Text: INGA RAGNHILD HOLST | Photo: HANS FREDRIK ASBJØRNSEN
(SCANDINAVIAN TRAVELER) Entrepreneur Jan Vardøen built a business empire from scratch and went on to transform the old working-class neighborhood of Grünerløkka.
Jan Vardøen breathes in the scent of the old streets of Grünerløkka, Oslo. It’s a heady mix of wood lacquer, leather and freshly baked bread. Within just a few blocks are no fewer than ten businesses he’s built up literally by hand. Sporting a black shirt that Johnny Cash would have been proud of, he walks between his bars and restaurants. Style comes naturally to Vardøen, and you can see inspired vintage touches from the 1940s, 50s and 60s in all the places he’s touched.
Vardøen, who split his time between his father’s home in England and his mother’s in Norway until his 20s, arrived in Risør in 1988, having talked himself into a boat building course.
“Boat building is a fine skill,” he says, “one that everyone should learn. It teaches you problem solving. You’re also working with aesthetics, so you develop your personal style. And you need to be precise, or the boat might sink.”
Risør soon felt too small, so it was off to Oslo and Grünerløkka. Back then, Grünerløkka was a downbeat working-class area. There were still residential buildings where several apartments shared a communal bathroom. People were poor, and living on Markveien or Nordregate was not something to boast about.
But Vardøen has a thing for rough neighborhoods. In London, for example, he lived in a Brixton squat. He was quick to see the potential of Grünerløkka.
“It’s a soulful neighborhood,” he says, “with a nice mix of parks and old buildings. Everything is very relaxed here and there is a sense of unity. It suits me well.”