In an old house on Peder Claussønsgate, in Stavanger, a beautiful story keeps on being written every day, since 1929 till nowadays. It’s about passion, tradition, excellence, history, hard work both with hands and with heart. It all started with a furniture factory, built by a Danish master, known as Mahogany Christensen, after the type of exclusive furniture he had made. His work was continued by his best friend, John Bjerga, and the workshop had famous clients, the furniture produced in here got, for instance, to the royal ship of Norway or to Stavanger law court. John Bjerga himself was awarded by the king of Norway. Today, the small workshop keeps the story. Old furniture is restored, repaired, conserved, with the same care, attention and very good skills. And people regain not only a piece of furniture but also all the memories and emotions related to it.
It’s such a feeling when you first enter Mestergaarden – every piece of furniture, every detail seems to tell a story. It’s like entering an old bookstore – you simply don’t know where to stop first, what to admire, where to start searching, discovering. It’s not only a workshop, it’s that kind of place where you can see, discover and feel the history. And a huge heartbeat beyond it, because now, as it was from the very beginning, in Mestergaarden the work is done with very good skills, passion and a lot of soul.
The story begins with a famous Danish master, Christen L. Christensen, known as Mahogany Christensen, after the type of exclusive furniture he had made. He started as an apprentice in his native town, Aalborg, in Denmark, and then travelled in Europe for other 2,5 years, as an apprentice journey man. He worked in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Poland and Copenhagen before coming to Stavanger, in 1912. Actually, he wanted to escape military duty in Denmark, so he and his wife escaped on a boat, planning to go to Trondheim, in northern Norway. But his wife was pregnant, there was a storm in the north sea and they just stopped in Stavanger. And remained here.
Mahogany Christensen worked at first with another master, then he started his own business. He bought the property in 1916, and the building from Peder Claussønsgate 19 A was opened in 1929. His work was highly appreciated and had famous clients.
In 1963, when he died, he let the workshop to his best friend, John Bjerga, who continued the tradition. The furniture produced in here got, for instance, to the royal ship of Norway or to Stavanger law court. John Bjerga himself was awarded by the king of Norway.
The story goes on
The memory of the two of them is kept in every corner. You can still find in Mestergaarden beautiful, unique furniture pieces made by Mahogany Christensen. A lot of newspapers. Old pictures, in frames, old furniture plans, and not only. “This one I made with my father”, explains John Sigmund Bjerga, son of John Bjerga and owner of houses, heritage, workshop. There’s still emotion in his voice while explaining, although I’m sure he had done this many, many times. “My father did a lot of painting and a lot of artists came here when I was young, they loved to come here”, he says.
John Bjerga died in 2009, but Terje Todnem (64 years old), master cabinet maker, and John Sigmund (52 years old), his son, continue his work. “Now we are just restoring and repairing, making some new things also but mostly restoring, repairing, conserving, like antiques, but in the old days they made furniture”, John says. Terje worked with his father for 10 years and he is working with him for other 10. “When I see furniture like that I get a lot of respect for the people who did it – how did they manage with those machines – today maybe I could do it but you need a lot of knowledge how to do it”, Terje says.
New life with old tools for old furniture
They still keep old tools and an old machinery. And use the old tools, and that’s almost unbelievable nowadays. Actually, when you enter the workshop you feel like coming back in time. The smell, the tools, the old furniture restored there – everything reminds you of old, traditional workshop, where job was made with hands, simple tools, lot of care and lot of soul, also. “The slogan of this workshop is in german and it means «Handcraft it’s the work of hand, leaded by the heart and helped by the brain». My father used to say – here we build furniture to last for 100 years and then we restore them to last another 100 years”, John says.
When I’ve got there, Terje just restored an old piece of furniture, using French polish, shellac, a natural varnish used for hundreds of years to protect the wood. He repaired small imperfections carefully, you actually wouldn’t have noticed them if you did not know where to look. And he was so happy while explaining and showing. Because it’s not only about restoring a piece of furniture, but it’s also about giving the person back all the memories and emotions related to it. Such as an armchair where your grandmother used to hold you and read you stories, for instance. Old furniture always comes with good feelings, beautiful memories. Once restored, her heart starts beating again.
“For instance, we had this lady who came to us with a decoration, 4 pieces, she was very happy because her father and mother have got it from Japan, they have been missionaries there and have bought it. It laid in some boxes for 50 years – all the flowers were broken off and we restored if, fixed the metal and she and her husband were very happy”, Terje says.
“To have a place like this is mostly a blessing”
The building where the workshop works is close to Stavanger city center. Certainly, it could’ve got a more profitable destination. But John says it’s not only about the material part. It’s a place that it’s part of the city’s history. People got used to it. And, beyond passion, it’s somehow a kind of moral duty – to the town, the people and the place itself, for everything that it means.
“When my father died the customers just continued to come, so we had to keep it alive otherwise the city would’ve been very disappointed of us. We have to thank the city, people seem to love this place very much, although the master left people come, we are just very grateful, we give thanks to people coming here, we are very happy that they do. To have a place like this is mostly a blessing. It’s a kind of responsibility also but it’s a joy”, John says.
And there’s something more. An attempt to keep the hand skills in a digital world – as long as you can still do this. “It’s about keeping the skills alive and keeping the name of this place alive. Many digital people come, they come to a little bit analogue world and it’s a little bit fascinating ”, he adds.
You can find out more about Mestergaarden on their Facebook page, HERE
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