Stockholm Hotspot: A Tour of the Hallwyl Museum with Museum Director Heli Haapasalo

TL; DR: The Hallwyl museum in Stockholm is more than a hotspot patio with a jam-packed outdoor seating. Behind the gates hides a unique and preserved building which belonged to a Swedish upper-class family from the turn of the century.

As amazing as it can be to travel across the world to explore unknown destinations, it is almost an equal feeling to discover a new spot in your hometown. Therefore, we want to take the opportunity to highlight a couple of our local favorites in Sweden’s beautiful capital Stockholm, our beloved hometown. First up in our blog series on Stockholm is the Hallwyl museum, located a few steps from Berzelii Park on Hamngatan 4.

Despite the huge yellow banner flapping outside of the museum, it is surprisingly easy to walk past the building without taking any notice. But behind the gates lie a magical gem that should not be left unexplored by neither tourists or locals. Join us when we visit the Hallwyl museum!

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The Museum Director of Hallwyl

We meet with the museum director Heli Haapasalo in the museum shop, located on floor one. She joined the museum in 2010 after a long career in art, with previous positions at the Museum of Modern Art (Swedish: Moderna Muséet) and the National Museum. Although Heli’s original focus was contemporary art, she could not resist the opportunity to work with the Hallwyl museum.

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The home of Hallwyl

Wilhelmina von Hallwyl (born Kämpe) is a central character in the story of the Hallwyl museum. She was born into an upper-class family in Sweden by German parents in 1844, and later met her husband Walter in the German health resort Homburg. Walter von Hallwyl moved to Sweden when the couple decided to tie the knot and he later took over his father-in-law’s business. The Countess von Hallwyl always had a keen interest in art. Early on, the spouses decided that their home, in its time the most expensive private residence in Stockholm, should be turned into a museum after their death.

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The house on Hamngatan, including decorations and furniture, was given to the state when they passed away. Many have wondered why Wilhelmina von Hallwyl insisted to save so much of their items for the museum. Heli explains how she believes the Countess reasoned:

“It was a time marked by change – by, for instance, the labor movement and modernization. Women’s role in society began to change. This was Wilhelmina’s way of showing what it was like to live back then. She was conservative, yet very modern. If she had wanted it to be a ‘nice and superficial’ museum, she would not have wanted us to save items such as pots and graters. It was important for her that the everyday things would be treated as good as their expensive possessions. She really wanted people to get an authentic picture of what it was like to live back then.”

IMG_3119IMG_3123When the food was ready, the servants sent it to the dining room with this “food elevator”, where other servants took over and started serving the family and their friends. 

We notice the pride in Heli’s voice. Unquestionably, it is unique to have so many everyday objects preserved in the way that the Hallwyl museum has. They even have a piece of the couple’s wedding cake stored! Entering the house of Hallwyl is like stepping into another time, allowing visitors to stroll around expensive marble bathrooms, beautiful wine cellars and impressive knight equipment.

“The heart of Hallwyl is that we have it all. And everything is documented. 78 directories with information about where their items were bought, what they cost and who owned them before the Hallwyl family”, Heli explains.

IMG_3075IMG_3074IMG_3094IMG_3120IMG_3080IMG_3084One of Heli’s favorite parts of the house is the marble bathroom with exclusive gold taps. However, she points out that the longer she works at the museum, the more she appreciates the whole house and the unique opportunity to get access to a authentic home from the turn of the century.

IMG_3105hallwylska museum wine cellarThe family stored their everyday wine Dôle in this beautiful wine cellar. Bordeaux wines were served for the more formal dinner parties.

IMG_3127The famous Blom porcelain is still produced. The staff on site told us that many of the visitors recognize the porcelain – but bear in mind that this was the servants’ porcelain, the Hallwyl family used a different tableware.

In addition to the authentic environment, the staff are dressed in period costumes. Heli proclaims that the staff has won the award for “Best staff” three repeated years, in a competition arranged by a market research company called Evimetrics.

More than just a patio

It is a pity that many only associate the Hallwyl museum with its patio. The patio is a haven from the city pulse, and it is no wonder that well-dressed Stockholm locals are flocking around the bar and restaurant. Heli naturally welcomes the new bar and restaurant visitors, but sees an even greater value in how museum visitors now can extend their experience with a visit to the restaurant where they can continue to soak in the environment.

“Many people ask me if the restaurant has generated more visitors. Of course it has, but I consider the restaurant to be even more valuable for our museum visitors; who now can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of coffee after the exhibition.”

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We are Nodes encourages guests to enter the former house of the Hallwyl family. The museum offers free entrance, like all state-owned museums in Sweden. The guided tours costs, but gives you a much deeper understanding of the history. However, the financial support given from the government is not enough, the museum needs to bring in additional revenues in order to be a viable business. “We generate about 40 percent of our revenues on our own, through the shop, guided tours and the restaurant.”

Art as a social influence

According to Heli, the museum has up to 35 different guided tours. The newest tour is based on the current discussion about refugees and what is defined as ‘Swedish’ today. Since Walter von Hallwyl, the Countess’s husband, came to Sweden as an immigrant, the museum decided that the tour should revolve around the perception of an immigrant at that time. Heli explains how Walter was mocked by the press for his accent and since he was not a fit with the perception of a Swede, even though he was a part of the aristocracy.

We are Nodes are impressed by the way the museum has been able to influence and add to the (complex) discussions of today in their own way.

Women’s role is also emphasized in one of the tours. Heli says that there has been a great deal of anecdotes and rumors about Wilhelmina von Hallwyl. People used to call her crazy because of her frequent storing of art and other items. However, after her death, the Countess actually became a female role model.

“She was a rich woman in her time, and many were horrified by her and wondered why she wanted to create a monument of herself. But in the 90s, people began searching for female role models; women who had made an impact on history. The Countess suddenly got a different reputation, and earned many people’s respect. She is important for the history of art and seems to have been a very strong woman.”

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Accessible for everyone?

One of Heli’s main missions is to attract new groups of people to the museum, such as teenagers, young men and people living in the suburbs. Another mission is to improve the physical accessibility. The staff has worked with accessibility for a long time, but as a public museum they must be even better, Heli states. The museum has already introduced guided tours to people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, hearing loss or visual impairment.

“We lack in physical accessibility right now. There was a young wheelchair-bound girl who wrote to us that it hurt her to read how we stated on our web that everyone was welcome here. She did not feel included.”

We notice that Heli takes the task seriously, and we hope that the improvement speeds up so that everyone can experience the house of Hallwyl in the near future.

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Q & A with the Museum Director of Hallwyl; Heli Haapasalo

Your top three culture tips in Stockholm?
1. I like opera, it is a visually cool and amazing art form that I enjoy.
2. Since I am very interested in contemporary art, I really like Moderna Muséet (Museum of Modern Arts).
3. Visit the fantastic sceneries in Waldemarsudde and Millesgården.

Where do you prefer to travel?
I am not an adventurous traveler who wants to swing around in lianas in the jungle or bicycle around in Vietnam. I like big cities with culture and good food, such as New York or Paris (read our Paris-guide here). I would never want to sleep in a beach house in Thailand, since I hate dreadful insects!

Do you have any summer plans?
I actually never go abroad in the summer. We spend the summers in our house in Skåne (located in the south of Sweden). I rather travel somewhere in the autumn or in the spring, when the temperature is not that high.


Want to know more about what to do and see in Stockholm? We have gathered all our previous blog posts about our beloved hometown. Read our Stockholm guide »

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