• Pure color joy – about Norrgavel and egg tempera.

    tempera stol

    Egg tempera is a color with a long history. Already in ancient Egypt, tempera was used, and in the 15th century, great artists like Botticelli painted with the color. If you scrape on a really old church pew, the innermost layers of paint are likely to be egg tempera. With increased awareness of what surrounds us in our homes, many have recently become interested in this fragrant color. But when Norrgavel began painting their furniture with egg tempera in the early 90s, few knew about the color. 

    Norrgavel's founder, Nirvan Richter, tells here about the encounter with the colorful woman Milis Ivarsson, who introduced a completely new perspective on color. One of several explanations for why egg tempera eventually came to be so strongly associated with Norrgavel.

    We meet in Nirvan's office, located adjacent to Norrgavel's prototype workshop and product development in the Varvsstaden district. It's historical ground that was used by Kockums from the early 1900s until the dismantling of their production activities in Malmö. Nirvan pulls out a book from the well-stocked bookshelf, skims through another article about Milis Ivarsson, and dusts off memories from the early days of Norrgavel in the early '90s.

    How did it come about that Norrgavel began using the historical cultural paint egg tempera for their furniture and eventually as wall paint in their store environments? The interest in pure and healthy paint was there from the start, but the path to choosing egg tempera specifically wasn't straightforward.

    – When I showcased the very first Norrgavel furniture at the Bomässan in Örebro in 1992, I was already very interested in paint. At home, I used a kind of beeswax paint from Robygge, a concept store with an anthroposophic focus. But I had also researched German natural paints - Livos, Meldos, and Auro... they were based on citrus turpentine instead of regular turpentine. But that wasn't entirely good either. When I presented the Kapphylla and Påshylla shelves at the Bomässan in Örebro, they were painted with German natural paints. I primed them and then strip-painted them to bring out a particular depth. In the first years when we started selling Kapphylla and Påshylla, I stood in the basement on Lilla Södergatan in Lund and painted them myself. The colors were called lime green and lavender blue, says Nirvan.

    “When I showcased the Kapphylla and Påshylla shelves at the Bomässan in Örebro, they were painted with German natural paints.”

    temperamålad länstol

    But it wasn't a sustainable situation to manage the painting myself in the basement of the residential building, and the German natural paint didn't feel quite right. That's when Nirvan remembered that article from 1990. His curiosity about egg tempera, which Milis Ivarsson described with such convincing enthusiasm, grew. Nirvan called directory assistance and got Milis's phone number. After describing his business, Milis surprisingly replied that it was funny he called just then because she was going to Lund the next day - for the first time in ten years. What a coincidence! And when Milis arrived the next day at the house in Lund where Nirvan lived at the time, she spotted a cabinet and exclaimed, "Is it YOU who made that cabinet?" The cabinet in question was one Nirvan had made during his furniture carpentry training and was displayed at an exhibition at Läckö Castle. Milis had visited the exhibition, was impressed by the cabinet, and immediately recognized it in Nirvan's home. With this first meeting, a multi-year collaboration between Norrgavel and Ovolin, the paint company founded by Milis, began. Milis swept into Nirvan's life with her strong personality and opened doors to a completely new approach to color.

    – Previously, I had been interested in color in an intellectual and technical manner, but I understood then and there that my knowledge of color was extremely basic. For me, color was an NCS number. Milis introduced me to a whole new way of thinking. She saw color more as a sculptural material, as an experience that one sculpts. Not as a flat surface but more as a materiality with which one works to create spatial volumes. She liked to experiment simultaneously with different shades of color to achieve a stronger sense of light in the room. Milis lives color. She IS color. She has an incredibly keen eye for color that is not only intuitive but also analytical," says Nirvan.

    “For me, color was an NCS number. Milis introduced me to a whole new way of thinking.”

    And Nirvan trusted Milis very much. It felt completely natural to start experimenting with pure egg tempera on Norrgavel furniture and abandon the German natural paint. But it was a challenge to start painting furniture with egg tempera. The challenge included choosing colors that behaved in a manageable way and also had reasonable oxidation times. The properties of the paint vary depending on which pigments are included in each color. A research project was initiated with the University of Växjö where different methods to accelerate the oxidation of the paint were tested. When pine oil was added, it turned out that the paint became more manageable and the oxidation time was shortened. However, the slow oxidation of egg tempera has its advantages. It provides a very durable surface that does not flake or crack. Instead, the paint surface wears down over time due to wear, resulting in a beautifully patinated surface.

    In addition to color, Milis was also knowledgeable in the field of textiles, and linen was a favorite material of hers. Norrgavel began purchasing linen of various thicknesses from linen weavers and had the fabrics dyed at Swedish dye houses. It was Milis who determined the colors. These linen fabrics were then used for table and bed linens and to upholster Norrgavel's stuffed furniture. In Nirvan's office, there is a daybed with a cushion upholstered in one of the fabrics from that time. The blue-purple color is as beautiful today as it was three decades ago when the cushion received its covering. And despite years of use, the fabric still looks fantastic.

    “The blue-purple color is as beautiful today as it was three decades ago when the cushion received its covering.”

    The close collaboration between Milis and Norrgavel continued until the turn of the millennium when they professionally parted ways.

    – Milis had an impulsive and rebellious personality, and she was very upset with the traditional paint industry. The big paint giants in the market felt threatened by her because Ovolin was indeed a very fine company that was growing rapidly. So, in the early 2000s, after a turbulent period, the company that Milis had founded was acquired. Since 2005, she has been running the family business Av jord, which targets end consumers who want to mix their egg tempera paint themselves. Everything Milis does is characterized by her environmentally conscious holistic view of life, says Nirvan.

    After further changes in ownership, Ovolin has been run for several years by Carin Moberg and Mats Anhammer. In an old brick warehouse along the Svartån river, in one of Örebro's most scenic cultural areas, lies Ovolin paint factory & building conservation. Since the 1990s, Norrgavel has consistently maintained its collaboration with Ovolin, and all Norrgavel furniture in tempera paint is painted with tempera paint mixed in their premises. Pure paint consisting of locally produced linseed oil, Swedish eco-eggs, and earth pigments. An environmentally friendly and beautiful paint suitable for painting walls as well as wooden furniture. Cans of pre-mixed egg tempera paint from Ovolin can be ordered at all Norrgavel stores.

    “Tempera is the most naturally pure paint we've been able to find. It's beautiful and very pleasant to live with.”

    – One of the main reasons I started Norrgavel was my longing to return to the materiality and attitude towards wood and furniture found in the countryside. At its core, it's about an approach to how things age. I didn't have a word for it then, but later I found the concept of wabi-sabi, which resonated with my longing. Egg tempera fits perfectly into this mindset. Tempera is the most naturally pure paint we've been able to find. It's beautiful and very pleasant to live with; it settles like a thin matte veil over the wood surface and changes with the light of the day. Moreover, it ages with dignity, says Nirvan.

    And the scent of Norrgavel will continue to be characterized by the locally produced and cold-pressed linseed oil, which is one of the key ingredients in Ovolin's egg tempera. This naturally beautiful and fragrant tempera spreads pure color joy. ♥

    “A room painted with a color made from binders and pigments from nature feels different from a room painted with plastic binders and synthetic colorants. The natural materials provide a sense of closeness to life and the earth.”

    Quote from the book Earth's Color by Milis Ivarsson and Frida Hafvenstein.


    Tempera means mixture, and egg tempera is both a mixture of ingredients and of different properties. Egg tempera is an emulsion of linseed oil and water, facilitated by the emulsifying egg. The egg has a unique ability to bind both water and oil. The water acts as a solvent, making the mixture paintable, while the egg and oil serve as the binder in the paint. It's only when the pigment is added that it becomes a complete color.

    When egg tempera dries, there is an oxidation of the egg and oil, as the egg and oil molecules bond together to form a very strong and tough network of long molecular chains. It's not just drying or evaporation of water, but also a molecular change. This is why the egg doesn't rot on the wall and the smell of linseed oil and fresh eggs becomes less and less prominent. The pigments also affect the oxidation process, with some speeding it up and others delaying it.

    Source: "Earth's Color" by Milis Ivarsson and Frida Hafvenstein.