From what I had heard and read, Sweden is a country of innovation. Just take Ikea for example. A furniture business that not only sells their wares disassembled for convenience, production value and price point but excites people to master the skill of carpentry with little more than a pack of screws and a pictorial graph. A society that cultured such a premise was one well worth visiting in my opinion.
Using some frequent flyer miles I had saved up I got a ticket to Gothenburg. Arriving in December after Queensland (Australia) summer temperatures was quite a shock to the system, but my interest in sport spurred me on to face the weather. I love being active and travelling in winter meant I had to take advantage of the chance to ski.
Brudarebacken Ski Slope is Gothenburg’s only downhill ski slope and its length and drop favoured my rudimentary ski skills nicely. Everyone was so friendly that falling onto people in my clumsy state wasn’t so terrible. A nicer way to develop my ski skills was the cross country skiing I did at the OK Landehofs ski resort in Landvetter. The mix of artificial snow and real snow track gave me plenty of time to hone my use of the ski poles as well as learning to balance myself more appropriately on the skis themselves. Sweden has such beautiful countryside that it made for an extraordinary setting for outdoor exercise, compared with the rugged bushland or yellow sandy beaches of Australia that promote water sports above all.
Gothenburg’s Christmas markets were phenomenal. Australia just doesn’t have the same vibe of Christmas compared with what the Northern Hemisphere countries deliver. Liseberg Christmas Markets are the biggest in Scandinavia and they certainly delivered. The stall holders were traditional artisans and local producers who were very passionate about their wares. They were also easy to converse with due to their exceptional English skills (now that I think about it, most people spoke great English). I am not one for shopping but the experience of buying traditional and handmade gifts for my family and friends for Christmas was very enjoyable.
When travelling (and really any other time) I always think you should follow your stomach. One of the best ways to experience a new city, country and culture is to dine on traditional fares. Gothenburg is a wonderful hub of modern eateries, conventional restaurants and hole-in-the-wall delights. Smorgas became one of my favourite lunchtime choices; they were a delicious twist on my standard Aussie Vegemite ‘sanga’. The colourful faces of Prinsesstartas sang out to me from bakery windows and I’m glad I succumbed as the reward was an amazing amalgamation of Victoria sponge cake and custard tart, a truly delightful afternoon treat. I couldn’t possibly visit Gothenburg without procuring the best example of Swedish meatballs I could find. Kock and Vin, a Michelin star restaurant, was a lip-smacking example and I was more than happy to break with convention and lick my plate when I was done. And I’m thankful I’ve read a recommendation for Rokeriet i Stromstad, where I’ve had one of the best meals in my life. Trying foreign cuisine does seem to bring lots of joy to most travelers, and it is certainly the same with me.
Overall Gothenburg has a very open, welcoming and inviting feel to it. The city centre is kept so beautifully and the snow really does create the clichéd but much appreciated winter wonderland experience, especially for someone coming from the Land Down Under known for its heat.
This article was written by Mark Tomich.
(without visiting Ikea!)
Unfortunately for a lot of us the instant connection made when we think of Swedish design is world-wide home interiors giant Ikea, but there is so much more to beautiful traditional Swedish interior design than this.
Natural materials, light-reflecting mirrors, fireplaces, stylish functional furniture and cosy textiles all combine to create an elegant yet homely place to live; a look that could work just as well for your home as it does in Sweden.
For inspiration take a look at the work of architect and furniture designer Carl-Axel Acking, who created simple Swedish furniture in smooth, strong shapes, and Lars Bolander, who made the sort of practical open shelving that Swedish homes favour.
Here are the main points to consider if you want to get Swedish style in your home:
Bringing in the Light
Because it’s so dark for a large portion of the year in Sweden, people make the most of what light there is with a lot of mirrors in their home. Whilst you might not have the same problem, mirrors still make the most of your space and help a room appear larger.
Fireplaces, table lamps, candles and chandeliers are also popular; lots of glass and silver items are essential to make the home appear brighter. Any way of bringing in light and warmth and reflecting it around the room is a necessity in Sweden, but can also work beautifully for other areas of the world in dark winter months.
Stoves set into a decorative fireplace are hugely popular in Swedish homes. To get this style check antique shops for a freestanding cast-iron stove.
Nature is celebrated in Swedish homes, and as soon the sun comes out people enjoy it as much as they can. Stencilled wall patterns are inspired by nature, fresh flowers are always on show, and wood, leather and glass are popular material choices. Avoid metals and plastics if you want your home to have a Swedish vibe.
The ‘Gustavian’ colours of grey, pale green and pale blue are key to Swedish decor, alongside white, cream and light yellow. Chalky, pastel colours are more popular than brights.
To create some accents deeper colours like gold, red, and ochre are used; keeping the colours natural and earthy is key. If you want to keep to a Swedish colour palette in your home avoid anything too vivid or stark; neon orange is a definite no!
To add some decorative elements to a room against the simplicity of its furniture, fabrics often feature stripe, check or floral patterns. Walls are stencilled with patterns of intricate wreaths, ribbon, diamond, circle or heart motifs. To get this style in your own home you could try stencilling a wall of one room in earthy colours; whilst quite time consuming it is certainly effective.
The Swedish love light blonde wood, such as birch, alder, beech and white pine for their furniture and floorboards. It is left its natural colour and simply treated or white washed.
Cosy blankets and rag rugs are popular to keep rooms cosy and floor insulated. Made from cotton, wool, linen and other such natural materials, these add a splash of colour and pattern to a room whilst keeping everybody warm. Drape a mix of woollen rugs in muted tones and stripy patterns over your armchairs and sofas to get your home cosy for winter – Swedish style!
Whilst Swedish furniture is elegant and attractive in its simplicity, functionality is a key factor to. The Swedish ‘slagboard’ table is an essential; a drop leaf table that is large enough for dinner yet can be folded down to under a foot’s width. The versatility of this style table makes it ideal if you have a small home.
Furniture is made up of straight lines with the occasional curved accent, whilst complicated carved styles are avoided. Wooden sofas are very popular, which combine seating with storage when the top is lifted. Multi-purpose furniture is particularly popular in Sweden, making the most of space and avoiding clutter.
Emily Bradbury is writing on behalf of Antiques to Vintage, an innovative new site that connects antique buyers and sellers from around the world together in one place.
Hell on earth, falukorv and little red cottages
Ever travelled through the Swedish countryside? Or at least seen it on TV? Did you notice that the majority of all buildings – homes, barns, boathouses, every shed – are red?
Red cottages with white corners and other white trimmings are as iconic for Sweden as Dalecarlian horses, a Swedish signature mentioned in many songs: “den röda lilla stugan invid grinden” ( ~ the little red cottage by the wicket).
The history of the red paint goes back to approximately 850 AD. That’s when they started mining in Stora Kopparberget (= the Great Copper Mountain) in today’s city of Falun. Over time, the mine developed to a major industrial center, at times delivering two thirds of all copper used in Europe.
In 1347 AD, a Letter of Privileges was issued by king Magnus Eriksson for the foundation of Stora Kopparbergs Bergslag. Today, having extended its operations to several other industrial sectors under the name Stora Enso, this company is considered to be the oldest company in the world still in business.
The ore in Stora Kopparberget contains not only copper, but also sulfur, iron and several other minerals. The methods for extraction were rather primitive and very destructive to the environment. Visitors to the area described the place as a hell on earth, covered by thick black smoke, stinking of pungent sulfur. The air in the nearby city of Falun was so thick of soot and sulfur that people ran into each other, not being able to see more than a few feet. The mine itself was a narrow hole in the ground more than 1,000 ft deep, and there was no vegetation around it for several miles in any direction.
The great scientist Carl von Linné (a.k.a. Carolus Linnaeus) visited the mine in 1734 AD and described it with horror as the hell on earth. He climbed down in the hole on the sinuous and flaccid ladders to find ”twelve hundred black demons working in the caverns, surrounded by darkness, soot and smoke”. The workers died young, coughing, with noseblood, headache, and skin like leather. And the security arrangements were poor: many died in accidents in the darkness. One of the supervisors wrote ”Där går mången till arbetet frisk och röder, Men blir upwindad lytt, förlamad, lem-löös, döder” ( ~ “Many a man goes to work being healthy and red, But is hoisted up maimed, lame, limb-lose and dead.”
The tools used to quarry the rock and copper ore was sledgehammers, chisels and wrecking bars. But before the workers could use these tools, they had to make the rock crack, creating small fissures and become brittle: this was achieved by lighting a fire against the rock wall, keeping it burning for many hours, and finally pour cold water on the rock. This procedure smothered the clime with black sulfurous smoke and a haze of foul-smelling steam. And once the ore had been hoisted to the ground level, it had to be further roasted for several months (!) to get rid of the sulfur content, before it could be refined to copper. Huge amounts of wood was needed; it is estimated that in the middle of the 17th century, more than 3,000,000 cubic feet of wood was burned each year. In 1687 AD, the mine collapsed and created the giant hole that can be seen today.
The smoke from the open fires contained not only sulfur dioxide but also arsenic, lead, and mercury. The consequences were scary: all vegetation around Falun died, wildlife fleed and fish died. In short, Stora Kopparberget was a major ecological disaster. The mine was finally closed down in 1992, and since 2001 it has been defined as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, the mine is open for visitors with guided tours in the underground. (With greatly improved security.)
Now, what has this to do with falukorv and little red cottages? By the way, what is falukorv? Wikipedia defines it like this:
”Falukorv is a large Swedish sausage made of a grated mixture of pork and beef or veal with potato starch flour and mild spices. …
In the EU, restrictions apply to what may be labeled ‘Falukorv’ since 2001.”
In plain language, falukorv is one of the most common dishes found on Swedish tables; sliced and fried, baked with cheese and onions, grilled, chopped and mixed with fried potatoes and herbs,… The size of a typical falukorv is about 1 kg.
The mild flavor allows you to add any spice you like – it’s a versatile base for everyday’s dinner. Falukorv means “sausage from Falun” (sausage translates to “korv” in Swedish). But why is it named after Falun?
The ore quarried at Stora Kopparberget had to be hoisted 1,000 ft to reach ground level: this was accomplished by oxen walking in large treadmills. The oxen were of course exposed to the same hazardous smoke as the workers and had to be killed – i.e. slaughtered – ever so often. And the meat was used to make large sausages, that had to be “exported” to other parts of the country… the number of slaughtered oxen and the amounts of produced falukorv were bigger than what could be consumed in the vicinity.
And what about the little red cottages?
A second reason for the time-consuming roasting of the ore (besides getting rid of the sulfur) was to oxidize and thus get rid of the content of iron, which created a cinder of red iron ocher or hematite, called rödmull ( ~ red soil). This was regarded as garbage and was piled up beside the mine. A few hundred years ago, someone noticed that a wooden pole that had been sitting for years in the mound of rödmull showed no sign of rot or decay. This was the start for the production of Falu Röd (Falun’s Red), the paint that soon was on almost every house in the country, since it was cheap and could be mixed on site, boiling rödmull and linseed oil with rye flour and water. (However, since it was rather cheap, people of wealth preferred to paint their houses with more expensive white or yellow…)
The deep red color of Falu Röd is still popular in Sweden and Finland, also imitated in other kinds of modern paint, even if the original still has a large market share. But today you don’t mix it yourself – you buy it in large buckets like any other paint. And it is no longer cheap…