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Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland

By Rachel Heller

What are the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland?

The Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland is a UNESCO property made up of seven wooden farmhouses, mostly quite simple on the outside and painted in Falun red. These houses all date to the mid-19th century but represent a much older tradition: painting rooms or even wholly separate houses in a cheerful, colorful, folk style to be used as lodgings and for special occasions such as weddings.

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Text: Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland, Sweden.
Images: Top, a bright red wooden farmhouse with a white trim and yellow door.
Bottom, a painting in a bedroom displaying a fanciful version of Stockholm. The painting shows several churches and small houses in white surrounded by trees and blue sky.

The farmers of this region were prosperous and expressed that prosperity by hiring itinerant artists to decorate these extra rooms or guest houses in ornate, colorful patterns, either as wallpaper (often linen cloth) or directly applied to the walls. The artists imitated the sorts of designs that the wealthy used: there are elements of the Baroque and Rococo, but also Bible stories, multi-colored stenciling, faux marble, trompe l’oeil, imitations of Wedgewood patterns, and so on. The result is absolutely unique to the region.

These houses or separate suites of rooms were barely used, serving as venues for festivities and lodging for those attending the festivities. Some houses have simpler decorations in the rooms the families lived in, but the most ornate are in these guest spaces.

A red wooden farmhouse, symmetrical, with white trim and a yellow doorway on the entrance right in the middle. A small gable above the doorway has a 3r'd story window but most of the house is 2 stories. Green lawn in front.

The seven houses in the listing are:

  1. Bommars in Letsbo, Ljusdal
  2. Erik-Anders in Askesta, Söderala.
  3. Gästgivars in Vallstabyn
  4. Bortom Åa in Gammelgården
  5. Kristofers in Stene, Järvsö
  6. Pallars in Långhed, Alfta
  7. Jon-Lars in Långhed, Alfta

Read more detailed descriptions and see more photos here.

Why are the Hälsingland farmhouses a UNESCO World Heritage site?

According to the UNESCO listing, these farmhouses “reflect an extraordinary combination of timber building and folk art traditions, the wealth and social status of the independent farmers who built them, and the final flowering of a long cultural tradition in Hälsingland.”

Vertical repeated patterns, each vertical a different color: from left to right: orange and red flowers, light gray leaves, darker gray leaves, green flowers and leaves, back to the dark gray leaves but printed in the other direction, back to the light gray, but again reversed, then back to the red and orange., and so on. Above a piece of the molding can be sean, hand-painted with pink roses and green leaves between them.
Stenciled wallpaper and painted trim at Gästgivars

What can you expect on a visit to Hälsingland?

The houses are absolutely charming, inside and out. Outside they are simple and, for the most part, bright red, in beautiful countryside. Inside, the rooms are bright and cheery with the colorful wallpapers and paintings. Some of the artworks are relatively primitive; others quite sophisticated.

All but one of the houses (Bortom Åa) are privately owned. Some of the houses can be freely visited, while others can only be viewed by booking a tour. Some also offer a café or lodgings.

Are the Decorated Farmhouses worth visiting?

Visiting a few of these farmhouses makes for a very pleasant day in the countryside. I’m not sure they’re worth a whole separate trip, but they are certainly worth a visit if you’re going to be near there anyway.

The painting is curved at the top, with lots of blue and green. It depicts a very fanciful version of Stockholm, with three grand-looking white churches with turrets and a jumble of smaller white buildings around it., along with scattered very tall trees
Painted bedroom at Pallars

What sorts of travelers would like the Decorated Farmhouses?

If you like folk art or vernacular architecture, then these farmhouses are definitely worth visiting. Children would enjoy some of the agricultural buildings that remain, but would not be able to run freely around the decorated rooms and should not touch the walls. For the most part, the houses are not wheelchair accessible, with steps up to enter and stairways inside between floors.

Tips for visiting the Hälsingland farmhouses

Summer is the best time to visit since many are closed in the winter. It’s also the time of year these houses would have been used for festivities; they weren’t particularly insulated or heated, and you need the light to see the decorations well.

The Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland are only reachable by car.

If you are driving along the east coast of Sweden, say, on the way between Umeå and Stockholm, several of these farmhouses – Erik-Anders, Gästgivars, Kristofers, Pallars, or Jon-Lars – would make for a relatively quick detour from the E4.

A wide white two-story farmhouse with its entrance exactly in the center, a painted decoration on the little roof above the entrance.

You might want to start your visit at Ol-Anders in Alfta. It’s also a decorated farmhouse but for some reason is not included in the UNESCO designation. It houses a tourism visitors center, where you can get information and advice about the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland.

Don’t feel you need to see all of the houses. See two or three and you’ll get the idea. Ask at Ol-Anders for advice.

Where are the Hälsingland farmhouses?

Hälsingland is a region about halfway between Stockholm and Sundsvall. The farmhouse that is nearest to the main east coast road is Erik-Anders, and that is about two and a half hours from Stockholm. The best way to see the farmhouses is to stay the night in Ljusdal, a central location to all of them. Click on the map below to find accommodations in the area.

More information about the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland is available here.

Have you been to any of the Decorated Farmhouses of Hälsingland? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!