How do those Scandinavians do it? Their stylish, elegant, natural and restrained interiors have influenced design around the world. It seems to come easy, but behind the earth tones, candles and funky furniture, lie decades of fine-tuning. Swedish-born Sydney-based interior designer Anna-Carin McNamara shares 7 insider tips for transforming your house into a Scandinavian sanctuary.
Well before Marie Kondo was celebrating chucking stuff out, Scandinavians had mastered the ‘pared back’ look. It didn’t hurt that they were a resilient group of countries set slightly apart from the rest of Europe – for Scandinavians, less has by necessity always equalled more. Tough economic times between the wars meant thriftiness was key; you cherish what you have. The result? Well-made homewares that last; minimal ornamentation; natural, renewable materials; and a sense of ‘homeliness’ that is warm and welcoming but never stuffy or cluttered.
2. Reuse and recycle
One person’s trash is another person’s treasure. In this age of mass production, there’s something comforting about furniture and other household objects with a past. As we move away from the heavy ‘antiques’ of the early 20th century, we enter a glorious period of clean and functional design. The Scandinavian design revolution began with the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition and was followed by Denmark’s government-sponsored housing scheme. Both initiatives brought great – and affordable – design to the people. That era gave the world a blueprint for homewares that were built to last – and they’re still around today, though they’re not cheap! Buy originals rather than repros whenever you can.
3. Bring the outdoors in
Scandinavians love nature. The Danish word friluftsliv means literally ‘free air life’ and translates roughly to how we reconnect with the outdoors. But what to do if you live in an apartment in the middle of the city? Easy. Pot plants. Big or small, in a sunny corner or on a windowsill, pot plants give any space atmosphere. And oxygen too – especially good for bedrooms and living rooms.
4. Pay attention to the lighting
Given the long, cold winters, Scandinavians are brilliant at both maximising light and using it to create atmosphere. Placing a lamp by a windowsill will immediately give your home a welcoming feel. Floor lamps as opposed to overhead lighting are important. But most of all, candles are Scandinavians’ go-to when it comes to ambience. Summer or winter, candles are everywhere. The light they provide is soothing and romantic and the very act of striking a match will transport you to a more tranquil era. Just don’t forget to blow them out when you go to bed!
5. Go soft on colour
I love neutral, soft, earthy colours. A strong colour screams, while a soft colour whispers. Some rooms can tolerate bright colours – classrooms, playrooms, etc – but the Scandinavian home is calm and relaxed, so go for ‘quiet’ rather than ‘loud’. Black and white accents always work well, but don’t be afraid to try something unexpected: a flash of hot pink, for example. With any accent colour, the rule of thumb is to ‘go slowly’.
6. Reconsider symmetry and grouping
Our eyes are naturally drawn to symmetry but it can come across as rigid. For example, you don’t need to centre all your paintings and photographs; off-centre and lower can add visual interest. Similarly, grouping objects on a table or a windowsill haphazardly is more satisfying than a regiment of ornaments standing in straight lines! Just remember to arrange objects ‘thematically’ when you begin – black and white photos together; glass ornaments together. Once you’re feeling more confident, juxtapose different items.
7. Perform a few seasonal rituals
Now you’ve decluttered, bought some vintage furniture and a pot plant or three, and sorted out your lighting and accessorising, how do you maintain that Scandinavian vibe? Rituals. I’m a fan of little habits with big consequences. As Aristotle said, ‘We are what we repeatedly do’. Get into the habit of making your bed in the morning. Of giving the bathroom a quick wipe down after use. Of putting your clothes away. Every few weeks sort out your paperwork and clean out your fridge, freezer and cupboards. And every few months, cull your wardrobe; clean the barbecue; assess the kids’ toys, sport and hobby equipment; and air your rugs. You’ll be on your way to truly having that Scandinavian sanctuary you’ve always dreamed of.
MAKE A HOME TO LOVE by Anna-Carin McNamara ($34.99, April 2019, Brio Books)
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