With its egg-white facade and prime location on Reykjavík’s Tjörnin pond, the 120-year-old theatre Iðnó is one of those buildings that seems rather anonymous from the outside but captures your heart as soon as you set foot inside.
When I walk in to check out the newly renovated space, I can’t believe my eyes. In the entrance hall, where before there were only spinning saws and flecks of dust, a brand new bar welcomes me, complete with an old but faithful La Marzocco coffee machine. Coffee tables sit around the perimeter of the adjacent rooms, decorated with dainty roses a la Parisienne. But it’s the grand hall that captivates me most.
A grand project
It’s Airwaves week, and indie band Hey Elbow are threatening to bring down the house with their fierce sound. Dimly lit by the stage lights, the periwinkle blue walls of the hall are stained with ever-moving speckles of light. The space is packed with audience members standing against the tall windows or sitting under the white accents of the ceilings. In a country like Iceland, with a passion for concrete and glass buildings, it’s refreshing to see that the old-fashioned atmosphere of Iðnó has been kept intact.
Striking a balance between past and present has only been possible thanks to a hard-working team of individuals who put their entire collective knowledge at the disposal of this project. Earlier this year Þórir Bergsson, from popular bistro Bergsson Mathús, and René Boonekamp, a long time contributor to the Icelandic art scene, won a five-year lease for Iðnó, issued by the City of Reykjavík.
Cherishing the history of Iðnó was important, but looking at the future felt crucial as well. Thus, they set about creating a space that could boost and support all sorts of creative endeavours. “This is primarily an events space, of course,” says René. “There are going to be people who want to organise private parties here. Then there are public events organised by theatre or school groups, and we’re going to organise our own events to fill up the agenda every month.”
A safe oasis
But there’s more to check out, and René doesn’t leave any stone unturned. “I’ll show you upstairs,” he smiles. At the end of a narrow staircase, a completely different space awaits me. A maze of rooms with low ceilings, vast Moroccan-style rugs and dim lighting, the second-floor attic works like a well-oiled machine.
In its new incarnation, it serves as a co-working hub, where freelancers and artists can find equipment for recording, editing and creating in a social environment that fuels their creativity. “We want to see this place as a creative space where things can drip down from,” René explains. “We are working on setting up a sound recording studio on a subscription base, for instance. So the equipment will be here, and you will just have to pay a monthly fee of sorts.”
In a city that’s experiencing a shortage of apartments and studios on lease, Iðnó could then become a much-needed oasis for Icelandic artists. I leave in awe at the dignity of this place. You get the feeling that it might be haunted, but however tangible the ghosts of the past might be, there’s no doubt that Iðnó has its eyes set on the future.