December 22 2016
Recently, I was fortunate enough to go on a little trip to two European cities that have been on my must-visit list for a while: Stockholm and Copenhagen. I try to go on at least one design trip a year to a new location with a very small team so we can explore new cultures, aesthetics, and design movements to think up new ideas. I’ll then reflect on what I’ve seen and wonder whether there are aspects that I’d like to apply to our interior design projects, or even in my own home. Reading about, and being aware of, how other parts of the world view the notion of style is one thing, but seeing it in person is something else entirely...
Whenever I design an interior, I always think about what I’ve learnt overseas. I think design in its truest sense should be a collation of all sorts of fun, interesting personalities. Sometimes it might be just one aspect that I’ve seen that I’d like to introduce to a certain project. It can be small and subtle such as internal wall panelling (which we saw a lot of in Stockholm in particular) that I might then want to bring into a historic English building. I like to keep my mind open to the wealth of knowledge and experience that foreign architects have. We can all learn from each other; sharing is so important (a phrase that I’ve always drummed into my children's’ minds!). German design can be a little too crisp and clean-cut for me, but I found the Scandinavian influence very suitable and compatible for the English home in many ways.
Everything that we know about Scandi-style architecture and interiors is true. We saw a lot of mid-century style shapes with all their minimalism and sharp cuts. We saw a lot of grandeur, and I certainly felt a Gustavian presence with the almost French neoclassical influence visible in the facades of all the historic buildings that we walked amongst. We saw so many Danish and Swedish antiques too, by some of the greatest designers. Seeing the originals made me understand more about why this style of furniture has been revived. It has such authenticity and longevity which made me feel much more strongly about antiques in a contemporary scheme. They have such gravitas and I love the thought of every piece telling a rich story. Design aside, each evening I thought to myself, how I felt perfectly safe and at home there, especially in Copenhagen. There was a ‘hipness’, a ‘vibe’, a ‘coolness’ to both cities. The atmosphere was buzzing, but not frenetic. There was such a togetherness and you really got how family and quality time was paramount to their everyday lives. The cafes were always full to the brim. We overheard meetings being held at brunch at the incredible Skeppsholmen hotel, friends meeting to knit together or write up recipes together at Atelier September (our quickly-established number one spot for breakfast!), and the utterly beautiful furniture at the Svenkst Tenn store in Stockholm was used to furnish its top-floor tearoom which was lit by over-the-top candlelight on every table. It was so mesmerising. From building to building there were lots of whitewashed and worn floorboards, and more white again on ceilings and walls with big windows so the rooms were all flooded with late autumn light. Which brings me, quite nicely, onto the two things that really struck me the most during my four-day visit: their use of colour and their love of light.
We’re on a not-too-dissimilar latitude to Scandinavia. We get the same light and the same skies at many points of the year. Trying to achieve the sort of interior you might see in a Mediterranean country is much more difficult. But with Norway, Denmark and Sweden we’re able to be more sympathetic to each other. I looked around and realised just how much they love the same things that we do in our homes. There were lots of red brick buildings, timber-framed windows and tiled roofs. It wasn’t identical to our British homes but they did feel compatible to me. The colours of their exteriors were familiar and it made me feel at home. And inside they had such fun with colour. While their pared-back palette was very much present, they also had real guts when it came to colour. There were pops of it everywhere! But for me, it was done in such a classic way. They’d team a neutral backdrop with beautiful flooring. We visited one hotel called Nimb in Copenhagen that used the most exquisite Danish Dinesen floorboards in huge, wide planks. They were so bold, yet neutral in their colouring. It was the perfect coupling. As for the lighting, it really was quite breath-taking. On our second day in Stockholm it snowed so heavily all day that it was several inches thick by 4pm. We walked through the neighbourhoods all wrapped up and warm, and cooed over how almost every window had a little lamp in it. It looked absolutely divine and made me want to go inside every home! It’s their way of prettifying and warming up the outside and welcoming the inside. They seem to want to embrace the darkness, to light up the streets to make everyone looking in from the outside feel happy.
Looking back on our trip I feel like I have a refreshed and renewed appreciation for the minimalist discipline. I hope that it will make me think much more carefully about every piece of furniture in a room and that I’ll consider creating more of an eclectic composition, mixing styles, antiques with the new, and colours. It changes the pace of the room. And our road trip truly hammered home the importance of lighting. Something that we already knew, but now we know it even more. And the Danish in particular taught me about being a bit more off-balance from time to time. In one establishment they’d used a pendant light in the corner of the room. It was unexpected for sure. But it was clever and it made me smile. And the latter is what matters to me most of all.