The country house - Building styles

Morten Leigh (1778-1816), who started up his business in Røros in 1801, some years later purchased the property Sundbakken in order to obtain a suitable country residence. When Morten Leigh died his widow took over the business, running the farm and the livestock, and the country house.

Amund Spangen

Her Swedish clerk and business assistant and later partner, Magnus Engzelius (1791-1868) inherited the house from her. Subsequently the house remained as the property of the Engzelius family right up to 1933. Their country house was very fashionable.

The eldest of the main buildings at Sundbakken, ‘Gammelstuga’ (the old house) is from the days of Morten Leigh. This is possibly the first of this type of building in Røros, a ‘kvistloftstuggu’. This type of construction was used a great deal in the Røros district for summer houses or for the summer dairy farm, but was not widely taken into use until towards the middle of the 1800s. Many of the ‘kvistloftstuggu’ are a result of the re-building of old houses, but this hardly the case with the house at Sundbakken. It was often the upper classes who introduced new elements into building practices – new features which were later adopted by more and more people. In the 1700s the prototype of the distinctive house from Tronderlag was a long symetrical building. The houses were modelled on the baroque style from Europe, and often had an additional built-out arch in the centre, which accentuated the symmetrical design and lent the house more of a monumental character. The upper classes in Røros had frequent contact with the well to do citizens of Trondheim from where they copied many features. In the 1700 several ‘baroque’ style houses were built in the mining town. When the ‘kvistloftstuggu’ became more common in the 1800s it was a result of stream of new ideas as well as the need for larger and more functional rooms.

The main house at Sundbakken, that ostentatiously Swiss-styled villa, was built during an early phase of the new style. From the fire insurance assessment forms, which date from 1874, we can see that the house has remained largely unchanged. It has been suggested that the Swiss-style came to Norway with the advent of the railway, and it gained enormously in popularity in Norway between the years 1860 until 1920. The Røros railway line was opened in 1877, and many of the stations along the line are buildings erected in the Swiss-style.

The villa at Sundbakken has all the characteristics of a Swiss-style building, a large roof overhang, carved roof decorations, high cellar floor and high ceilings, gable crossing timbers finished off with spears and carved woodwork to decorate the gables, staircases and overbuilt passageways. The windows are well formed and often have the neo Gothic look that is also a recognisable feature of the earlier Swiss-style. All the rooms on the first floor have double doors in line so that when the doors are all open one can see through the entire length of the house. This positioning of doors is well known from many fine houses, not least from some the wooden mansions, which were built in Trondheim in the 1700s.

The buildings at Sundbakken are primarily marked by their function as a country residence. The place was built to keep up with what was then fashionable. When the Swiss-style villa was built, the property was owned by the businessman and squire, Johan Magnus Engzelius (1821-1893). Before he took over the business in Røros he had been on a three-year educational journey throughout Europe. At Sunbakken the outhouses often had different features from more traditional summer-farm buildings.

During the time of both Johan Magnus Engzelius and his son, Gustaf (1859-1924) many different types of building were erected. In addition to ‘Gammelstuggu’ and the Swiss villa there were a servants’ and brewery house, a food store, a stall with 5 pens, a wood shed, a food store combined with vehicle storage, a summer barn, and a large working building containing a wood bin, a place for carriages etc., stalls, four closed compartments with outside toilets and urinals, and a hay and sheep pen. In the stalls there was space for 10 horses. In addition the property had a washhouse, several haylofts, a dairy – and some additional smaller buildings.In the surrounding areas there were many recreation facilities. Gustaf Engzelius installed riding paths and there was an avenue of trees joining a pavilion in the garden to a pavilion in the forest. In a clearing in the birch forest was a bowling lawn, and just below the bowling lawn there was a platform for dancing, above the summer cattle sheds there were tennis courts and close to the traditional food store (stabbur) there was a childrens’ playhouse built to look like a stabbur. The activity at the country property, Sundbakken, or Leigh-Sundet, reached its peak during the period from 1875 until approx. 1925. Even today, we can still easily imagine the glorious enjoyed there by the Engzelius family.