Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Swedish Style

My sister Laura gave me this great book on the history of Swedish interior design, The Swedish Room, for my birthday. It has beautiful photography but also contains a lot of historical information, so much so that I now feel prepared to do an entire post on Swedish style. On the left is the cover of the book, which shows off some typical Swedish elements. The clock is derived from rococo styles but is now practically the state-clock of Sweden. The chair is a typical Gustavian design with its multiple slats. But what is really so Swedish about this room is the pale color scheme, painted floorboards, and delicately decorated wall panels.

What strikes me when looking at photo after photo of historical Swedish interiors is how unified the decorating schemes are. On the left is a room from the 18th century that shows French rococo influence. The wall panels are decorated in colorful swags of greenery and flowers. A coordinating upholstery is used on the chairs. The tile stove both dominates the room and blends harmoniously with it, by echoing the same rococo embellishment. This stove is an earlier variety that rests on wooden legs. On the right we can see that not all Swedish rooms are decorated in pale colors. This later tile stove shows neoclassical influence in its motifs of laurel swags and wreaths, fluted columns, and urns. The stove's base resembles a classical altar and extends all the way to the floor.

Neoclassicism had a profound effect on Swedish interior design and reached its peak in the Gustavian style of the late 18th century. On the left we can see that classical influence in the corner pedestal, fluted like a column. The Gustavian period is also known for large windows, large mirrors, large chandeliers, and gilt accents, all to make the most of the northern light. On the right we can see that neoclassical wall decorations could take two major forms. In the front room the panels display extremely delicate garlands inspired by the murals of Pompeii and once again echoed by the upholstery of the chairs. In the room behind it, the panels are bordered with Greek keys and decorated with classical armor and trophies, creating a more geometric masculine look.

Gustavian furniture is still incredibly popular, perhaps because it seems traditional but simple and modern at the same time. Above are two typical sofa designs, both with high arms and turned legs. Below are two typical sideboards. In all these examples, the decoration is an integral part of the piece rather than applied. Above left, visual interest is added by the curved armrests, whereas above right, the series of slender supports between the bench and the upholstered rail have a decorative effect. The paneled doors of the sideboards, below, are carved with delicate fluting that forms rectangles and diamonds. Although the pieces are not made of particularly beautiful woods or precious materials, they do not require elaborate painted decoration. Instead they can be painted in one light-reflective color, such as the typical "Gustavian Grey," below right, to let their integral designs show through.

With its emphasis on simplicity and harmony, it's no wonder that Swedish style is so celebrated today. On the left is a reproduction armchair decked out in typical Swedish white paint and checked fabric. These ginghams were historically used by the wealthy as slipcovers to protect the fine fabrics on their furniture, and by the not so wealthy all of the time. On the right a modern dining room has incorporated some important techniques of Swedish design. A pale unified color scheme has been taken to a monochromatic white extreme. Painted furniture, such as Queen-Anne style chairs and a Gustavian-ish cabinet, has simple but decorative lines. Painted floorboards reflect light, which is maximized by the sheer curtains and translucent roller blinds, which have been used in Sweden for centuries. Who knew our design debt to Sweden so drastically predated Ikea?

1 comment:

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