Hidden behind the huge church in the Engelbrekt parish on Karlavägen is Lärkstan, a part of town dating from the turn of the 1900s. Then city architect Per Olof Hallman laid out the building plans. He was, along with Albert Lilienberg, a great enthusiast of the English Garden City. They both also eagerly preached the gospel of Austrian Camillo Sitte.
To Sitte, city planning was an artistic activity, much like composing music or painting. The dense medieval city was his ideal; the city as a living organism, a body, and irregularity a virtue. Camillo Sitte had a weakness for curved streets and arched rooms, courtyards, external staircases, tower ornaments, and small, hidden gardens bound together by alleys and portals.
Hallman took all this to heart. His work is intact; Lärkstan still stands with its gardens, porticos, black iron gates, staircases, nooks, walls covered in woodbine, and fences with climbing roses.
In the midst of this part of town is an enchanting little park, Balders hage. The streets, too, are named after the old gods and goddesses of the Nordic Mythology – Tyr, Brage, Frigg. National romanticism is flourishing here. The area is hilly, which suited a topographical talent like Hallman. In the spirit of Camillo Sitte, Hallman could playfully plan Lärkstan in the existing terrain.
The development consists of tenement buildings, some lower and some higher, and the occasional classic town house. These can be found on Danderydsgatan, an appendage to Lärkstan, perhaps Stockholm’s loveliest but loneliest street – really, it belongs in Belgravia or Mayfair.
The Engelbrekt church was designed by Lars Israel Wahlman, one of the most prominent Swedish architects of his era. In addition, a range of renowned colleagues were consulted, among them our old acquaintance Erik Hahr. The church is considered one of the finest achievements of the Swedish Arts and Crafts-movement.
One might suspect that Filip Månsson was involved when Wahlman and Hahr worked on a project, as per the principle of guilt by association. Indeed, he was responsible for the decoration for the church murals, and it is not a wild guess that some of the neighbourhood’s beautifully painted posts and lintels carry Månsson’s signature. He has decorated at least one of the townhouses internally.
Lärkstan is dark bricks, polish, wood, natural stone, verdigris copper, façades with leaded windows, pilasters, oriel windows, and canapés, all on a small scale, intimate.
There is an apartment on the top floor of one of the buildings. The vestibule has a checkerboard marble floor, and the hallway is round. The ceiling is high, with a sky blue glass dome, illuminated by the daylight seeping in. Upstairs is a kind of entresol. This part of the building was missing for a long time. Perhaps the then owner had become insolvent. It used to be a frequent occurrence in Lärkstan, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Instead of moving, people would brutally cut off a couple of rooms, which in turn were done up with kitchenettes and rented out. The traces from the makeshift door are still visible, like scars in the ceiling.
Once upon a time, one of the 20th century’s most controversial Swedish writers, Vilhelm Moberg, lived in the apartment. He started out as an impoverished stringer at a local paper in the province and ended up as a great bard of a posh address in the capital. Rumour has it that the tenant in the cut-off, improvised apartment used to peek through a little window, onto the rotunda where Moberg and his guests hobnobbed. The window is still there.
Swedish newspaperman and critic, Olof Lagercrantz, wrote paragraphs in his diary about the author parties of that time. Literary feuds were fought, more often than not turning physical. Writers are a sensitive and passionate breed. It wasn’t just Hemingway who settled matters with his fists. The review season was especially unnerving. Moberg is one of the authors portrayed by Lagercrantz. He didn’t always win the affections of his critics, but he did conquer the people’s love with The Emigrants Series, about the poor, young couple Karl-Oskar and Kristina who emigrated to America to start a new life.
Only recently have the lost rooms been incorporated into the apartment. The cast-iron balustrade has been re-created, using the balcony railing as a model. It is an exceptional home. Room after room opens up, all of them irregular; there is barely a right-angle. Camillo Sitte would have experienced child-like excitement. Furniture and rugs have been designed and manufactured exclusively for these rooms.
Above a lounge suite is a lamp in the shape of a seashell in alabaster. It used to hang from the ceiling in architect Gunnar Asplund’s office. Asplund designed Stockholm City Library and the annex of Gothenburg Law Courts, both highly acclaimed in architectural circles. Along with Sigurd Lewerentz, he created the iconic Woodland Cemetery in Stockholm, today a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The interior décor perfectly complements the architecture. The master bedroom, the children’s room, dressing room and bathrooms are all decorated with Broby pure white. The bathroom mirror, with a thin stainless steel frame, is a little wonder of refined simplicity.
The chessboard marble in the kitchen echoes the floors of the vestibule. The cupboard doors are Dalby smoky grey, and the worktops white Carrara marble. If these walls could talk… Here they all gathered for late suppers in the early hours, the writer coteries, whispering and gossiping, forever dwelling on injustices and cursing their disobliging critics. Hopefully the literary combatants then made peace, at last, perhaps over some food, beer, and a dram or two.