The story of Simbahöllin Coffeehouse
Simbahöllin is a Norwegian timber house, imported to Iceland in 1915 by the grocer Sigmundur (‘Simbi’) Jónsson. The house earned the nickname of “Simbahöllin” (“Simbi’s palace” in Icelandic) when the big four-story house rose up in the middle of Þingeyri.
Simbahöllin, or Sigmundarbúð, functioned as a general store from 1916 until the 1970s, when Sigmundur and his wife Fríða moved to Reykjavík. Sigmundarbúð sold all kinds of groceries and goods: flour, sugar, eggs, and meat along with clothes, buttons, rubber boots, fisherman’s clothes, and of course the famous homemade caramel sticks. People still talk about the caramel today, but sadly the original recipe has been lost.
Since Sigmundarbúð closed as a general store, Simbahöllin has had many different identities. The building has housed a video rental, an electrical shop, and perhaps most memorably has served as the dusty old bookstore in Dagur Kári’s film ‘Noí Albinói’ (2003). As Dagur said when we spoke to him: “The house was a perfect prop as it was standing there as a ghost palace in the middle of everything.”
In 2005 we, a young couple from Belgium and Denmark, were studying and traveling in Iceland when we met in Reykjavík. While traveling together in the Westfjörds, we immediately fell in love with Þingeyri and the neglected old Simbahöllin. When we found it, the house was in very bad condition, and in danger of being torn down. But through the layers of wear and tear you could see that the beautiful old floors and panelled walls were still intact, so we decided to buy it and fix it up just for the sake of saving the building.
We have kept the original interior of the house mostly as it was originally, including the old shelves where the grocer kept flour, spices, and other commodities. We also found and kept the original books where customer’s orders and bills were recorded.
As we discovered how well preserved the original shop and interior space was, we realized that the house needed to be shared with the larger community, and turned into a public space where the history of the house and new cultural events could coexist. The old storefront, all cleaned up, became the perfect venue for our cozy coffeehouse, and when we learned how to make Belgian waffles, and jam from the rhubarb growing out in the valley, it all fell into place.And we wanted most of all to create something that would be part of a larger project, and contribute to the future of Þingeyri.
The coffeehouse is now part of our larger overall project to build a community that brings together the historic and modern, the foreign and local, and to create a new social space and innovative culture. We fell in love with life in Þingeyri, and we want to help make sure that places like this can change with time and continue to thrive. Each project, including the coffeehouse and the art residency, is a piece of the puzzle to revitalize culture and life in Thingeyri.
The coffeehouse provides a space for visitors to get information about the region, take a break in Thingeyri and also is a space for locals to get a coffee and meet. We work with locals in the coffeehouse and also invite volunteers to come and spend the summer helping out, getting to know locals, and exploring the area. With the volunteer program we are able to invite young people to stay for an extended period of time, become more engaged than just as tourists, and bring a bit of their home culture to Thingeyri. Our hope is that by providing a way for these volunteers to come and stay, we can bring new people to come back, live in the area, and bring new life and new businesses to the region.
The art residency fulfills a similar goal, by not only providing a way for artists to find inspiration in the beautiful Westfjords landscape, but also by bringing contemporary art and culture from around the world to our little village. Bringing art, culture, and new people to the village diversifies life and creates new reasons for people to visit and stay.
We have made Simbahöllin our home, and live upstairs with our two children and two border collies. We want our coffeehouse to be a comfortable place where visitors and locals alike can get a good cup of coffee and some quality homemade food, enjoy the view of the fjord, and engage in the community. Simbahöllin is also a cultural venue, hosting live music and performances, work by local artists, and as the home to the Westfjords Residency. Whether you are looking for some art to check out, or a good cappuccino, or just a couch to relax on, you´re welcome to visit us at Simbahöllin.