- Hallwyl Palace is an exclusive private residence completed in 1898
- The von Hallwyls belonged to the wealthiest Stockholmers of their time
- Wilhelmina von Hallwyl assembled a sizeable collection of art and items which she displayed in the residence
- The owners donated the palace to the state under the condition that it would be turned into a museum
Fairly often I tell you stories of historical palaces, venues, and residences. It is not so common, though, that you can go and explore almost every inch of these places for yourself. Inside and out. In the case of the Hallwyl Palace (Hallwylska palatset), that is exactly what you can do, and in the following paragraphs you will find out why you can and totally should visit this outstanding historic site hiding an impressive art collection.
Let’s go back in time and meet Count Walther von Hallwyl and his dear wife Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, neé Kempe. Wilhelmina was the only child of an extraordinarily wealthy timber-merchant Wilhelm Kempe. The two met in Homburg, Germany in 1864 and got married the following year after Walther, who was of Swiss origin, had agreed to move to Sweden.
In the early 1880s, Wilhelm Kempe passed away, and Walther took over his late father-in-law’s company. It was at this time that the von Hallwyls moved to Stockholm where they rented a 10-room apartment.
Once in the capital, Wilhelmina started collecting art, and her collections grew bigger and bigger. From there, it did not take long before the couple started discussing the construction of a new residence where they would not only have enough space for themselves but also for their growing art collection. Eventually, the tipping point came when their landlord forbade them from installing electric lights in their rented apartment.
They hired the best architect around, Isak Gustaf Clason, and gave him almost full freedom when designing their dream residence. The architect was also responsible for finding land to build on, and while, for some time, it looked promising that they would get their hands on the land under the present-day Royal Dramatic Theatre (Kungliga Dramatiska Teatern), that deal later fell apart.
However, they managed to acquire a parcel standing only a few dozen metres further west from Strandvägen. At that time, this area looked very much different from what you can see there today. Strandvägen was not completed yet, and neither was Birger Jarlsgatan. Therefore, the best of times were yet to come to this quarter.
In many ways, the von Hallwyls were quite conservative, and so, their new residence was meant to reflect the beauty ideals established during the 19th century. This meant dark colours, dull shades of green and red, and little to no daylight in the interior. They did appreciate modern technology, though, and more than welcomed convenience innovations.
More often than not, it was Wilhelmina who collaborated with architect Clason as she was passionate about every detail of the house. Apart from the main architect, several upcoming stars of Stockholm’s architectural scene were members of Clason’s team.
The architect was not only given plenty of freedom when it came to the design of the residence, but he also found himself in an unusual situation where the budget was of no concern to the owners. This situation could only be described as every architect’s dream as this way he was able to use all his imagination and creativity to the fullest and never had to compromise either the style or the quality of the structure.
The construction materials used at the Hallwyl Palace are a great example that distinguishes the structure from many others. While bricks were commonly used as a cheaper alternative to natural stone, that was not the case here.
Facing the street is a façade covered by pink sandstone and granite. From the courtyard, you would see yellow facades and a fountain group instead.
Architect Clason was a man truly passionate about his profession which showed in his approach to his clients. He believed that it was the architect’s role to study the proprietor’s lifestyle and social status thoroughly before designing their residence to create a cosy and pleasant home tailored to each individual.
After some changes to the initial plans of the residence, a building permit was granted to the von Hallwyls in spring of 1894 and the works started shortly afterwards.
During the busiest periods of the construction, there were as many as 30 bricklayers and 40 stonemasons working side by side. Standard working hours for these workers were from 6 am to 7:30 pm every day from Monday to Saturday.
Stonecutters were the best paid with their salary reaching 45 öre an hour while bricklayers made 40 and craftsmen as little as 20 öre for every hour of their work. Members of the crew received their salary every other week and were covered by an accident insurance policy which entitled them to up to 1000 SEK in free medical care and medicine in case they suffered a work-related injury or sickness.
It is interesting to know that at the time, workers were not protected by essentially any laws and the unions still had little to no power. Work conditions started changing for the better early in the 1900s, though.
By the time Hallwyl Palace was completed, in 1898, the total price including the cost of the parcel on which it stood reached more than 1.5 million SEK which in today’s money equals nearly 90 million SEK.
The interior of the palatial residence was entirely made by local craftsmen who collaborated closely with the architect, as well as Wilhelmina von Hallwyl who was heavily involved in planning the inner parts.
On the bottom floor, you would find an office from which Walther managed the timber empire, an entrance hall, cloakrooms, and a waiting room for guests. Meanwhile, on the floor above, there are multiple reception rooms, as well as a dining room and a drawing room. Interestingly, these are all decorated in varying historical styles from Renaissance through Baroque to Rococo and Moorish.
The bedrooms, guest rooms, and what used to be an unusually luxurious bathroom are located under the roof and decorated in Romantic style.
All in all, the private area occupied by the von Hallwyl family took up around 900 square metres out of the entire 2,000-square-metre area of the residence.
With their increasing age, the von Hallwyl couple started worrying that their extensive art collection stored in the residence would get scattered when they are no longer around. To protect it, they eventually decided to donate the house together with the art collection to the Swedish state under the condition that the property would be turned into a museum.
Wilhelmina von Hallwyl passed away in 1930, nine years after her husband, and the museum welcomed its first visitors in May 1938 when King Gustav V himself did the honours. Thanks to the impressive residence having been turned into a museum, you still have a chance to go and explore its premises and the art collection gathered by the von Hallwyls today. As a bonus, a visit to the Hallwyl Museum (Hallwylska museet) is gratis.