IN FEBRUARY 2019, I SPENT TWO-AND-A-HALF WEEKS EXPLORING MY NORDIC HERITAGE. (MY FATHER IS A FINN.)
Copenhagen–Helsinki–Rovaniemi–Turku–Stockholm–Bergen–Oslo–Gothenburg–Copenhagen. Yep, it was quite the trip!
February happens to be the coldest time of year in this part of the world. Naturally, then I wanted to spend plenty of time indoors or by a campfire, preferably sipping hot berry juice and munching some fresh Karelian pasties. While doing so, I took notes and photos of what furniture and homewares were selling or trending, be they in shops, cafés, or hotels. Here are my findings.
The Danish brand Woud—which I actually found in Stockmann, Helsinki—sold products which spoke to me immediately as exemplars of contemporary mid-century modern design. The brand professes to “love for honest design”. They're not wrong:
But simple never meant boring. Check out this cheeky display in the front window of Illums Bolighus in Copenhagen:
While this sort of thing is seldom seen in Australia, it wasn’t long before I encountered more familiar mid-century design. Below is a seating area I found the Arabia store along the esplanade in Helsinki. (Yes, despite the name, Arabia is an iconic Finnish brand.) It was comforting, as it’s the sort of mid-century modernism you find in Australian stores like ours:
As for homewares, I must mention the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm. I was utterly enchanted by their mushroom lamps. They’re just so groovy! How often do you see design like this in Australia?
One thing Finns are known for is their glassware. They’re so well-known for glassware, in fact, that even 15,500 kilometres away in Australia you’ll find iconic brands like Iittala make an appearance in fancy metropolitan bars and luxury department stores. Iittala is most famous for making glassware with a “shape that moves” (or so an ad at Turku Port told me). And while it may be a luxury here, it seems to be the opposite in Finland. Iittala is everywhere, and it's utterly beautiful.
In part because I wanted a break from the ridiculously slippery grey ice of the early morning Helsinki footpaths, I took the opportunity to visit an Iittala store near Parliament House. I wanted to buy the whole shop, but what caught my eye was a pair of water glasses that were blown to resemble Lappish ice melting in the early spring. The base was designed so that the glass can sit stably on an angle, making it perfect for clumsy people like me!
But here's the thing: while Iittala might work for me and my home, it won’t necessarily work for everyone’s homes down under. It's a very distinct style. If you’re looking for new glassware in your home, I’d advise saving this look for rooms in your house that are decorated in a contemporary mid-century modern style, or perhaps even shabby chic (depending on your take of that style). By and large, more classic glassware tends to work for more people in Australia. This is simply because our tastes align with other countries in the Anglosphere where the definitions are "classic" are so often decided.
FUNKY FABRIC CHAIRS
There is no shortage of fabric chair design inspiration in the Nordic countries. Take this chair I saw in a corridor of the Radisson Blu Marina Palace Hotel in Turku (not somewhere I stayed, but the only place open for breakfast between 6 and 7am; Europeans get up very late!).
Do I even need to describe it? It really speaks for itself:
One week later, I found two velvet chairs furnishing my room in the Elite Plaza Hotel in Gothenburg (which definitely was my fanciest stay). Anyone who’s walked through an 1825 interiors store wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the chair reminded me very much of some of ours. The main difference is the colour palette: there was plenty of bright colour in the Nordic countries (possibly because pretty much everything outside sits somewhere on the greyscale in winter), while our fabric chairs tend towards the blues and greys (our country is already quite bright and, for the most part, incredibly colouful).
Speaking of fabric chairs, I also had the privilege of seeing some of the displays from the Stockholm Design Week in the windows of NK Stockholm. Now this is what you'd classify as the cutting edge of furniture styling...
Safe to say this is not everyday furniture!
I saw somewhat similar products—fabric chairs and others—retailing in the CBD of Oslo, too:
DELIGHTFUL DINING CHAIRS
As with pretty much everything else, the Nordic peoples have their own take on dining chairs. For example, in the restaurant on the MS Viking Grace taking me from Turku to Stockholm, I found these:
And while stopping in Gudvangen during my fjord tour in Norway, I dined in some truly Viking dining chairs. Okay, yes, these might just be for the tourists, but I thought they were cool anyway…
Speaking of cool, do you see the misty fjord in the background? It was nothing less than sublime. And freezing!
This was something I hadn’t really thought about before, and I guess it makes sense, but it turns out Nordic peoples really know their rugs. This wasn’t just limited to their locally made woollen throw rugs—which are among the warmest and lightest I’ve ever had the pleasure of enjoying—but also their floor rugs. Market 29 in Gothenburg, for example, sold not just jute rugs, but also rugs made of hemp, and even jute rugs blended with wool—for extra underfoot cosiness, I guess!
It's not too hard to imagine one of those in Australia:
When I visited the National Museum of Finland, I wasn’t expecting to find a Japanese exhibition. But, to my pleasant surprise, I did. What gratified me about this exhibition in particular was how it opened my eyes to the connections between Nordic and Japanese interior design—something which I hadn’t thought about before. I mean, just look the array of dining chairs below. It’s not hard to see aesthetic and functional similarities.
So, what were the takeaways of this trip? Sure, I have a newfound understanding of myself and my heritage. But for our purposes as interior design enthusiasts, the main takeaway for me was a revitalised appreciation of Nordic design. Like those addicted to the French country and provincial furniture styles after their European holidays, I can now connect with my preferred furniture style in a way that can only come from first-hand experience. And as someone who will always appreciate a beautiful and inviting home, that connection is something I’ll be able to treasure for the rest of my life.