Klapphuset in Kalmar

Perhaps Scandinavia's only clapboard house 

It is not completely covered, but the Klapphuset on what is called Kattrumpan in Kalmar is usually referred to as the only preserved one in Scandinavia. Laundries or clapboards of this type were common in the cities during the early 20th century but disappeared one by one when running water became common in homes and when eventually washing machines became part of everyday life. 

In 1857, the city's governing body decided that a clapboard house should be built as a shelter for those who did laundry. Perhaps the men had seen their mothers' or servants' red-faced hands and swollen joints after the hard work in cold water and with strong winds from the Kalmar Sound. Long before the modern view of the working environment and ergonomic working postures, it is remarkable that the unhealthy and exposed working environment was just referred to when the decision was made. In Kalmar there were at most four clapboard houses and the first was built on Kattrumpan because the water there was flowing and not as deep as in many other places. The clapboard house we see today replaced the original sometime between 1902 and 1906. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, the clapboard house was threatened with demolition. Gunnel Forsberg Warringer, antiquarian at Kalmar County Museum and Bengt D Silfverstrand, local artist, started the action group Sällskapet Klapphuskåren with the aim of saving the building. With attention in both television and the national press, with the collection of money and with the support of local public opinion, they succeeded. Klapphuset was declared a building monument in 1983 and is today an obvious and inalienable part of the city's cultural heritage. Kalmar municipality is still the owner. 

Ingenious construction

The clapboard house is 7 x 17 meters, built on stilts in the water and connected to land with a jetty. The piles support the walls of the house about one meter above the water surface. Inside the building floats a raft that can be reached from a staircase at the entrance. The stairs are attached to the building's sill with hinges that change the position of the stairs depending on the water level and thus can follow the movements of the raft. At the pool in the middle of the raft are barrels that you can stand in, immersed in the water but without getting wet. It's called a clapping place and it was from there that the laundry was clapped with a wooden clapper. It is this work step that gave the house its name. With the submerged barrel, the working position became better for those doing the washing because you got closer to the surface of the water without lying on your knees. 

Then they washed

By the time you went to Klapphuset, a large part of the heavy work had already been done. The textiles had been soaked in cold water and soda. The laundry was then placed in a tub of warm water and soap where it was rubbed against the washboard. The next step was to boil the laundry in a pot with detergent, often home-boiled lye was used. The warm, wet laundry was placed in the empty laundry tubs or in a laundry basket. Then everything was transported to the pat house for rinsing, patting and washing out.

Workplace and meeting place

The city of Kalmar leased the clapboard house to a manager who would ensure that the bylaws for the business were followed and take care of certain chores. Between 1914 and 1950, the tenants were first Mrs. Emma Valter (1914-21) and then for a long period her daughter, Miss Helfrid Walter (1921-1950). The superintendent charged a fee to those who used the clap house. In 1914 it cost four öre per barrel for up to three hours' time, double that for six hours and 17 öre for anything over six hours. In return, the superintendent would, among other things, keep the door closed if no one "knocked", keep the raft clean, break up the ice in the winter, maintain the barrels and make sure that carpets and excessively dirty parcels were not washed inside the clapping house but outside. You understand that there could be discussions about how the rules were followed, just like in today's laundries in apartment buildings! In the 1920s, the order changed; they reserved different days for different types of washing, precisely so that they wouldn't dirty the water for each other. Mondays and Tuesdays were dedicated to white laundry and coarse laundry was allowed on the other days. The clapboard house functioned for many years as an important workplace for women, both for those who did laundry for others and for women who took care of their own laundry. 

The clapboard house also fulfilled a social function where you could share news, help each other and socialize. During a period in the 1930s, it also became a popular gathering place for young people who brought musical instruments and formed a "clap house chapel" that played music during the summer and earlier autumn evenings to the delight of those who wanted to dance and to the displeasure of those who resented the way the young people hang out. 

Even in the 1950s and 1960s, the clapboard house was relatively frequently used and was open Monday to Saturday. The tenant was Hjalmar Rosengren. Now they no longer charged for time in the barrel, but per garment. In the last 40 years, the use of clapboards has decreased. But the washing of mainly rag rugs has continued and there are still today those who always wash their rag rugs in the folding house and claim that the brackish Kalmarsund water helps to preserve the colors particularly well. 

Year: 2019

Location: Kalmar, Kalmar municipality

Responsible building antique dealer: Liselotte Jumme

Client: The magazine Byggnadskultur

Mrs. Iris Lindhoff washes from one of the barrels in 1959. Photo: Rolf Lind, Kalmar county museum
Today, the modern building is located on Laboratorieholmen as a fund for Klapphuset.
The exterior of the building is red with brightly painted small slatted windows. On the selected cardboard roof there are two characteristic ventilation hoods.
Carpets drying outside the folding house in 1965. Superintendent Hjalmar Rosengren leans against the railing.
Interior with ongoing washing in 1965.