As if time stood still

Photo Mats Engfors/Fotographic

Forsberg’s old trading post in Gunnarsbyn has remained untouched since 1934. Mogens Amstrup Jacobsen and Lena Malm have revived the old wholesaler’s villa and are now continuing the story.

One summer day seven years ago, the couple Mogens Amstrup Jacobsen and Lena Malm were invited to a cup of tea with the neighbors. Little did they know that the visit was in fact a real estate business meeting. The house had then stood uninhabited for 80 years, since 1934, and was only visited once a year. The four property owners, grandchildren of wholesaler Carl Forsberg, had became older and told that they wanted to sell.

– We may have looked very scared because they never came back, says Mogens.

He and Lena thought it was a very beautiful house with old furniture and fine crockery, albeit a little run-down. The next summer, the house went on sale and the couple placed a bid. The broker called and asked a long list of questions about what they planned to do with the house and Mogens told about all the ideas. After three weeks, the news came that they were allowed to buy it, even though they did not place the highest bid.

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Six years of restoration

A massive renovation work took off and the couple worked on it for six years, until 13 June 2020. Then the premiere of Norrbottensteatern’s summer tour took place on the farm.

– We have tried to renovate the house in an original way, only used hand-forged nails, slotted screws and old window glass that we found in the warehouse in the shop. Today, it looks like a wholesaler’s villa in the 20s, and it takes time, says Mogens.

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They have been around among traditional paint shops throughout Scandinavia and managed to get wallpaper from 1905 to 1910 for the rooms that needed new finishes. Most of the furniture and things in the house were left, but they have also bought and received some.

– What is so lucky is that when the family has been here in the summers, they have, as it were, just moved away what was from 1934 a bit and put down their newspapers from -64 or -83 next to it, says Lena.

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Several businesses

This summer, the couple has run a café in the courtyard on the weekends, with coffee and cookies that Mogens baked according to a recipe book that was in the house. The place has also been a stage for most cultural events and the house is now a museum where you can book guided tours. All the hard work has paid off, it has often been crowded and the visitors have given a nice response.

– People have been incredibly positive and the villagers are happy that you can see the house and that things are happening here, says Mogens.

One hundred years ago, part of the shop was located in the residential building. In the courtyard, building materials were sold and there was also paint and glue production and an ice cellar.

– The store was closed in 1933 and then the merchandise was carried out to the barn for a long time and it has been there since, so the entire store’s warehouse remains. Now we have let the wholesale trade re-emerge and we also have some sales. Our son is 11 years old and has thought it has been fun to be a shop assistant, says Mogens and shows one box full of polish and another with cocoa.

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They have bought 25-30 sets of clothes from the 20s and 30s that can be rented together with the house for various events. Once, a company organized a champagne tasting in the house where all guests were dressed in tuxedos or beautiful dresses.

– It does something with one and with the whole event, you get a little straighter posture in that tight dress, says Lena.

A family history

During the guided tours, Mogens and Lena tell about the family who once lived in the house. It is the previous owners who have written the basis for the story that is now being passed on.

Carl Forsberg was appointed trade manager in Gunnarsbyn in 1901 and opened a shop here. In 1907 he married the chief’s daughter Lydia. According to the rumor, she must have brought with her one million Swedish kronor as dowry. And so her father had this house built, says Mogens.

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Before that, Carl Forsberg must also have been two trips to the USA and worked as a photographer in New York. His immigration certificates, tickets and American suitcases remain and Lena and Mogens have found lots of letters and newspapers in French, English and German that show that Lydia’s worldview was also there.

– What is so fantastic is that everything is still there. And if the rumors are true, this was one of Sweden’s richest families, with connections to the Riksdag and who also made many trips south. And so they end up in Gunnarsbyn of all places, says Mogens.

At that time there were only a few small farms here, crofts with a room and kitchen. So this magnificent residence with 200 square meters of living space was unique. As early as 1901, electric lighting was turned on in the outdoor toilet, here was the village’s first telephone and Norrbotten’s first central heating in a private house.

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Left the village

– They had two children, Sonja and Börje. When they were about to start school in Luleå, the whole family moved there in 1922. Lydia wrote in a letter to a friend that she missed the opportunity to go out to cafes and restaurants, but if it was the driving force or if it was the children’s wellbeing, we do not know, says Mogens.

A few years later, Lydia and the children moved to Uppsala for further studies. Carl then returned to the house in Gunnarsbyn and continued to run the shop until 1933, with the family visiting during the holidays. The following year he died.

– That’s why everything remains so intact. The family had already lived elsewhere for twelve years, says Mogens.

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Carls and Lydia’s bedrooms upstairs are best preserved. Everything is original since 1907, the same curtains hang in the window and the beds stand where they stood. Inside there is also a stack of wallpaper that you had to replace. On the back pages are newspaper pages dated 1933.

– When they closed the shop, they took the opportunity and wallpapered some rooms. Here we can read about a planned assassination attempt on Hitler and that the swastika is introduced as the national flag in Germany. It is the wings of history, says Mogens.

More to discover+

Every cabinet, drawer, suitcase and cardboard box is reviewed carefully and systematically. There is everything left from the shop’s lying and the children’s embroidery work to the family’s nightgowns and underpants.

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Mogens has also found a letter addressed to Sonja’s husband from the President of Finland and a very rare book.

– When I started flipping through it, I discovered that it was printed in 1576 and written by one of Luther’s disciples. I googled and saw that there are six famous specimens in the world, four in libraries and two in private collections. So it’s book number seven and it’s cool, says Mogens.

Now, however, the book is locked in a bank vault. There are still many unexplored spaces to discover, both in the house and out in the shop.

– We have not had time to go through everything out there, we probably have half left. There are two stores that we have not started yet. We find things all the time, says Mogens.

He has many ideas for how the house and the business can be developed, maybe it can be an American Museum or Cluedo weekends here in the future. What more stories will be written here, the future will show. #

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