This story is a part of the 100 Stories from Iceland.

New Eco-Friendly House on Flatey Island Honours Family Legacy and Nature

Flatey Island, Skjálfandi Bay, Iceland – 30.05.2024 —Stefán Guðmundsson, born and raised in Skjálfandi Bay with solid family roots in Flatey Island, has built a new environmentally friendly house on the site of his grandfather’s old blacksmith workshop. This project honors his family’s history while embracing modern sustainability practices.

Flatey Island, located in the beautiful Skjálfandi Bay in northern Iceland, is known for its stunning natural landscape and rich birdlife, with more than 30 different species of birds during the breeding season. The name means “flat island,” and the highest peak rises only about 22 m above sea level. With a length of 2.5 km and a width of 1.7 km, Flatey Island is the fifth largest island in Icelandic waters. 

The island was settled early in history, and its population increased during the first decades of the 20th century. In 1942, the population was at its highest, with 120 people living in fishing and agriculture. The last inhabitants left in 1967, and the island has not been permanently inhabited since, but many people visit it each summer. Most old homes are kept and maintained as summer houses, and the relaxed island atmosphere is like traveling back in time.

The island holds special significance for Stefán and his family. His father, Alli Hólmgeirs, an active fisherman for over 80 years, was born and raised on Flatey Island. His grandfather once operated a blacksmith workshop on the island, contributing to the local community’s development.

Rather than let the workshop ruins go to waste, Stefán built a new house named Smiðjan (workshop) that combines respect for the past with a vision for the future. His eco-friendly house features solar panels to harness Iceland’s extended summer daylight, a rainwater collection system to conserve water, and materials sourced locally. The final touch was put recently when the sign “Smiðjan” was raised in front of the house with driftwood.

Stefán has been offering tours to Flatey Island for locals and international guests for many years. Now, with the new facilities, the possibilities for fine dining, concerts, and various events are endless.

“Flatey Island is our paradise, and we want to protect its heritage and let people experience its beauty,” Stefán said. “Building this house on my grandfather’s workshop site connects our family’s history with our commitment to sustainability.”

Stefán’s deep connection to the ocean inspired him to own and run Gentle Giants for over two decades, a whale-watching company in the famous town of Húsavík, often called the Whale Capital of Iceland. Gentle Giants aims to promote responsible whale watching and raise awareness about the marine life in Skjálfandi Bay. The company operates guided tours on a fleet of traditional Iceland oak boats and modern RIB speedboats.

The new house Smiðjan and the work of Gentle Giants are shining examples of how tradition and modernity can come together to create positive change. By honoring his family’s legacy and embracing sustainable practices, Stefán is helping to ensure that Flatey Island and Skjálfandi Bay remain pristine and vibrant for future generations.

“I have personally over 50 years of experience in the bay and like to think of myself as continuing my family’s 160-year-long tradition started by my great great grandfather who was a fisherman just like my great grandfather, grandfather, and father would later be not to forget my great grandmothers too,” Stefán said. “We were born by the bay of Skjálfandi, and our ancestors too. Way back!”

This story is a part of the 100 Stories from Iceland.

For more information, please contact:

Daniel Annisius, Assistant Manager of Gentle Giants
+354 464 1500