Style Matters: Swedish design uses pale colors to lighten rooms

In a country that is dark for half of the year, the Swedes have come to cleverly use color to lift their spirits and brighten dark, gloomy spaces.

White and the palest, powdery soft shades of blue are often seen in Swedish design, and bring a lightness to the interiors of this northern European style.

Subject to many influences, Swedish design closely identifies with the Gustavian style, named after King Gustav III. Inspired by French court pieces, Swedish style simplifies the ornateness and busy details of the French influence, as this region has plainer taste.

The Swedes love their simplicity. Pared down version in furnishings with clean lines, minimal carved detail, gentle curves and legs that are delicate and taper to the floor are common in Swedish homes.

Wood is crucial in Swedish style. Much of the country is forested and virtually all of the furniture is made of those woods. Through the centuries, the Swedes have developed a talent for painting pieces to make them look sophisticated and refined with soft finishes and subtle backgrounds. Painted, bleached or stained wood in pale tones of white or grey with distressing retains its elegance that is 18th century Neoclassical design.

Today, reproduction furniture is made by Swedish craftspeople. Ann Millang, owner of St. Barths Home in Laguna Niguel (formerly Swedish Blonde Furniture Inc. in North Carolina), recently had her home photographed in Laguna Beach by Edie Van Breems who is compiling a book titled “Swedish Interiors in America.”

“Things are changing in the industry due to competition from China,” Ann said. “I have tried very hard to remain loyal to my Swedish factories since we have developed most of the designs with them and want them to do well. They are still using Swedish hardwoods and doing hand carved details on all the chairs and our bed finials etc. We are working with other countries such as Belgium, that still have the Northern influence of light finishes and woods, but with a bit more edge.”

In traditional Swedish interiors, accessories are kept to a minimum, allowing open space and light to take center stage. Chosen for their usefulness and their visual appeal, accessories include crystal and painted chandeliers, wood-gilt framed mirrors to reflect what light there is, natural raffia or light-colored woven textured rugs, soft, pale ceramics and clear glass pieces in simple shapes.

Simple-woven and textured cotton or linen fabrics are commonly used for upholstery, window treatments and bedding in Swedish design. Padded headboards and canopy beds are popular.

Yards and yards of white fabric mounted on a coronet or attached with rings on the ceiling are often seen. When patterns are used, they are in the form of checks, stripes or delicate florals. Predominant colors are pale blues and soft greys on a white background. The overall effect is minimalist. There is a lot of harmony with the simplicity of these colors and fabrics that create a serene Scandinavian feel.

Calm interiors, soothing, pale color palettes, elegance with a lightness in color and mood, formal but not stuffy with a comfortable, casually aged feel - that’s the essence of Swedish design.

Penelope’s Style Tips

  • Lighten your interior using pale, light and textured surfaces and furnishings.
  • Use simple-woven, textured white fabrics in cotton and linen.
  • After white, use soothing blue shades, which are most often used in Swedish style.
  • Choose woods that are bleached, painted or stained with white or soft, pale paints.
  • Keep accessories to a minimum, which allows space and light to take center stage.