Scandinavian Winter by Katherine Sorrell

Who doesn’t love Scandinavian style? It combines classic with contemporary, pretty with practical. And it’s the perfect look with which to dress up your home.

In the Scandinavian countries extremes of landscape, from forests and fjords to boiling geysers and the Aurora Borealis, are all around you. In winter, daylight is fleeting, and keeping warm is a vital part of life. No surprise, then, that typical homes feature thick log walls, small, south-facing doors and windows, and thatched or birch-bark roofs. Inside, vividly coloured decorations in bright, rustic folk style provide relief from the long hours of night and the expanses of snow. Carved wooden spoons, bowls, cups and chests, strongly coloured, woven rugs, blankets and cushions, and beautifully painted furniture in ochres, reds and yellows are the timeless tradition.

Appealing as it is, there is much more to Scandinavian style than colourful rusticity, however. What we now called ‘Gustavian’ style became popular in the late 18th century, encouraged by the young King Gustav III of Sweden, under whose patronage the grandeur of Versailles and the skilled creations of master furniture-makers like Hepplewhite and Chippendale were interpreted by native craftsmen in a gentler and more restrained way, blending neo-classicism and romantic Rococo into a unique, northern European decorative style. Think symmetry, pale colours (buttermilk and Baltic blue, grey and peppermint), painted floorboards, ribbons and swags, glass chandeliers, gilding, mirrors and delicate wooden furniture with tapering legs and subtly carved details.

Another major influence, a century or so later, was Swedish artist Carl Larsson and his wife, Karin. In the 1890s the couple decorated their rural cottage, Lilla Hyttnås, in a unique and innovative way, combining folk and Gustavian styles with contemporary European influences: Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Japonisme. Light and airy, pretty and functional, the look was all gingham and geraniums, bread crocks and baskets, rag rugs and sprigged china. When Carl’s watercolours of the house were published, the public response, in Sweden and further afield, was overwhelming; his books, in the early 20th century, did a great deal to popularise what we now see as the typically Scandinavian style of easy-going Gustavian, folk arts and an open-plan love of light and space. And what he started, a certain Swedish flat-pack furniture giant continued. Ikea opened its first UK store in 1987 and then – who can forget? – in 1994 launched its Gustavian-style furniture range, accompanied by an advertising campaign that urged us all to ‘chuck out your chintz’. It sold like hot glogg, and the rest is history – now we all crave the clean-lined, bright and uncluttered look, styled with pretty colours and dashes of folk art.

Create a Scandinavian feel this Winter by combining folk and sophistication, cosy and minimalism. Keep it simple – too much clutter is definitely not a part of this particular look. Your colour palette is, of course, mainly red and white, with green, brown and black for contrast, and the occasional dusting of glitter or artificial snow. Natural accessories such as twigs, branches and fir cones are a great starting point, with generously sized garlands made from woven greenery. A sprinkling of metal lanterns with flickering candles creates atmosphere.

In general, materials should be as natural as possible, from bark to hessian, felt to Fair Isle, emphasising all sorts of appealing textures. If you can knit, sew or otherwise make your own decorations, so much the better but, if not, there are plenty of gorgeous accessories in the shops and online created by talented craftspeople. Perfection is not required: simply that appealingly homespun look.  A gingham table runner is delightful, as are wooden or woven willow stars, berry garlands, miniature trees, appliquéd bunting and reindeer baubles. You’ve got the idea? Then raise a cup of schnapps and fill your home with Scandinavian cheer.