The house is made from stone. But the entrance stairs are wooden, and squeaks in a homely way. A couple live on the third floor. He is a publicist, photographer and art director. She designs clothes. The building was erected in 1901, an example of a somewhat a simplified Art Nouveau Scandinavian style. The light floods through the great windows, and from the oriel in the kitchen you can see the Holmenkollen Ski Jump. Weather permitting, you can even catch a glimpse of the sea.
It is not any old house. It was once purchased by the Norwegian state to house Trygve Bratteli, then Prime Minister. The Chancellor of the Exchequer lived on the same floor. Ullevålsveien 58 was Norway’s equivalent to No 10 and 11 Downing Street in London.
One day in February 1981, the inner circle of the Norwegian Labour Party met in Bratteli’s home to appoint the new Party leader and Prime Minister. “They chose me”, Gro Harlem Brundtland said when she walked into the small kitchen, where the former PM’s wife Randi was making coffee.
Today the kitchen has been converted into a bedroom, and the large lounge where the inner circle once met has been transformed into a kitchen. Our host grinds the coffee by hand. It makes a crackling sound. Grinding is a ritual, a way of meditating. It sounds like a Tibetan prayer wheel. He makes the coffee in a traditional Italian espresso pot, the kind that is screwed apart. There are a number of them on the shelf above the fridge. They are beautiful, simple and wonderful, says our host. And the coffee is excellent.
He is a collector. There are old cameras, complete with bellows and boxes, boot-trees in grained cedar, classic glass jars for storing dry goods – no expensive objects or magnificent pieces, but beautiful and sustainable things with patina, soft lines and ragged surfaces, things which are made with care and precision. He dislikes resource waste, and only purchases matters that last, a way of taking everyday responsibility.
The neighbourhood is called Valleløkka, and is central. Crown Prince Haakon used to have a luxurious pad across the street. The settlement is mixed – streets with large stone houses and private villas from the last century, 1920s’ Classicism and 1930’s Functional style buildings with flat envelope roofs.
Along what some say is Norway’s most expensive street, Anton Schjøths Gate, there are apartment buildings from around 1900, each and every one with a surrounding garden where the lilacs smell amazing in the dusk in June. The windows are tall with arches and stained glass. On the other side of the street there is an air of Berlin and Vienna, Jugend and Secession. And there might well be one or two pieces from Wiener Werkstätte in niches and window embrasures; vases, glass mosaics, and sculptured, turned female heads.
A stone’s throw away there is a small collection of bricked and plastered houses that were built on the initiative of Schjøth, a civil servant and Frølich, a banker. It was envisioned as a small model community for workers. In the end it became too costly, and no worker had the money to move in. Today the houses are sold for millions of Kroner.
No politicians reside on Ullevålsveien nowadays. Instead it is inhabited by opera singers, violinists, foreign correspondents, and a world champion barista; in other words, an eclectic mix. This part of town is Bohemian, but not trendy, according to our source. La Sosta, the little Italian on the corner, is the centre point. It is where you meet, and from Mario further down the street the locals get their groceries. In the kitchen the groceries are transformed into dinner, with friends, wine, and conversations that flow into the early hours.
In Norway, families share a meal once a week, according to statistics. In this home they eat together twice daily. What La Sosta is to the neighbourhood, the kitchen is to the apartment. It is where they live their lives, in solitude and together with their friends. Occasionally the hosts will make a vain attempt at spreading the party to the rest of the rooms and comfortable lounging areas. But it always ends with the guests huddled around the kitchen table.
In front of the tall, arched windows stand Le Corbusiers armchairs in black. The Master and Mistress of the house wanted a different kitchen with an air of both public and private. The result was personal, an autographic and unique design – a marriage between the Victorian kitchen and a Fish & Chip Shop in Soho.
The entire apartment is in shades of grey with the odd refreshing colour accent, like the all-pink sofa. With its graphic edge the kitchen encompasses the whole grey scale, from black to white. There is an atmosphere of industrial premises. The shelf in stainless steel from Habitat along one wall strikes a chord, a raw and pleasant tone of manufacturing and production.
In this household things are being weighed and measured, rinsed and cleaned, peeled and cut, chopped and ground, mashed and crushed, mixed and stirred, boiled and strained, diluted and reduced. And here sausages are made with the help of a yellowed Electrolux Assistant from 1944. It was bought online and cost a fraction of the Kitchen Aid.
I detta hushåll vägs och mäts, sköljs och rensas, skalas och skärs, hackas och mals, pressas och mosas, blandas och rörs, kokas och silas, späs och reduceras. Och här stoppas korv med hjälp av en gulnad Electrolux Assistent från 1944. Den fanns på nätet och kostade en bråkdel av tillsatsen till en Kitchen Aid.
It is a well thought-out kitchen. Orderliness is a must, even for the bon vivant. Utensils and appliances are in their right place; ingredients are prepared on time and placed within reach. In cooking Esperanto it is called mis-en-place.
The other, far side, of the kitchen is tiled from floor to ceiling. Along the wall the whole kitchen has, more or less, been lined up. The arrangement contributes to the restaurant feel. The woodwork is Kvänum Dalby, the top cupboards smoky grey, the bottom ones soot grey and on one of the short walls a smoky grey antique shelf, all painted on ash wood. The small shelf below the top cabinet is an unexpected Victorian footnote.
A simple white hood of their own design enforces the industrial character, as do the old wall-hung French lamps on arms that light up the worktop. Above the table hang two Czech factory lamps made from black sheet metal, with chains and fixture in bakelite.
The worktops are Corian, the sink porcelain and the sleek tap nickel, another small Victorian hint. The stove is an Italian Ilve, and the fridge and freezer are a similarly Italian Smeg.
The poet and politician Dante would probably have felt at home here, at his colleague Bratteli’s old dwelling. Not only because of the Italian brands, although he would have liked these – Dante was a passionate patriot. Rather, it is the feel for materials, the care for the commodity, and the love for food. And that, in turn, is connected to the view that sharing a meal is a way of cultivating the art of conversation and tying the bond of friendship, as the old Renaissance poet wrote in Convivio.
Yes, Dante would have enjoyed himself in the kitchen on Ullevålsveien. But he would have more likely been a regular at La Sosta, Mac in lap and coffee in hand.