Hawllyl House–a hidden gem in Stockholm
At No 4 Hamngatan, within Stockholm’s elite shopping district, is an unobtrusive entrance with a placard directing passersby to the Hawllyl House. I’d never gone in. Not until this past week when a friend organized a tour there, in English. Upon arriving, this is what I saw… …a palatial residence, hidden behind restaurants and shops, a forty room palace, built by Count and Countess Walther (Wilhelmina von Hallwyl), between 1893-98. She was the only child and sole heiress of one of the richest men in Europe, Wilhelm Kempe, a German, who lived in Sweden and owned most of Sweden’s lumber yards. She married the Count (for love) and also to keep her fortune–women at that time couldn’t legally inherit property. (You know, like in Downton Abby.)
Though the palace was built as a winter residence, the intention was to eventually convert it into a museum to house their extensive and growing antiques collection. There was no budget. Calson had full reign to use the most expensive materials and gifted craftsmen he could find. Just look at this dining room!16th Century Belgium tapestries, inlaid wood floors, a magnificent 24K gold-plated chandelier and a collection of blue and white vases (vases, my darling, pronounced with a long a). It’s a pity it was used for entertaining only three times a year, during one week in February. During this week the couple would host an evening for family, another for social contacts and a third for business associates. Notice high on the wall a small rectangular opening above the tapestry? That was a room for the band to sit in and play dinner music. On one occasion they had a 27 piece brass band inside and due to the tight enclosure, and lack of ventilation, some of the band members fainted. In the words of the tour guide, “it was a little unpleasant.”
If you were lucky enough to be invited to a dinner, this was the room you would sit in afterwards……the music room. This Steinway is the only one like it in the world. Calson had the piano custom-made in keeping with the home’s Venetian Late Gothic and Early Spanish Renaissance style. Below is another view of the room.
And for the men…a billiard room. As with keeping with the fashion of the times, there is, of course, a smoking room off to the side. (Too dimly lit to photograph.)The Hawllyl home was equipped with the most modern technology available at the time, including electric lighting, central heating and three telephones to cover the three districts of Sweden (this was before the industry consolidated.)
Here’s the kitchen. The lamp above the table is suspended from a pulley and can be brought closer when working. Notice the three taps above the sink…there’s one for hot water, cold water and rain water (used to wash dishes.) For fire safety, marble tiles cover the walls and ceiling.Upstairs you can find a bowling alley, a gym (where Wilhelmina worked out everyday, up until the day she died at 84), and more of her collection, including this impressive room of Danish and Flemish paintings. It took her only two years to amass them with the help of an art historian, a fact she was quite proud of.All totaled, there are 50,000 objects in the Hawllyl’s collection. Every single item is cataloged in their 78 volume book series. There were 100 copies made of the volumes and if you’re curious and live near the MET, you can go and read them–the rest are in different countries around the world.
Wilhelmina was adamant that people should know about her era and time. Somehow she had the foresight and vision (and money) to preserve what she loved most and in 1938 the home opened as a museum, donated by the Hawallyl’s to Sweden with some express instructions as to whom should be chosen as director–a woman. Jobs for women were hard to come by at the time and she wanted this position to be for an educated woman with her PhD in art history.
I enjoyed my time there, but even after my hour-long tour, I still didn’t get to see the bedrooms. I’m definitely looking forward to going back. The Hawllyl House is one of Stockholm’s best hidden gems!
Tours continue in English throughout the winter, but only on Saturdays. You can check their website here for details and directions.