In strong contrast to the frozen gray austerity of Stieg Larsson’s terrifying thrillers, Swedish interior merchandising swings strongly in the direction of a spilled bag of jelly beans.
More Dylan’s Candy Shop than August Strindberg, Sweden has thrown off its mantel of restrained bleached birch, understated geometry and northern pale palette. Stockholm, currently undergoing a renaissance (in the style of 1990s New York), is embracing a design and culinary explosion with local-grown creativity only matched by local-grown foodstuffs and locally sourced materials. This contagious optimism spills out of countless local shops onto busy, vibrant pedestrian promenades.
In spite of its southern EU counterparts’ financial woes, Sweden—with its free medical care, education, elder care, child care, retirement, social security, prescription drug benefits, excellent infrastructure, tunnels, roads and terrific transportation— is financially thriving. There’s no austerity here.
With an export-driven economy (of the natural resources of iron, copper and lumber), this country’s balance sheet reads black. The manufacture of ships and pleasure craft, cars and pharmaceuticals only further enhances its coffers.
This economic health, added to its currently stable social benefits, must be spawning this rainbow celebration of color. In fact, when I first visited this country, as I was walking along the streets, I mistook housewares, lighting and tile shops for children’s toy stores because the colors and patterns were so irrepressibly upbeat.
The charming housewares store Mique features boldly acrylic woven carpets; perfect for under the sink or out of doors. Mugs, plates, saltcellars and pitchers in bubbling patterns that would entice any child abound in this store. Cooking skillets, pots and serviceware sported lime greens, bubble-gum pinks, sun yellows and sky blues—and this in china and glassware, not in plastic.
Cooking aprons, tablecloths, napkins and wallpapers are eagerly screened with cartoon faces and electric prints. Baskets and trays are woven in tones so bright that it seems like the Easter Parade would never go out of season. Interestingly, the clientele was all ages, not just the stroller set.
The department store Åhléns features displays so happy and vibrant and country and optimistic that it looked like Connecticut on acid. Curly white wrought iron playfully mingled with kindergarten pinks and greens so sugary that one might expect a chorus of “It’s a Small World” to be playing while someone hands out cotton candy. And H&M’s new home furnishings division follows the dot- and circle pattern trend but with a slightly more muted take; using lavenders, grays, mints and blacks.
It’s interesting to note that even though the stores exhibited a riot of nursery-rhyme palettes, the buyers clothed themselves in weathered jeans and black and gray coats swathed in textured beige and brown mufflers. Perhaps once the Swedish spring has sprung, they may don a brighter shade. If they do, they will most likely look as if they are off to their first day of school, wrapped in these tiny tot colors fresh from the jelly bean jar.
For the Hamptons, this buoyant selection finds a perfect home in the pool house, cabana and on the beach. The stylish trend of open kitchen shelving (versus closed cabinets) only lends itself to this kaleidoscopic display of child-pleasing color. And it may also distract from, or make sense of, the toy litter that spreads itself throughout your young home.
With a touch of “Mad Men” swank, this Swedish infiltration will liven (or invade) your white-on-white fiefdom. But at the very least, it will thrill your children and grandchildren.