Selmers’ Private House

An effortless environment to provide social equality?

This essay is a contemporary reflection on Wenche and Jens Selmers’ private house built in 1963. It will investigate the house, not only in the context of modernism and traditional Norwegian architecture, but also a manifestation of equality, the ability of conscious life planning, and self-determination in an affordable way.

 

The private house of Wenche and Jens Selmer is a well-known example of the crossover between the traditional Norwegian way of building and international modernism at the time (1963). However, this essay will not repeat the well-examined principles of building in nature, and the Selmer way of building in general. In Elisabeth Tostrups book, a great overview of Wenche Selmer’s work is already shown.1 This essay focuses on Selmers’ private house in order to illustrate the personal conditions of the time and how the principles of Wenche Selmers work can be found in yet unpublished detail drawings from the national archives. 

First of all, the socio-historical context of this building is special in relation to the role of women in Norwegian society and how architecture could influence family life through the organization of private households.

 

Figure 2: Trosterudstien 1 Illustration, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

As a widow and mother, Wenche Selmer had to find work to support herself and her son Espen before being married to Jens Selmer.2,3 During her studies, Knut Knutsen had a significant influence on Wenche Selmer. He spoke in favour of regionally inspired functionalism, where detail and use of materials were the main tools for style.4

The post-war period until the mid-1960s can be seen as the housewife era in Norwegian history. Most people were married young and there were more women at home than ever before.5 These women were often responsible for creating a pleasant, clean home, with security and development opportunities for children, as well as providing a restful environment for the husband. The man was typically responsible for supporting the family.6

 

Figure 3: Photography of breakfast scene, n.d., Elisabeth Lønnå: “Women’s rights in Norway from 1945 to the 1990s.” Accessed november 1, 2021. https://snl.no/Kvinners_rettigheter_i_Norge_fra_1945_til_1990-%C3%A5rene.

 

There were great inequalities between men and women in payment and taxes but in the 1950s, critical gender role research renewed the debate on women’s issues and gender equality.7

Wenche Selmer—a feminist?

Perceiving the house of Wenche and Jens Selmer within this particular background, the design of the house combines work-life and family-life. The traditional gender roles appeared to be changing and Selmer gave, possibly unintentionally, an example of how parents could caregivers and independent architects at the same time. On the other hand, this way of living could be read as nothing radically new, since Wenche Selmer still had the responsibility of keeping the household. Selmer describes herself as an independent woman that took responsibility for her children but also had a career as an architect.8

Despite disparities between women and men, Wenche Selmer was a successful and respected architect. There was a high demand for qualified architects. Wenche and her colleagues described that it felt natural to be architects and they felt respected by the industry. Wenche worked from home and took care of the children. Although Wenche and Jens Selmer had a common architectural practice, Wenche independently took care of the small houses and family homes and Jens of the large projects.9 Wenche Selmer said that women should put their names on what they actually do.10

Wenche Selmer never expanded her practice, even though she had enough inquiries. She admitted that the increased responsibility and administrative work would make her family situation impossible. 11,12

 

Figure 4: Trosterudstien 1 interior and fireplace, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

In an interview, Selmer was asked if she thought, as a female architect, that she had been able to make a particular contribution to architecture. Indeed, at the beginning of her practice, she had been shocked at how the womens work situation in the home was neglected by architects. The kitchen, laundry, and study were almost forgotten and at least hidden to the north and in the basement. Reading these rooms in a better way was not considered an architectural task.13

 

Figure 5: Trosterudstien 1 kitchen and living space, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Trosterudsteien 1, Oslo

Wenche Selmer worked predominantly with wooden houses. Her private house was a common project together with her husband. Today it is regarded as a unique example of how simple Norwegian wooden houses with a modernist expression can become great architecture.16 Wenche and Jens Selmer both were convinced that having control over every detail is crucial to designing a good house.17

 

Figure 6: Southern Elevation, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

Designing the house in Trosterudstien 1, Wenche and Jens Selmer aimed to create a functional home that secured an effortless daily life. The simple construction and a plan contributed to low costs.18 In reading through the architectural details, Wenche Selmer’s attitude can be found in many places. In comparison to traditional Norwegian dwellings, which were structured like a mansion house with representative rooms in the front and serving rooms in the back, the design is instead based on continuous materials that let the different areas flow into each other. Because of the continuous space, the house is perceived as bigger than it would as several smaller rooms. Because of this progressive character, the house was published in magazines in Norway and german press in the years following its completion.19,20

Figure 7: Selmer, Wenche; Selmer, Jens. “Unser Haus Trosterudstien 1.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 21, 1976.

Figure 8: Basic Construction System, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

The main structure of the house consists of a simple wooden system of columns and beams. The double-layered roof is tilted towards the south even though it appears horizontal from the front of the house. This shows how Selmer combined a modern appearance within adjusted Norwegian building traditions while emphasizing climate conditions.21

 

Figure 9: Roof Construction, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

Figure 10: Section Bathroom, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

Selmer criticized that, for centuries, architects had been only interested in the great tasks, rather than the simple buildings that concern everyone. In her house, the workroom with light and heat, the smell of food and space for homework had one again taken up the space it deserved in the house.22

 

Figure 11: Foto of Open Roomspace Perspective, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Figure 12: Foto Playing on the floor, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

 

All floors are covered with red clinker tiles. They form a continuous surface that is easy to clean and heats up the building.23 This surface material also continues on the terrace. It creates a feeling of connectedness to the exterior area and gives easy access between the inside and the outside.

 

Figure 13: Detail Terrace and Sliding Doors, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

In the same way, all walls and the ceiling are covered by wooden panels, even in the bathrooms. Intelligent joints provided, that this perception of the continuous surfaces also provide easy maintenance.24

 

Figure 14: Detail Bathroom, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 15: Bathroom Photography, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Figure 16: Floorplan , own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

The rooms are arranged in an open row. They can be divided by sliding doors to prevent distraction during the day. If opened, the sliding doors disappear inside the walls so that they are hidden in the construction. When closed, they form a continuous surface, not being visible as separated elements.

 

Figure 17: Foto Open Roomspace Fireplace, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Figure 18: Detail Sliding Doors, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 19: Foto Open Bedroom, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

 

The bedroom is furnished in a way that it can be used as a big living room together with the main living area.25 The same goes for the kitchen, which has been designed without any stainless sink and lacquer or coated surfaces.26

 

Figure 20: Foto Kitchen, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

 

In order to create storage space, Wenche and Jens designed many integrated shelves, closets, and other furniture.27 Having a precise image of what the family needs, they drew detailed construction plans for every storage facility.28

 

Figure 21: Floorplan with highlighted integrated closets, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 22: Furniture Drawing, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 23: Detail Kitchen Furniture, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 24: Detail Closets, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

Nothing was by chance. The design of the house made family-life easier and decreased the time spent on cleaning. In addition, the storage facilities did not form outstanding volumes within the house and, instead, disappear inside the walls and niches.29

 

Figure 25: Detail Integrated Shelf and Radiator, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 26: Foto North Façade, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Figure 28: Foto Open Roomspace Perspective, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Another characteristic space dividing element is the fireplace. The detailing is similar to many of Wenche Selmer’s other buildings. The fireplace is located in the middle of the house, between the living space and the drawing desk, dividing the two areas and ensuring efficient heating. The effect of spatial continuity is underlined by the tall windows in the living room, that can be opened towards the terrace and the garden.30 Also the floor cladding continues in the outdoor space which creates a connection between the interior and exterior rooms.

 

Figure 30: Detail Sliding Door Terrace, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 31: Detail Sliding Door Fitting, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Selmer made use of traditional fittings that had been transformed into sliding doors to keep windows windproof.31 The details exemplify how the design was driven by effective material choices and precise solutions. The form and positioning of the house on the site created a generous outdoor area that connects to the interior space in a relatively dense context.32

 

Figure 32: Situasjonskart, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

 

Wenche Selmer had vast experience in listening to clients’ wishes and carefully applying them to her designs. Perhaps she asked herself the same questions and treated her own family as a client that did not have to fit into traditional ways of living but had particular needs that could be served through the design and the details. 

The question of Wenche Selmer’s views on feminism seems to be influenced by today’s perspective. She was, perhaps, less aware of her counterreaction against traditional gender roles. Perhaps it is more adequate to describe her statements as objective and self-conscious rather than idealistic or feminist. After all, it is surprising that despite her statement that women should put their name on what they did, her husband signed a large number of the drawings in the archive that were reviewed. Were these not her work?

Challenges and chances

Reviewing Wenche and Jens Selmers’ work at Trosterudstien 1, it appears to be a successful framework for family-life.33 The context has changed since Selmer’s time, but we still ask how we want to live together. Affordable housing that must also fulfil ecological demandsis one of today’s challenges. How can architecture offer solutionsto large-scale issues of environment and social roles? Perhaps there is something to learn from Selmer’s use of architecture as a tool for liberating women at home.

 

Bibliography

(3)Anker, Nils. “Wenche Selmer.” Accessed november 2, 2021. https://nbl.snl.no/Wenche_Selmer.

(4)Brochmann, Odd;Storsletten, Ola; Reisegg, Øyvind; Hagen, Håvard; Bruun, Magne. “Arkitektur I Norge.”  Accessed november 1, 2021. https://snl.no/arkitektur_i_Norge.

(2,8,9,16)Cappelen, Bjørn; Gunnarsjaa, Arne. «Wenche Selmer.» Accessed november 6, 2021. https://snl.no/Wenche_Selmer.

(6)Lønnå, Elisabeth. “Kvinnebevegelsens historie fra første verdenskrig til 1980.” Accessed november 6, 2021. https://snl.no/Kvinnebevegelsens_historie_fra_f%C3%B8rste_verdenskrig_til_1980.

(5,7,15)Lønnå, Elisabeth. “Kvinners rettigheter i Norge fra 1945 til 1990-årene.” Accessed november 1, 2021. https://snl.no/Kvinners_rettigheter_i_Norge_fra_1945_til_1990-%C3%A5rene.

(10,11,12,13,14,22)Seip, Elisabeth. “Profil 6, Wenche Selmer.” Byggekunst: The Norwegian Review of Architecture, 8-1980, 1980, 370-373.

(19,21,24)Selmer, Wenche. Script of a lecture at AHO “Eget hus I Trosterudstien 1” by Wenche and Jens Selmer, n.d., box 1, Wenche Selmer Collection, dokumentasjonsarkivet, Nasjonalmuseet Oslo, Oslo.

(18,20,23,25,26,27,28,29,31)Selmer, Wenche; Selmer, Jens. “Unser Haus Trosterudstien 1.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 21, 1976.

(17)Selmer, Wenche; Selmer, Jens. “Hytta, et samspill med omgivelsene” Hytteliv: Organ for Norges Hytteforbund, 5-1983, 1983, 19.

(33)Sveen, Willy. “Arkitektens eget hus, Ikke dyrt-ikke fint.” Nye bonytt, 1969, 2007. Bladkiosken.

(1,30,32)Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.
Figures and Drawings

Figure 1: Wenche Selmer Portrait, n.d., Elisabeth Seip, “Profil 6, Wenche Selmer” Byggekunst. The norwegian review of architecture, 8-1980, 1980, 370-373.

Figure 2: Trosterudstien 1 Illustration, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 3: Photography of  breakfast scene, n.d., Elisabeth Lønnå: “Women's rights in Norway from 1945 to the 1990s.” Accessed november 1, 2021. https://snl.no/Kvinners_rettigheter_i_Norge_fra_1945_til_1990-%C3%A5rene.

Figure 4: Trosterudstien 1 interior and fireplace, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 5: Trosterudstien 1 kitchen and living space, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 6: Southern Elevation, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 7: Selmer, Wenche; Selmer, Jens. “Unser Haus Trosterudstien 1.” Süddeutsche Zeitung, January 21, 1976.

Figure 8: Basic Construction System, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 9: Roof Construction, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 10: Section Bathroom, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 11: Foto of Open Roomspace Perspective, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Figure 12: Foto Playing on the floor, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Figure 13: Detail Terrace and Sliding Doors, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 14: Detail Bathroom, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 15: Bathroom Photography, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Figure 16: Floorplan , own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 17: Foto Open Roomspace Fireplace, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Figure 18: Detail Sliding Doors, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 19: Foto Open Bedroom, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Figure 20: Foto Kitchen, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Figure 21: Floorplan with highlighted integrated closets, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 22: Furniture Drawing, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 23: Detail Kitchen Furniture, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 24: Detail Closets, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 25: Detail Integrated Shelf and Radiator, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 26: Foto North Façade, Tostrup, Elizabeth. Norwegian Wood: The Thoughtful Architecture of Wenche Selmer. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006.

Figure 27: Drawings Fireplace, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 28: Foto Open Roomspace Perspective, n.d.,“Selmer Eget Hus.” Accessed November 1,2021. https://www.nasjonalmuseet.no/samlingen/sok/?query=selmer+eget+hus.

Figure 29: Section Chimney, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 30: Detail Sliding Door Terrace, own drawing based on original drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 31: Detail Sliding Door Fitting, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

Figure 32: Situasjonskart, drawing, 1963, folder 1, Wenche Selmer arkiv, Norsk arkitekturarkiv, Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.