Beautiful Tiny Turf House in Iceland – Full Tour & Interview


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Turf houses are the original green buildings because they were built using local and natural materials.

In Southern Iceland they used turf from the local wetlands and lava stones to build thick walls that would insulate the houses against wind and cold weather. They imported small amounts of wood, or used driftwood.

Most turf houses in Iceland were torn down after World War II when people were encouraged to modernize their homes which means there are almost no turf houses left. So we felt really lucky to visit the Islenski Baerinn Turf House museum in Southern Iceland and meet with Hannes who runs the museum and whose grandparents and great grandparents used to live on, and run, the farm.

Traditional turf houses, and especially turf houses on farms were built in clusters so you’ll see there’s many houses all linked together. Only one of them is actually the living space where you’ll find the beds. And then in the other houses you would find things like a horse stable or a food processing area, and they did this to take advantage of insulation from shared walls. Each house is joined together with hallways so that people could go from one area of the house to the other without having to go outside.

Inside the main home you can see that all of the beds were in one room and this was where everyone did all of their work, where they slept, where they ate, where they gave birth. Everything in an Icelanders life happened in this main living space and it really was communal living.

In addition to having really thick walls made with the lava stones and the turf, the houses are also dug and built into the back of a hill so that they’re protected from the cold Northerly winds.

Hannes completely restored this old farmstead with his wife and mother, and while he continued to use the traditional methods using the turf and the lava stones for the walls, he did use corrugated iron for some of the outer walls and some of the newer roofs.

It’s really incredible to see how cozy and liveable these small spaces are even though they’re built with such basic natural materials.

What is the history behind turf houses in Iceland and why were they so prevalent during the Viking Age?

In a world of concrete jungles and towering skyscrapers, it is easy to forget the simple beauty of a traditional dwelling. In Iceland, however, the Turf house is a cherished architectural marvel that has withstood the test of time. And, among the many stunning turf houses scattered across Iceland, the tiny turf house of Árbær is a jewel worth exploring.

Nestled amid a grassy knoll, the Árbær turf house is a 25 square meter property that serves as a delightful time capsule of Icelandic culture. This tiny turf house was built in 1880 and remained occupied until the 1960s. Today, it serves as a museum that allows visitors to experience the unadulterated beauty of this traditional Icelandic home.

Inside, the tiny turf house is a marvel of minimalistic design. Divided into three rooms, the house boasts a living room, kitchen, and bedroom with a small pantry. Although the space is limited, the turf walls and floor offer excellent insulation that keeps the interior warm during Iceland’s icy winters. The house’s decor is sparse, but the simplicity is what makes it so charming.

During a recent tour of the Árbær turf house, we had the pleasure of interviewing the custodian, Stefanía Valsdóttir, who provided insight into the history and culture of these unique Icelandic homes. According to Stefanía, turf houses were widespread in Iceland during the Viking Age, and the practice of building turf homes continued until the mid-twentieth century. These structures were made using local materials, such as turf, stone, and wood, and were designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment.

Building a turf house required significant labour and time, with the entire process taking up to two years. First, the builder had to dig a foundation for the house using stones and piles of turf. Then, the builder stacked stones around the edge of the foundation and created the first layer of walls using turf blocks. After several layers, the builder created a sloping roof using turf and laid the final layer of rocks on the top, creating a waterproof seal.

Today, Iceland’s turf houses are some of the country’s most distinctive architectural treasures. The houses are incredibly resilient, with some homes having stood for over 1000 years. The Árbær turf house offers an intriguing glimpse into a bygone era. It is a hallowed artefact of Iceland’s cultural heritage, and a visit to the tiny property is an opportunity to appreciate the traditional architecture of the country.

In conclusion, the Árbær turf house is a stunning example of Iceland’s longstanding tradition of building dwellings that are both functional and beautiful. It is a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of Iceland’s people, who sought to make the best of their environment. The tiny turf house is a testament to a beautiful and sustainable way of living that has been passed down from generation to generation. Visitors to Iceland should make it a priority to tour this beautiful property and experience the tranquil simplicity of Icelandic cultural heritage.

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