‘Scandi style’ has been a term much bandied about in the last decade, meaning everything from sparse white-only interiors to the elegant minimalism of Mid-century modern furniture. However one of the best exponents of the traditional Swedish look presents a much more classic and timeless take on the style. The artist Carl Larsson depicted the life of his family in their home in Sweden at the end of the 19th century, capturing for ever the evocative look that he and his wife created.
I discovered Larsson early, when my parents bought me a series of his books, beginning with Our House. The book, and subsequent volumes, Our Farm and Our Family, introduce readers to the domestic environment that was Larsson’s inspiration. Little Hyttnäs in Sundborn was the home that Larsson shared with his wife Karin and their eight children, and the paintings in the book are packed with intimate detail of the house itself and the life they lived there. His background in the Arts and Crafts movement is hugely visible in the images of the house’s interiors, and have come to define what we think of as Swedish interiors style. The home is painted in pale colours, with flashes of bright red, the wood floors softened with long, striped runners. Decoration often comes in the form of stencilled paintwork on the wood-panelled walls and even doors, and some of the most delightful images include Larsson himself undertaking this work, or working with a decorator.
As a child (and one fascinated with interiors too!) I found much in Larsson’s work to engage me. The paintings featuring his children particularly are charming for their unguarded and unvarnished take on family life, complete with sulks and bad behaviour. Paintings inside and out also display an enviably free lifestyle, with high-summer parades and festivals, swimming trips to nearby lakes and huge sprawling picnics. But as much as anything it was the interiors themselves that attracted me. The house at Sundborn is used so often in Larsson’s paintings that each room features numerous times, often from different angles. Piecing together the decoration and geography of each room – particularly those with such child-friendly features as built-in ‘cupboard’ beds and shutters embellished with cut-out heart shapes – was part of the enduring pleasure of the books (note the three different angles of the same room, below).
As an adult, it is also fascinating to note how much of the decor is back in vogue. From the fresh paint colours and clean-lined wooden furniture to little details like the paintings hung from lengths of ribbon, the striped cotton upholstery, and copious amounts of plants and flowers, Carl Larsson’s distinctive style is still influencing and inspiring us today.
Larsson’s Sundborn house is beautifully preserved and open to the public for tours.