When you enter into a nice Swedish-designed room, whether it’s an antique-filled rural house or a modern industrial loft space, a calm and feel-good quality pervades the ambiance. What’s not to love about this? There’s something to be said, especially in today’s demanding climate, for an interior design that was created to be not just functional and practical, but also profoundly calming and relaxing in nature.
General Scandinavian decor trends have permeated American living spaces over the last decade due to their functional use of clean lines and modern design elements (especially by North American standards), but the foundation of Swedish-specific decor takes that feeling of simple but beautiful a step further.
Do you want to learn more about the history of Swedish design? We chatted with three experts to acquire a deeper understanding of the Scandinavian aesthetic.
What Exactly Is Swedish Decor?
“Swedish design is so appealing because it embraces the timeless allure of indoor/outdoor living with a focus on high quality natural materials, light, functionality, art, eclecticism, balance, colour, and a deep reverence for nature,” explain Rhonda Eleish and Edie van Breems, authors of Swedish Interiors and owners of Eleish Van Breems Antiques, the country’s premier Swedish antique store.
“Working with our clients and consumers, we return to these contact points time and time again, and we are always pleased to see how the principles of Swedish design fit themselves to both modern and more traditional settings, always inspiring a feeling of peace and beauty,” Van Breems continues.
Eleish and Van Breems further point out that Swedish furniture and accessories are often so neatly created that they may stand alone as sculpture and artwork in any context.
Sweden’s style is largely entrenched in its geographical setting. “Sweden is a land of geographical contrasts.” “The south is lush and fruitful, and the coasts, with their huge canals and archipelagos, open out into the Baltic and North Sea resources,” Van Breems notes. “The north contains vast pine woods that give way to a desolate and frigid mountainous terrain characterised by long and bitter winters.”
To survive in the past, Swedes had to become one with the rhythms of the immense nature surrounding them. Self-sufficiency was required, and turning to nature for inspiration, well-being, and connection became embedded in the Swedish character.
Using what was locally accessible and reusing materials is a feature of Swedish design that was grown out of need, according to Van Breems. Isolated from the rest of Europe, only the monarchs or the very top nobility could afford to import costly fruitwoods, marble, and valuable metals.
Furniture throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, although inspired by continental influences, was mostly reduced down to a purity of form. “What we react to now is the purity of design in Swedish furniture without unnecessary decoration,” Van Breems explains. “Without gold or ormolu, the basic lines and patina of painted Gustavian furniture, as well as its handmade carvings, fluting, and marguerite accents, offer a purity and elegance to which we can readily identify and which blends nicely with contemporary homes.”
Historically, objects were made with the finest materials available in order to endure, and since living space was limited, goods were made with considerable thought and care.
“Beds with built-in clocks and cupboards, benches that convert into pull-out beds, and chairs that can turn into tables are just a few of the many ingenious space-saving furniture forms found in Swedish design,” Van Breems explains, adding that furniture frequently served multiple functions and that this concern with practicality continued most notably with the Scandinavian mid-century master furniture makers such as Hans J. Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjaerholm Josef Frank,