.
In his 1751 work Skånska resan, A Tour in Skåne, Linné refers to River Helge as Holy River. Its name is an old word, meaning holy or sacred. It might be connected to the village’s clerical past; in any case, it is invigorating.
Upstream is Vattenriket (the Waterland), a protected area with the leisurely river like an artery through a system of lakes, tributaries, marshy meadows and swamp forests: a habitat and safe haven for endangered species of birds and fish.
The kitchen door is ajar facing the garden, where the forsythia is blossoming. The Mistress of the house is serving a mix of nutty shitake, black beans, arugula, spinach, spring onion and finely chopped peppers, all tossed in a hot pan with a hint of olive oil, served with salt flakes and parmesan on a bed of alpha sprouts. The meal is enjoyed by the kitchen island, pagan simple and heavenly delicious.
The kitchen is spacious and the view towards the river is breathtaking. The family has been renovating their home for the past two years. It is a never-ending story. The floor of the patio is the next big project, for which mosaic from Morocco is being shipped over. The kitchen and adjacent rooms have light fir wood flooring; the long, broad boards are washed every week with soap. Wearing only socks, you can feel how smooth they are.
The 1920s extension is completely taken up with the kitchen, which used to be the dining room. The old kitchen was in the narrow wing and is today used as a pantry. Its current position at the heart of the house reflects the important part kitchens play in everyday life nowadays. It is where they socialize, adults and children; where they eat, work, and read. The kitchen island is the room’s centerpiece, and the kitchen has gone from being a room for preparing food to a place where you meet, come together, spend time.
Shutters and drawers have French knobs in white porcelain and classic shell handles made of pewter. The crisp white kitchen island has a dark brown worktop in walnut. Counters have Carrara marble tops in light grey and the stove and fan from Ilve are black. The contrasts are charming.
The cupboards are crowned by a straight rim. It is so simple, yet so striking.