• Object: Cottage, Bitterna, Sweden
  • Build: 1900s
  • Architect: Unknown
  • Kitchen: Kvänum Dalby Smoky Grey

In the gendarme blue forest there is a carmine red cottage. We are once again in Richard Ekblom’s landscape; in Gustaf Dalén’s, Filip Månsson’s and Gustav Johansson’s Västergötland, or to be more precise, Bitterna in Skaraborg, a few miles south of Kvänum.

Perhaps Gustav the Joiner happened to cycle past on the country lane, which winds through leafy pastures and fields with ripening grain. The house is still where it has always been, back in the days when it was a simple cottage, with kitchen and a room, a little homestead on eight acres of gravelly fields and forest. You can catch a glimpse of it from the road, hidden behind the trees.

A man dressed in boots pours sand in the pot-holes. Maybe he is doing it on behalf of the council. But it is more likely that he has taken matters into his own hands. It is old tradition here. Every man’s right of way was granted by the ancient law of Västergötland, and the obligation to keep it passable was thoroughly affirmed.

The man dressed in boots points in the direction of the cottage; it is the first one on the left after the railway. For the past 40 years the cottage has served as summerhouse to a publisher and his wife. With a background in textiles, she now runs an art gallery, with a focus on crafts and design. He is from the area, where his father was a highly thought-of merchant.

The family works in Stockholm city, but their summers are spent here, in grass and greenery, with secret chanterelle spots and forest lakes.

‘I didn’t think you could get this far away’, noted Swedish journalist and writer Mauritz Edström when visiting. And yet he was the son of deep and silent forests in the north.

It is quiet and still, you can only hear the swirl from the swallows. There is rain in the air, and they are flying low.

On the porch, clogs are lined up. Indoors the ceiling is low. We sit down at the table to have a glass of elderflower juice. The ragged tabletop is indigo blue, or possibly ultramarine. There is a simple pipe oven in the room, like a tiled stove without the tiles, once upon a time a common feature in poor homes. In the white plaster of the masonry there are three gothic vaults.

The cottage has been extended throughout the years, in order to accommodate a growing family. Today it is reminiscent of a small mansion. The impression is enforced by the two separate wings. One houses a lovely guestroom with bath, and the other a marvellous library, with books from floor to ceiling.

A long time ago Lars the Deacon lived in the area. He wrote down the only preserved copy of the ancient law of Västergötland – with accompanying statements relating to everyday life – habits and practices, community life, ownership, the royal line, and other matters of legal or historic interest. The book was recorded by this local hero around 1290, and is, apart from rune stones and petroglyphs, Sweden’s oldest written source and the origin of our literature.

This is where it all started. The little library in the midst of the woods serves as a reminder of this extraordinary fact. On the table there is magnificent work, from the publisher’s own list. It is a beautiful volume about architect Ferdinand Boberg, a good friend of artist Filip Månsson from Våmb, who decorated the villa for Gustaf Dalén from Stenstorp.

The publisher has been baking today. He takes a pie from the oven, and the scent fills the kitchen. The stove is Ilve with a glass hob. Opposite, the old black iron stove still stands, complete with fire rings, poker and cooker hood, a classic ‘dark sow’ sharing a chimney with the fireplace on the other side of the wall.

The shutter is of a traditional kind, Dalby smoky grey, with frame and straight edges. The grey goes beautifully with the red floor tiles from Horn, handmade and burned in a reverberatory furnace.

Compact living is key in the cottage’s kitchen. The cupboards have been equipped with shelves that fold out, an ingenious solution for storing pots and pans in a limited space. The owners love their kitchen and think fondly of Elisabeth at Kvänum, who designed it.

The meal is enjoyed in the library – pie with mushrooms fresh from the forest, white wine from a carafe and coffee with chocolate truffles. It tastes fantastic. The publisher tops up our glasses. We speak about books we’ve read and people we’ve met. The hours pass and no one notices. It doesn’t get much better than this.

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