As Autumn settles in, I recently took a short break from the office to recharge in Stockholm, a city I’m not hugely familiar with. Perhaps in contrast to London, what struck me there was the cultural interconnectedness. The sensitive way that art, architecture and design combine to build a holistic Swedish experience. The historic fabric of the city sets the scene, but it is enhanced by the way in which interiors and designed objects continue the vision.
In terms of Stockholm’s architectural treasures, I was bowled over by the Engelbrekt church, a vast early 20th Century construction where folklore-meets-nouveau-meets-Arts and Crafts. I stumbled upon it by accident despite it’s huge size, at 30 metres high the interior arch is the tallest in Sweden. The craftsmanship of extraordinary granite and timber carving is spectacular.
In contrast to the epic volume of Engelbrekt, the curated roomsets of the National Museum celebrate the greats of design including Josef Frank, Axel Larsson, Sofia Widen and Elias Svedberg, and give a thorough immersion in what it means to be Swedish. The blend of iconic furniture, lighting and silhouettes with fabric, colour and pattern inspired by cityscapes, landscapes and the natural world, left me with a sense that I really couldn’t be anywhere else.
The National Museum was also home to a spectacular current exhibition ‘The Garden’, which explores mythical and real gardens and the way they’ve been revealed through art since the Middle Ages. It’s an expansive show of paintings, drawings, applied art and sculpture including works by Watteau, Le Nôtre, Monet, Renoir and Carl Larsson and with contemporary interventions by Emma Helle. I spend so much time reflecting on gardens and the landscape, so this show gave me enormous food for thought.
With my mind so often on the meaning of home and hospitality, often within a British context, it was refreshing to experience what that means in Sweden. I stayed at Ett Hem, an enlightened and now rather legendary hotel which comprises two conjoined Arts and Crafts houses. A hotel without barriers, the interiors by Ilse Crawford create the very essence of home – even hosting breakfast in the kitchen. Throughout the rooms, a collection of mainly Swedish artists, including one of Ulla Wiggen’s impactful ocular works, only adds to the uniquely Swedish visual and emotional experience.
A long weekend in Stockholm lent many moments of inspiration to my notebook, from material, landscape and craft perspectives, but also a true sense of Swedishness. It is difficult to put a finger on, but has definitely stayed with me.