Bjerkebæk Sigrid Undsets hjem, 1926-27

The history of Bjerkebæk

Bjerkebæk is made up of several buildings. “Røssum” and “Dalseg” were Sigrid Undset’s home, together with the “Gjestehuset” (guest house) - an outhouse in the garden. When Bjerkebæck was opened as a museum in 2007, the public building was also completed containing ticket sales, a museum shop, an auditorium and a café.

1918   A timber-clad house from Røssum in Kvam in Gudbrandsdalen is built for painter Gunnar Hjort, just outside the limits of the town of Lillehammer.

1919   Sigrid Undset rents the house from the painter, who wishes to move abroad. On the 27th of August she gives birth to her youngest son Hans Benedict.

1921   Sigrid Undset buys the house from Gunnar Hjort. She calls the place Bjerkebæk.

1922   Sigrid Undset extends the house, giving it a large veranda/gallery at the same time as she is converting the outhouse.

1923   Sigrid Undset advertises for an old house from Gudbransdal that she wishes to move to the place.

1924   The house dating from the 1700s from Dalseg in Sør-Fron is erected, and Sigrid Undset moves in at the end of November 1924. Following the separation from the painter Anders Castus Svarstad in October, she is now a single mother.

1930   She orders an exclusive bath, produced in America by Shanks, for her bedroom at Bjerkebæk.

1940   Sigrid Undset leaves Bjerkebæk and flees via Sweden, Russia and Japan to the USA together with Hans Benedict, her youngest son. Sigrid Undset’s housekeeper and her husband look after the house until the Germans come and occupy the house in February 1942. Sigrid Undset spends the war years in the USA as a “norsk informasjonssoldat” (Norwegian information soldier).

1942   The Germans occupy Bjerkebæk. In the USA Sigrid Undset, is chair of the organisation Fritt Norge (Free Norway) and a board member of Normannsforbundet (the union of Norwegians).

1945   Sigrid Undset returns to Norway and starts the work of recreating Bjerkebæk, which the Germans have devastated.

1946   Bjerkebæk and Sigrid Undset’s interest in flowers are presented in Alle Kvinner (a weekly magazine).

1947   Major renovation of Bjerkebæk.

1949   Sigrid Undset dies on the 10th of June and her son Hans Benedict inherits the place from his mother.

1952   Hans Benedict Undset Svarstad and Christianne nee Neraas move into Bjerkebæk following their marriage 30 June 1951. They extend the guest house and as time passes make it into a gallery for the works of Anders Castus Svarstad senior.

1974   Christianne Undset Svarstad writes to the Directorate for Cultural Heritage and suggests that the house and garden should be conserved as a tribute to Sigrid Undset.

1978   Hans Benedict Undset Svarstad dies 25 December in Spain. Christianne inherits Bjerkebæk.

1982   Bjerkebæk is conserved following a proposal by the Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

1996   Christianne Undset Svarstad dies and her two nieces inherit Bjerkebæk.

1997   The state, Oppland County Council and the municipality of Lillehammer buy Bjerkebæk, with the Ministry of Culture as the owner.

1999 - 2000 The restoration of the houses and work on the garden plan is carried out in cooperation with the conservation authorities.

2001   The restoration of Dalsegstua is completed. Planning of the public building commences.

2002   Carl Wiggo Hølmebakk wins the architectural competition for the design of the public building.

2004   The restoration of Røssumstua is completed. The finance for the public building is ready.

2005   The lower part of the garden is completed.

2006   Erection of the public building starts and the foundation stone is laid by Queen Sonja.

2007   The public building is handed over to Maihaugen. HM Queen Sonja attends the opening of Bjerkebæk with its public building on 20 May, Sigrid Undset's birthday.