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Walt Disney World Architecture in Real Life: The Detli House

By: Kendall Foreman

A photo of the exterior of the Royal Sommerhus in the Norway Pavilion at Disney's EPCOT, which was based on the Detli House in Norway.  It appears as if it was constructed out of wood beams and has red trimmed windows, shutters, and decorative carvings and embellishments.

There are those who see Norway’s spirit veiled in a land of forests and mystery…

– Maelstrom, Norway Pavilion, EPCOT

Seventy-five percent of the nation of Norway is covered in forest. According to visitnorway.com, Norwegians have been building their structures and ships from wood for centuries and “their intimate knowledge of wood was a key factor in elevating the Vikings and making them one of the world’s richest and most advanced civilizations almost 1000 years ago.”

The wooden architecture of Norway was constructed with interlocking beams and pegs and was known for its strength, which is evidenced by the survival of several structures over the centuries.

One such building is Detlistua or the Detli House. It was built in 1817 in the village of Oppdal, Norway, and was constructed by Ole Halvorsen as a family home. It was unique in the village for two reasons: it was a two-story dwelling and it had a dedicated choir room. Halvorsen completed the carving of the interiors himself, but he commissioned village artists to paint traditional Norwegian rosemaling throughout the house. Such decoration was used to inscribe “Ole Halvor Son Detlie was born in the year 1751 and completed this building in the year 1817,” in Norwegian above one of the interior lintels.

Detli House stood in Oppdal until 1924 when it was moved to the Sverresborg Trondelag Folk Museum in Trondheim, Norway. This open-air museum sits amidst the ruins of King Sverre’s Castle, the nation’s first medieval castle. As with the other architecture of the time, the fortress was constructed of wood, and was destroyed and burned by the king’s enemies twice.

Ongoing archaeological surveys at the site have unearthed items such as keys, knives, scissors, and a coin with the king’s image. Surrounding the castle remains, the Sveresborg Trondelag Folk Museum features a number of buildings relocated from areas around Trondheim. The “Byen” or “City” exhibit includes homes and shops from 18th and 19th century Trondheim, and the “Bygda” or “Village” includes houses, a stave church, school, and other structures from Oppdal, Meldal, and Meraker. It is in the “Village” where visitors can find Detli House.

In the wooden beams, grass roof, and striking red details of Detli House, the history and culture of Norway can be both seen and felt. Perhaps this is the reason Imagineers chose it as the inspiration for Anna and Elsa’s Royal Sommerhus. While Arendelle is a fictional kingdom and Anna and Elsa are characters loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s tale The Snow Queen, Disney purposely chose to ground their story in the reality of the Norwegian landscape. The same method was employed when it was decided that Frozen would be added to EPCOT.

The Norway Pavilion in World Showcase was intended to be a representation of the nation of Norway, so when Imagineers were tasked with incorporating an imaginary kingdom, they did so with a faithfulness to the real-world location it would sit amidst. The Royal Sommerhus, intended to be Anna and Elsa’s summer cabin, is an impressive replication of Detli House.

While the bones of the EPCOT cabin were constructed to withstand the Florida weather, it was built to appear as if it is made of the same materials as its forerunner with a stone foundation, interlocking wood beam walls, grass roof, stone chimney, red shuttered windows, and embellished entryway. Differences between the two are small. The Sommerhus – most likely for story’s sake – is missing the 1817 above the doorway noting the year of Halvorsen’s construction. Anna and Elsa have added some flower boxes, and surprisingly, their getaway cabin is slightly more modest in size as compared to the Oppdal home.

For guests who know its inspiration, EPCOT’s Royal Sommerhus stands as a testament to the history and beauty of Norway’s wooden architecture and forest landscape, a resource that is so important to that nation that visitnorway.com called it their “living archive.”

(Photos courtesy of Melanie Whitfield.)

Kendall has been a member of the WDW Radio Team since 2013. Today, you can read her work on the WDW Radio Blog or hear her join Lou for a number of WDW Radio podcast episodes. Kendall’s affection for Walt Disney World began with her very first family visit in the 1990s and has continued with each magical vacation since. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.