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COTTAGE 1680

THE HEARTH-HOUSE OF NOMELAND

For those unfamiliar with a hearth-house, it is a traditional Norwegian home; unique in that it is windowless and constructed with an open fireplace situated in the middle of the room. Smoke travels through a chimney and out an opening at the center of the ceiling. Centuries ago, hearth-houses were commonplace in Setesdal. In fact, the hearth-house of Nomeland was built in 1680. Over 140 years later in 1821, the Nystog home was built and thereafter surpassed the hearth-house as the primary sleeping quarters. Throughout the years, the houses at Nomeland have undergone many reconstructions. However, most of the beams and the ceiling of the hearth-house have outlasted many of its neighboring houses. Indeed, even the old soot layer is still there.

The construction of a hearth-house calls for several separate, steadfast compartments. At Nomeland, the hearth-house is constructed with blekkjestein (a type of stone) at the base,and at the ceiling a rectangular shaft through which the smoke escapes. A long pole is used to regulate the opening of the shaft. Situated in the room are two beds each 160 x 105 cm, an antique Stog closet, a brugdebenk or a so-called Setesdal bench, an assortment of benches, a long Stog table made of pine and last but certainly not least a gjøya; something a hearth-house simply cannot do without! (Please see below for explanation of a gjøya.) In addition to the outer door, there is another to the so-called kleven; a small room which was typically uses as an extra bedroom or the like. Dusk is one of the moments when the hearth-house has its most appeal. If the door is left slightly open, visitors will be amazed at how little smoke is in the room and the atmosphere the hearth-house creates.

THE HEARTH

The hearth

Another hearth picture

The shaft and pole

The star of the hearth-house is without a doubt the hearth itself. It sits in the middle of the room and occupies most of the space. When hearth-houses were in use, it was at the hearth one prepared food, and was provided with heat and light. At its height, hearths were made of tree, however in modern times this design has given way to the use of local stone. The dimensions however, remain the same.

Fashioning the hearth in the blekkjestein (stone) gives occupants added protection from wind when the door is left open. If the ceiling shaft is opened all the way, there may also be a slight draft into the room. There is ample room for occupants to deposit luggage and the like next to the hearth.

The Gjøya and front door

Attached to the wall

Attached to the pots

gjøya is a devise carved from pine wood. It is connected to the roof and holds pots and pans over the fire. Not only is the gjøya constructed to move pots to and from the hearth, but also to move them vertically over the fire.

Finding the pine tree suitable to carve a gjøya is no small feat. The man up to the job of locating such a tree was Anders Dalseg. Dalseg had to find a pine tree with two (nearly) identical long roots growing on either side. He found such a tree at Bygland and constructed and sold the gjøya to Nomeland in the 1920s.

Table with Setesdal bench

Bed and old Stog closet

Door, bench and beitski

The table is one of the original furniture pieces in the hearth-house and even has the soot line to prove it. It was very important for such tables to be made from one tree; as this one was. Unfortunately, over the years the table was divided in two; however it has now been put back together. Traditionally, the farmer sat at the head of the table. The brudgebenken (or Setesdal bench) was considered the best place to sit, not to mention the warmest. It was here that the owner and his wife usually sat. In between the fireplace and the table was another large movable bench.

Benches have been placed around the table and up against the wall, allowing for ample storage space underneath them. Back in the day it was customary to place two wood beams between the wall and the floor and create a so-called moldpad(bench) for extra isolation. Originally, hearth-house beds did not exceed 105 x 160 cm. Not only was this because the average height back then was smaller than it is today, but also people were accustomed to sometimes sleeping in a sitting position. Legend has it that the men of the household had to be prepared to fight and therefore slept while sitting. This romanticized explanation has however been rejected, and while it is true that men would often fight each other; this was not done at night. Today the beds have been upgraded to a comfortable 120 x 200 cm and thus can be used as double beds as well. Linen is stored in the old stog closet, which was originally used to store food.

One of the beiskiin the above picture is somewhat worn down, however the other together with door to the kleven are intact. Next to the kleven door used to have a so-called fantepad for wanderers who where not admittet further.

The wide wooden floorboards have been taken from a type of tree that grows slowly on the valley Ljosådalen. Looking more closely reveals that the floorboards are attached to beams with wood plugs. In the old days, the doorstep was much higher than it is today. The door was therefore much smaller, and was less effort was needed to open and close it. A smaller door was also handy in reducing draft. While there is a large spectrum of stories detailing how owners of such doors used it to chop off the heads of their opponents, these stories are void of any truth. Although it is true that back then the culture was very much imbued with concepts of honor, and men could lose their heads (or rather their lives) in honor killings; the doorway was never used as a deadly weapon.

USAGE

For those who would like a chance to sleep under the open sky, the hearth-house is an excellent sleeping lodge. There are plenty of extra beds and mattresses. For special events, the hearth-house can sit up to 30 around the gamlestgbord (the main table) and a few extra tables from the barn.

The hearth-house’ seating arrangements can be expanded further for concerts. The most natural arrangement would be that the performer be placed next to the outer door against the bed; leaving plenty of room for onlookers to make use of the hallway

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