We’re boarding a ferry to cross a small inlet separating the towns of Magerholm and Sykkylven on the west coast of Norway, more than 500km north of Oslo. The map of the coastline, characterised by deep fjords, looks a bit like a broken, scattered plate with random pieces of floating land that look too scattered to put back together. This is no ordinary crossing. The landscape of towering snowcapped mountains dotted with cottages is a scene right out of Frozen. In fact, Disney Cruise Line recently introduced themed cruises to this area to explore what they describe as inspiration for the film’s Arendelle Kingdom.
More than just a great photo op, this crossing is truly essential – driving between these two neighbouring towns is impossible and this boat ride is what connects the nearby regional hub of Alesund with the factory of Scandinavia’s largest furniture manufacturer, Ekornes.
Ekornes is a curiosity. They are operating in the world’s most expensive country to manufacture, in an area that is totally remote. And it isn’t a source of materials – their wood largely comes from central Europe and their leather from Italy. The region’s only resource is its historic creative talent in furniture design.
Furniture manufacturing started here in the 1930s with spring making, which led to an interest in creating beautiful pieces that used the springs, which led to a booming furniture industry in one of the most remote and odd places. There were once more than 35 furniture manufacturing factories here, I am told by a local resident. But the challenges of operating so remotely have caught up with many. “Today there are, maybe, three.”
Ekornes specialises in reclining chairs and sofas that combine intricate mechanics designed for comfort with a Scandinavian aesthetic that makes furniture from this region so popular. Their factory, which looks like a quaint village nestled at the foot of a mountain, employs 1000 locals and produces 1700 seats per day.
Many workers inside the factory enjoy views of the surrounding fjords through large windows direct from their workspaces. The cafeteria has a panoramic view, with balcony seating that rivals the ambience of some of the most desirable restaurant tables around the world. There’s actually a babbling brook that runs through the buildings.
I am here, in a remote area of Norway, touring a factory to watch how reclining chairs and sofas are made. On paper, it seems like it should be boring and yet I find myself with that “I wish you were here” feeling I usually get on a stunning beach or the top of a mountain. I ask my new local friend, who has lived here for 59 years, if he still feels this way. “Of course,” he smiles, “look at it.”