My house is me…

When you raise kids, you end up reading a bunch of kids’ books. While a few are inane, forgettable drivel, most serve you well, and do the trick for the time being. Still another few rise above the many, and teach wonderful lessons that you hope will make a lasting impression on your kiddos, that will help shape their world view, and define how they eventually live their lives. One such story was “The Big Orange Splot” by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. You can hear it read here. (It takes about six minutes.)

The gist of the story is to let your home reflect your dreams and personality. As you can imagine – from the perspective of someone who helps others shape their environments – being asked by clients to help them reflect their dream is a wonderful honor! Color is such a personal thing – the wrong choice can be devastating. Exteriors especially so – they make the personal public.

Last fall, I was approached by a lovely, vivacious couple who embraced the rich, bold hues of the American Southwest. They were hoping to capture the feel of some of those colors, but didn’t want their home to look like a Portland clown house. When I left a couple of hours later, we had figured it out. It took me until this past week to go back and photograph it, but I’m so glad I finally did!

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The welcome mat pretty much sums it up – this is a bright, cheerful place!

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I would love to replace the shaped Camellia shrubs with something different that would complement the new colors. I think something from Xera’s bag of tricks would be lovely!

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The color of the new growth on the rose was just perfect against the dark teal wall – it matches the red trim beautifully. (The photos don’t quite do the color justice – the blue draws a little more toward green than actually shows up in the photographs.)

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I can just see a few colorful pots with sun-loving Agaves sitting atop the pebble-covered drain…

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I hope they will enjoy their happy, bright home for many years to come! 🙂

 

 

 

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On Scandinavian painting traditions – aspirations, light, and mindset…. Part 1

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Perfect image borrowed from Jörgen Larsson of jlfoto.com – thank you!

Although we have effectively turned the corner, with both the winter solstice and 2016 behind us, it doesn’t yet feel as if the light is coming back. At least not to me. But – you have to trust me on this – the experience of this from the vantage point of Oregon, is nothing compared to spending deep winter in Scandinavia! The most obvious adverse effect of spending the cold months in the Land of the Midnight Sun, is that the sun mostly is absent. It seems almost perpetually dark – it’s dark when you get up, it’s dark when you get to work, and although you may see a glimpse of daylight at lunch,  you can be pretty certain it’s dark again when you get to go home.

Utsikt över Bysjön, Åtvidaberg

Even midday, the sun never rises far above the horizon this time of year. Photo from a walk near Bysjön, Åtvidaberg, Sweden, in early February 2016, around 11:15 am. Other than a few shreds of blue sky and some yellow reeds along the shore, this is pretty much a study spanning the monochrome gray scale.

Out of this cold and rather dreary existence grew a mythology which differs from every other by offering no hope whatsoever, of an afterlife. As the great life giver, the elusive sun became an obvious target of worship, as the Norsemen stoically endured their allotted time on Earth. Modern Scandinavians know that the common winter depression caused by light deprivation can be treated by exposure to ultra-violet rays. Before the advent of modern technology however, people resorted to paint as a medium to chase away the ghosts of darkness, and bring light and warmth into their lives during the long, bitterly cold and dark winter months. And that, my friends, is the topic of this post. It seems appropriate, since I’m currently more or less housebound due to severe winter weather (and very grateful for electric lights, mind you.)

A modern day copy of what a viking long house is thought to have looked like. Isn't it interesting how much it resembles and upside down ship?

A modern day copy of what a viking long house is thought to have looked like, located in Böda Ekopark. Isn’t it interesting how much it resembles an upside down ship? Photo borrowed from Sveaskog’s website.

The Scandinavian tradition of decorating with paint stems back to the days of the Vikings – at least. Painted decor remained popular until the late 19th century, when gas and eventually electric lighting became common. We know that Vikings painted textile wall hangings and wove tapestries that in addition to providing cheer, also masked the underlying construction, and reduced drafts. They also adorned their furniture which, for the most part, was builtin. It wasn’t until the 17th century that freestanding furniture became the norm. Plenty of painted surfaces remain to be admired in churches, castles and manor houses. As for the abodes of the common, however, anything older than 400 years is anything but.

Around 1,000 AD – at the end of the Viking era , Sweden started becoming christianized. As the frequency of Viking raids tapered off, the first documented friendly, cultural  connection with the rest of Europe happened in 1152, when a Cardinal from Rome visited this relative outpost of civilization. The subsequent formal inclusion into the Catholic church obviously had an effect on the painted motifs. Mind you, the switchover was not a whole-hearted adaptation. For a long, long time, church decor manifested a parallel faith with an abundance of pagan symbols, interspersed with the Biblical scenes. I wrote more about mystical symbolism here, if you’re interested, but for the purpose of the spiritual arts seen in churches; let’s just say that rings were a common, if not ever present, symbol of the all-important sun.

Although the ribs of the dome are structural, they have been incorporated into and recede into the ornamentation - a magnificent sun cross that spans the entire ceiling. This is in Härkeberga Church, Sweden, and was painted by one of the foremost in his field - Albertus Pictor in the 1400's. Photo from Jocasta Innes book

Although the ribs of the dome are structural, they have been incorporated into and recede into the ornamentation – a magnificent sun cross that spans the entire ceiling. This is in Härkeberga Church, Sweden, and was painted by one of the foremost in his field – Albertus Pictor in the 1400’s. Photo from Jocasta Innes’ book ” Scandinavian Painted Decor”.

Church paintings were also meant to educate and enchant – a large scale Biblia Pauperum – an illustration based, block printed bible to convey the message to the illiterate masses. The images in Biblia Pauperum were heavily relied upon for inspiration for church paintings. Although several are known by name, the most famous – and one of the most prolific – of the medieval church painters that covered the Swedish countryside in polychrome, was a German man named Albertus Pictor (1440 – 1507). Walls and ceilings were coated in painted, storytelling vignettes and stenciled ornamentation. While his assistants carried out the repetitive work with templates and stencils, Albertus created scenes depicting motley groups of local figures dressed in their finest, crowned virgins, devils, fantastic fantasy creatures, and haloed saints, acting out tales from the Bible and from heaven, purgatory, and hell.

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Image from the dome of Härkeberga church, painted by Albertus Pictor. Photo gratefully pilfered from Lennart Waara.

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Jonah and the whale by Albertus Pictor in Härkeberga church. Photo borrowed from Lars-Olof Albertsson.

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‘Death playing chess’ from Täby church. Photo by Håkan Svensson.

Elaborate illustrations of the Last Judgement were popular, where major donors and church patrons could be seen ascending to heaven, surrounded by angels and other members of the congregation. Similarly, the Damned were vividly illustrated with ghastly, hideously contorted faces, as they were dragged down to Hell where, no doubt, unthinkable torments would befall them.

Södra Råda church, 1494.

Södra Råda church, 1494. Photo from Wikipedia.

Occasionally, there were disputes over compensation. Proof of any such indiscretions exist to this day. Woe he who withheld payment – he would soon find his portrait not as part of the Ascension, but instead among the Damned.

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You’d do best to stay on the painter’s good side! From Bromma church. Photo by Jinge off Bilderblogg.se.

Photo by Lennart Waara.

According to records, Albertus and his team completed one medium-sized church per year. Härkeberga church, by Albertus Pictor. Photo by Lennart Waara.

The medieval period of chromatic exuberance was relatively short-lived in Sweden. Around 1523 (which coincides with Gustav Vasa finally gathering the warring factions of the country under one crown) the Reformation reached Sweden. As a gesture of puritan revolt against ornamentation, many colorful  church interiors were soon whitewashed over, to adhere to the new Lutheran aesthetic. From that time on, color in churches was mainly confined to the ceilings.

This is what it could have looked like post-Reformation, after the illustrations on the walls had been whitewashed over. From Gökhems kyrka. Photo from Wikipedia.

This is what it might have looked like post-Reformation, after the wall illustrations had been whitewashed over. This is from Gökhem church outside Falköping, Västergötland. It is very likely that the ceiling appeared far more colorful when it was new. The mineral-based pigments often oxidized over time, which dramatically changed and muted their appearance.  Photo from Wikipedia.

Fads moved slowly in the Middle Ages, and fashions of all types took their time reaching the northern parts of Europe from the continental mainland. Despite the emergence of the Lübeck-based Hanseatic League , and the intense Germanic influence that followed, stylistic expression up north was usually quite a few years behind the rest of Europe. As trade relations flourished, and fortunes were amassed, the cultural interactions increased. By the mid-17th century, the folky naiveness of the nordic painters were rapidly falling out of favor, and the craftsmen were under pressure to imitate the greater realism and exaggerated, elongated forms of Italian Mannerism. It had been all the rage in post High Renaissance Italy, and in turn led to the dramatic and rather bombastic heroism of the Baroque period.

'Madonna and child' by Italian mannerist artist Parmigianino, from 1535-40.

‘Madonna and child’ by Italian artist Parmigianino, from 1535-40 is pretty much the epitome of Mannerist art. Note the long, languid forms, and unnaturally long necks and limbs. Photo from Wikipedia.

Samples from this somewhat transitional period shows that the Swedish church painters had obvious difficulty with the task at hand. Just like resourceful school-kids will enlarge the typeface and increase the spacing in an attempt to conceal any lack of substance in their writing assignment, the creative painters of this era would incorporate thunderous, rolling clouds to cover up weak or difficult spots like hands and feet.

Note the very long feet... Painting from Njutånger church.

Note the very long feet…  Painting from Njutånger church.

Another illustration from Njutånger church. The feet of the saint are covered up with large, rolling waves.

Another illustration from Njutånger church. The feet of the saint are covered up with large, rolling waves.

During the 1600’s, resulting in no small part from the brisk trading and international diplomacy, the Swedish court started frequenting the other courts of Europe more, and pressure to adopt the continental style increased. In order to fend off foreign competition, many craftsmen ventured south to be educated in the latest fashions and develop techniques in faux-painting, emulating wood graining, marbeling, plaster work, and grisaille. Inhabited by the powerful statesman Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie, Läckö Castle was the most influential Swedish house of the 17th century, and became instrumental in popularizing the newly imported heroic style. Riddarsalen (the Hall of Chivalry) was painted to resemble heavily applied plaster work – blue-gray grisaille on a deep red background, with trompe l’oeil mouldings and swirling Acanthus leaves (which, by the way would not survive a Swedish winter). To top it all off, a swarm of carved and painted cherubs were installed to dangle from the artfully coffered ceiling, to further emphasize the magnificient three-dimensional effect. The execution and effect of this painted ceiling was hugely influential. A few decades later, just about every home above peasant level had some kind of reiteration of it. Within a century, the style had become vernacularized.

Riddarsalen (Hall of Chivalry) at Läckö Castle. Note the wooden floor and the suspended cherubs, which added additional three-dimensionality to the painted coffered ceiling.

Riddarsalen (Hall of Chivalry) at Läckö Castle. Note the wooden floor and the suspended cherubs, which added additional three-dimensionality to the painted coffered ceiling. The herringbone pattern on the floor is significant in Scandinavian symbolism. You may read more about that here if you like.

Another simpler, but equally eye-thwarting decorative trompe l’oeil concept was used on a grander scale in this chamber at Nyborg Slot, Denmark (the Nyborg Castle). I think the three-dimensionality of its walls would have made M.C. Escher proud. This same pattern has since been emulated in marble flooring. Can you imagine the sensory effects of walking across that floor? I think it might make me dizzy…

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Rather dizzying, don't you agree?

Rather dizzying, don’t you agree?

While many of the textures found in the vernacular painted decor of northern Europe represent quaint attempts to be like their southern counterparts, the Scandinavian condition presented several traits that eventually set its painting traditions apart:

  1. Light

    Photo from ‘Scandinavian Painted Decor’.

    For one thing the delicate, luminous quality of the light. As Jocasta Innes so eloquently put it in her book ‘Scandinavian Painted Decor’; “…entering low and aslant, it gives the simplest object a luminous, sculptural presence, and creates a lyrical chiaroscuro…”. It lent a softness to colors – a subtle, less harsh tonality than in the sunny south, that has been famously captured by artists such as the Skagen painters . Floors were rarely painted, but left bare to reflect the light. So were window sills and ceilings, too, in order to preserve and maximize this precious amenity. (Except, as you already know, in churches and other larger spaces aimed at creating impressions of power and reverence, such as castles and manor houses.)

 

 

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Photo from ‘Scandinavian Painted Decor’.

2. Another factor was the near absence of access to the materials used on the European mainland, and the cost-prohibitively long distances due to Sweden’s geographic isolation, should the idea of importing them come up. While their southern European counterparts had the luxury of using the real thing, Scandinavia’s indigenous materials were primarily pine, spruce, oak, and birch, along with granite and gneiss – not marble and mahogany. Scandinavia only has one naturally occurring marble, and precious hardwoods are pretty much non-existent. To the ever pragmatic Swedes, it made more practical and economic sense to use indigenous materials, and utilize faux-painting to imitate the rather garish, contemporary southern opulence. The armies of skilled painters that roamed the Swedish towns and countryside in order to accomplish this, held a unique status in society. They were popular with both nobility, merchants and farmers, and enjoyed prestige and power beyond that of most other trades.

 

3. As mentioned above, the bare, scrubbed fir floor boards, were a notable use of local abundance. You will find that those wide, magnificent, fir boards bear witness to the richness of the original forests that used to cover the land. I wrote more about the prevalence of wood here. From the most stately of castles and manor houses, down to your average farm kitchen, those  floors are an essential component of the clean, blonde aesthetic Sweden is known for. They beautifully reflect the sparse, slanted, blue winter light, and the soft, worn, well-treaded wood serves as a foil for the artistic flair evident on walls and furniture.

 

 

Photo from 'The Swedish Room'.

Photo from ‘The Swedish Room’.

4. The same fatalistic, and rather austere temperament demonstrated in the Norse myths is displayed in Sweden’s comparatively muted decor. Swedes never did quite adopt the full flourish and extravagant opulence of the baroque and rococo aesthetic. Lines remained straighter, flourishes more restrained, and colors more muted. The most prominent color on the interior was a pearly gray. Others were mild pastels in chalky, matte textures. As we shall soon see, the 18th century eventually brings all these aspects together into a golden era of design.

 

 

 

The move from the rustling armory and mobilizing armies of the 1600’s into the considerably lighter, more carefree existence of the Age of Enlightment, seems a good place to stop, for now. More to come soon, on – among other things – the Gustavian era.

SOURCES:

Historien om Sverige – Från islossning till kungarike by Herman Lindquist

Scandinavian Painted Decor by Jocasta Innes

Så målade man by Karin Fridell Anter and Henrik Wannfors

The Swedish Room by Lars Sjöberg, Ursula Sjöberg. Photography by Ingalill Snitt

Dalmålningarna och deras förlagor by Svante Svärdström

The Internet. A big Thank You to all I borrowed photos from. I tried to give credit where I could.

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Wednesday Vignette – orange is the new cat

The color orange has gotten kind of a bad rep during the past year, or so. I confess I still like it – a lot- as long as it is kept at a safe distance from old, sexist dirtbags whose name shall not be named. Over the past few months, the kitchen I helped my mother design in February, has been built. By now, it is nearly finished, so it was time to think about further embellishments than hardware and other more stationary components. When she visited us in Portland this week, we found the perfect curtain fabric.

Designed by someone with the iconic last name of Aalto, we found this fabric at IKEA of all places. At a whopping $4.99/yard!

Designed by someone with the iconic last name of Aalto, we found this fabric at IKEA of all places. At a whopping $4.99/yard! Fell in love – so much fun! And, who doesn’t love a bargain? We bought just enough for a simple panel over the window.

I think you will agree – the cat curtain will provide a fun accent, and a perfect color echo for the tempered glass backsplash we used.  Joining in with the Wednesday Vignette meme over at Flutter & Hum. 🙂

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Some low-voltage lighting in the ceiling (yet to be installed when this photo was taken) will bring the overhead light up to par with that of the counter. Full post on the final finished result will follow . A sneak peek at the “before” is below. The corner in this photo is where the fridge was before.

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Doors, portals, passages and gates of Sweden

I’m sure that somewhere, photographic essays – yes, probably entire books, have been assembled on doors and their similes. After all, for being such a simple, utilitarian building element, they are ascribed huge symbolic importance; hope, opening, opportunity, passage, transition from one state (or world) to another… and so on. Doors signify protection and shelter. Same thing with gates. An open door or gate is said to denote both opportunity and liberation. In addition to its heavy symbolic meanings, from a purely social perspective, a door has the power to convey intent (as in “welcome” or “stay out”), communicate social and societal status, and prompt proper behavior in those who pass through. I find them fascinating! On a recent trip to Sweden, which was filled with other agendas, I couldn’t help myself, but happily snapped away at passages of one sort or another, whenever I got a chance. The shots I got are nowhere near a comprehensive display of the rich abundance, but they do make for a small start of a minor travel obsession.

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A deeply set service door at Läckö Castle. Just look at those walls!!!

Note the herringbone pattern on the door. Very significant pattern in Scandinavia.

Note the herringbone pattern on the door. A very significant pattern in Scandinavia.

Stringing lights between two buildings made a wonderful wintertime approach to the Rörstrand Design Center, where ceramics were made for hundreds of years.

Stringing lights between two buildings made for a wonderful wintertime approach to the Rörstrand Design Center, where ceramics were made for hundreds of years.

Very nice functionalist City Hall, in the small town where I grew up, whose politicians sadly have made some terrible decisions in the last few years, eroding decades of thriving arts and music. From having been a cultural hotspot, it has now become more of a cultural desert. So very sad to see...

Very nice example of functionalist architecture. The City Hall, in the small town where I grew up, whose politicians sadly have made some terrible decisions in the last few years, eroding decades of thriving arts and music. From having been a cultural hotspot, it has now become more of a cultural desert. So very sad to see… 😦

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The entrance to the Linköping Castle, now a museum.

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Not very good photo of a very beautifully ornamented door at the same castle.

Gård, Linköpings Slott

Another shot of the central courtyard. I can just hear the sound of horses hooves on cobble stone, hastily galloping through that portal, and the rustle of weaponry.

These days, the horses are made of rubber and metal.

These days, the horses are made of rubber and metal.

A couple of shots from the museum interior. The interior walls are no less impressive than the exterior.

A couple of shots from the museum interior. The interior walls are no less impressive than the exterior.

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A replica of a medieval door. If I recall correctly, the iron rose is a symbol for Biskop Bengt, the bishop responsible for beginning the construction of the Linköping Cathedral.

An old service door in the Linköping Castle. I'm 5' - 4" and would have to duck to walk through it.

An old service door in the Linköping Castle. I’m 5′ – 4″ and would have to duck to walk through it.

Detail of entrance to the Linköping Cathedral.

Detail of entrance to the Linköping Cathedral.

 

The same doors seen through the windows of the narthex.

The same doors seen through the windows of the narthex. Amazing wood work, don’t you think?

These doors, leading in to the nave from the "Weapon House" or narthex are of a scale intended to impress and humble visitors.

These doors, leading in to the nave from the “Weapon House” or narthex are of a scale intended to impress and humble visitors.

Love the old key, chained to its door.

Love the old key, chained to its door.

A lovely old barn, located between the Castle and the Cathedral in Linköping, glowing in the low winter light. Not sure what its use is nowadays.

A lovely old barn, located between the Castle and the Cathedral in Linköping, glowing in the low winter light. Not sure what its use is nowadays.

This fabulous cross- timbered barn is the King's Barn near Läckö Castle. Again, you have those diagonal patterns on the doors.

This fabulous cross- timbered barn is the King’s Barn near Läckö Castle. Again, you have those diagonal patterns on the doors.

Here too, except these used to be windows, and have been covered up in a traditional manner.

Here too, except these used to be windows, and have been covered up in a traditional manner.

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A long arbor covered street near the Linköping library. Would love to see what it looks like in summer when it’s all leafed out.

Stadsbild, Linköping

This photo is included more for the color that for its doors. I love how each individual, identical unit has a different, yet harmonizing color.

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Quaint street scene from Old Linköping. If you go through that gate, you will likely come to an interior courtyard.

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Same here. Behind those brown doors is a passage to an interior yard.

A glimpse of the other side of the door.

A glimpse of the other side of the door. Note that diagonal herringbone pattern again. Obviously, it is found just about everywhere. If you’re interested, you can read more about its symbolism here.

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I love how the old cobbled streets are intact.

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I can’t seem get enough of peeping into these inner sanctums! 🙂

More of the same, but with a different look and feel.

More of the same, but with a different look and feel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is that diagonal pattern repurposed into a new format. Also, note the green color - it's a popular one.

Here is that diagonal pattern repurposed into a new format. Also, note the green color – it’s a popular one.

Strikt, simple elegance.

Strikt, simple elegance.

This one is a little more elaborate.

This one is a little more elaborate.

Building codes did not exist back when this was built, and I'm glad. If they had, we wouldn't be able to see these charming solutions.

Building codes did not exist back when this was built, and I’m glad. If they had, we wouldn’t be able to see these charming solutions.

Not the most sophisticated of locks, but hey - it works!

Not the most sophisticated of locks, but hey – it works!

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This beautiful building is from Baroniet i Åtvidaberg.

This beautiful building is part of Baroniet in Åtvidaberg.

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The family weapon adorns the front gate.

Grind 2, Adelsnäs, Åtvidaberg

Impressive gate posts holding a gate…

... that overlooks a garden on a central axis, lined with clipped box.

… which overlooks a garden on a central axis, lined with clipped box.

Arched portal at Brahehus ruins, which went down in flames in 1708.

Arched portal at Brahehus ruins, which went down in flames in 1708.

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This was still intact at Brahehus. Or, if it was added later – I don’t know. It made me wonder. Was it a jail cell? Or some kind of protected storage?

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Old churches were often walled in with entrance gates. This one is in Västergötland.

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This one too. Churches back then often doubled as defense posts – one could seek shelter inside.

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The entrance to Husaby Church. The towers are original and stem from the 1100’s. Before the stone church was erected, there was a stave church in its place. The tombs in front are said to be from the 900’s.

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Another church that has seen centuries of people walk through its doors. Its hard to see in the photo, but if you look closely, you will see that diagonal pattern – again.

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The Old Fire Station in Linköping. It too has a portal and a wall surrounding it. Now, the building houses KomVux – an organization offering continuing education classes.

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Looking back at the portal I took the last photo from.

Gamla Brandstationen, Linköping

Fantastic example of adaptive reuse, where the arches have been infilled with modern building materials, and are now offices. Love the brickwork, too.

Gamla brandstationen, Linköping 1

These two arches remain open to the outside.

Here is an arched portal from a different time period. It is much beefier, and serves as the entrance to the garden surrounding the Bishop's Manor. The Manor itself is from the early 1700's, but was likely built on medieval foundations. Not sure how old the surrounding wall is - it somehow seems older, to me, but I don't know for sure.

Here is an arched portal from a different time period. It is much beefier, and serves as the entrance to the garden surrounding the Bishop’s Manor. The Manor itself is from the early 1700’s, but was likely built on medieval foundations. Not sure how old the surrounding wall is – it somehow seems older, to me, but I don’t know for sure.

The lovely portal into Trädgårdsföreningen - a park in Linköping.

The lovely portal into Trädgårdsföreningen – a park in Linköping.

There are two matching cottages near that entrance. Both have very ornate porches, framing doors of a stricter, more simple elegance.

There are two matching cottages near Trädgårdsföreningen’s entrance. Both have very ornately decorated porches, framing doors of a stricter, more simple elegance.

The Orangerie at Adelsnäs in Åtvidaberg, have wonderful glass expanses that overlook the gardens.

The Orangerie at Adelsnäs in Åtvidaberg, have wonderful glass expanses that overlook the fountain and gardens. There are often summer concerts offered here.

Vacker trappa

Very stately granite stairs, leading up to a rather beautiful entrance.

Gammal källardörr, Åtvidaberg

Across the street, is a tiny, basement door, in one of the oldest remaining buildings in Åtvidaberg – the little town where I grew up.

Gamla rådhuset i Lidköping

I’ll end in the same region this post began. This is a small service door in the Old Courthouse in Lidköping. Originally, this was a hunting lodge for Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie – proprietor of the nearby Läckö Castle. It is a wonderfully unique structure. You can see more photos of it here, if you like.

Temperatures are supposed to go up to over 100F degrees today. In Celsius, this is nearly 40 degrees, and makes people like me completely miserable. I had been thinking of writing this post for a while, and I’m glad I waited. It felt really nice to hole up in our basement, and remember the wintry days of my trip home. A mental cool-off, so to speak. Stay cool out there, friends!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wednesday Vignette – mid-century, mahogany, and horses

Visited a new client the other day. It was a mid-century home with the most amazing mahogany siding. On the step up to a breezeway, were a pair of old Chinese horses, guarding the entry. I thought it was the most striking juxtaposition – so I thought I would add it to the Wednesday Vignette over on my other blog. You are welcome to join in too! It’s easy! Just post a photo of something that inspires you, or strikes your fancy. 🙂

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Do what you love, and success will follow

My 13-year old lamented the other day that he didn’t know what he wants to do with his life. He was concerned that he doesn’t know what to study in college. “Well, you have plenty of time to figure that out”, I said, whereupon he answered that it would be nice to know now, so he can prepare for his future college studies, once he starts high school. I have to say that I completely and wholeheartedly feel his pain. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do, and in some ways, I’m still searching. Mind you, I was also impressed that he was already thinking ahead. The only advice I could offer him was that he needs to figure out what he really, really loves to do, and then figure out a way to do that. That way, he would always be happy, at peace, and very rarely feel trapped in a life where he dreads going to work.

The above conversation made me think that it was time to write this post. During my recent trip back to Sweden, my mother and I took fun little outings between our work sessions on reconfiguring her kitchen. One place we visited was the renowned Husaby church – its foundations laid in the early 1100’s CE. By now, only the towers remain from the original building. They predate even the earliest laws of what was to eventually become Sweden. This is historically very rich territory, where seemingly every turn in the road can tell centuries worth of stories of battles, bloodshed, sacrifice and triumph.

Husaby church - a place that has seen the waves of history pass by for a millennium.

Husaby church – a place that has seen the waves of history pass by for a millennium.

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The towers date from the early 1100’s.

The small building on the right holds a wonderful discovery!

A few stone throws from the church, there is a rather stately red building, next to a smaller, one-story house, also painted the ubiquitous Falu red. It is in this smaller building, that magic happens. Mom, of course, knew that, and this is where she was taking me.

Along the walkway up to the door, black silhouettes stand out against the snow.

Along the walkway up to the door, black silhouettes stand out against the snow.

Organic shapes with sharp tips...

Organic, wrought iron shapes with sharp tips…

... emanating a somewhat dangerous elegance.

… emanating a somewhat dangerous elegance.

Once at the door, there is a sign. 'Smedja' = Smithy, or Forge.

Once at the door, there is a sign. ‘Smedja’ = Smithy, or Forge.

I loved the many square nuts that were threaded onto wires and hung on the wall.

I loved the many square nuts that were threaded onto wires and hung on the wall. This was exciting! We entered.

The first thing you see upon entering is a message chalked on the iron hood above the fire. It reads: "Strive not for success. Only do what you like, and believe in, and success will come by itself." Whomever dwells here - I liked her already!

The first thing you see upon entering is a beautifully scripted message, chalked on the iron hood above the fire. It reads: “Strive not for success. Only do what you like and believe in, and success will come by itself.” Whomever dwells here – I like her already!

Soon enough, we met her - the immensely talented la Doyenne de Feu herself. Master artisan smith

Soon enough, we met her – the immensely talented la Doyenne de Feu herself – Master blacksmith Therese  Engdahl. She and her husband Niclas own and operate the forge, and do all design and execution themselves. While she does more decorative arts, he makes custom commissions for buildings. We saw a beautiful range hood of his in Kvänum – one of the kitchen showrooms we visited. We took up far too much of Therese’s time ooh-ing and aah-ing over everything, and asking a thousand questions. I enjoyed every minute of it. Mom had been there several times before, and knew that seeing this, and meeting Therese would make my day. I thank her for that – it did. Mom had also brought my oldest here once when he was 11, or so. Together, he and Therese collaborated on a design for a wedding gift that was to merge two cultures. That summer, he had asked her if he could intern, and learn from her. Therese offered plenty of good advice about how to get prepared for such an internship. My son, who is now 16, took what she said to heart, and is now enrolled in a polytechnic high school, and has at least some access to the kind of learning she mentioned. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one in my family who gets excited about this ancient craft.

I think we humans have a kind of primordial need to create. The media vary, but the immense satisfaction in the ability to create something is constant. When that yearning goes unmet and un-nurtured, we turn into a society of cranky consumers, generally lacking the ability to discern quality from crap – because we no longer know how things work, or how to do things. Everything can be bought, and just about everything is imported from industrially developing countries where labor is cheap, and things can still be produced cheaply (on several levels). Ancient trades, techniques, tools and traditions are lost in the process. Sweden isn’t quite as far gone in its cultural decay as the US – yet, but they are both on a slippery downward slope. At some point, I imagine, it will become evident that we have undermined our own existence by not giving our offspring the ability to create and sustain the tools for their own survival. The power balance of the world will weigh heavily toward countries that still value ability. But, I digress… back to the fabulous Therese!

Here's an interior shot of the shop. So beautifully spacious, airy, well lit and organized, and clean. Not at all the kind of sooty look the idea of a stereotypical smithy might conjure up.

Here’s an interior shot of the shop. So beautifully spacious, airy, well lit and organized, and clean. Not at all the kind of sooty look the idea of a stereotypical smithy might conjure up.

This is a photo of a photo of Therese in action, that is on display in the shop. Therese did embark on a formal education in the art of blacksmithing, but eventually found that the schooling lacked some fundamental elements of what she wanted to learn. She returned home to an apprenticeship with her father, who also was a master blacksmith.

This is a photo of a photo of Therese in action, on display in the shop. She did embark on a formal education in the art of blacksmithing, but eventually found that the schooling lacked some fundamental elements of what she wanted to learn. She returned home to an apprenticeship with her father, who also was a Master Blacksmith. She became a Master Blacksmith in 2004, and has won several Nordic championships in forging.

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This has got to be one of the coolest wine racks I have ever seen! Beside it, iron roses are climbing up a trellis which was created for the occasion when the happy couple were married. This wonderful web page tells the tale of their wedding. There were 18 roses adorning the trellis – one for each year that passed before Niclas proposed to Therese. There were roses in the wedding bouquet, as well – beautiful!

A forged wedding dress was Therese’s journeyman work. She started it before she met her husband to be, whom she married 19 years and two kids later. What’s almost as stunning as the dress itself, is that – after all that – she still fit in to it!!! Wow… that’s impressive!

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This was the bridal crown, complete with serpents and hearts. Both dress and crown are on display in the studio, but be sure to click on the link to see the full story. Granted, it’s in Swedish, but the photos are marvelous, and will tell you a tale of love and family, deep commitment, and symbolic expression.

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The snake – a universally powerful symbol representing strength, wisdom, healing and power – has become Therese’s trademark. Its graceful movements is manifested in many of the objects on display. I laughed, because I have such an innate, irrational fear of snakes. My fear is ridiculous to the point of me thinking that I must have been a mouse in a previous life, that met my fate in a reptile encounter. In that regard, Therese is my exact opposite – she seeks them out! Behind the candle holders, is her coveted Master Blacksmith certification, framed.

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Her work spans the functional to the purely decorative.

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These bottle openers are fabulous!

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These Calla lily candle holders are set in a slab of lime stone, representative of the region’s geology.

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Dragonflies on reeds.

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She also makes these wonderful, delicate flowers with detailing that defy the hardness of the iron.

She also makes these wonderful, delicate flowers with detailing that defy the hardness of the iron. You saw the roses up above – this is a tulip.

Another few words of wisdom: "Anything is possible if you love what you do." And, beneath it, a gentle warning: "Do not ever touch the smith's hammer". Fair enough...

Another few words of wisdom: “Gratefully accept advice, as long as it doesn’t affect what you were planning to do to begin with”. And this one: “Anything is possible if you love what you do.” Beneath it, a gentle warning: “Do not ever touch the smith’s hammer”. Fair enough… if there is anything I wish for my kids, it is for them to pick a path that will bring them as much enjoyment and bliss as possible. I truly believe doing something you love is the key to happiness!

Before we left, I offered to see if I could find anyone over here in Portland, to sell her work, so Therese gave me some marketing collateral, pricing sheets, and business cards to take home. "Raw power from Sweden" says the logo - we need some of that over here, I think. If any of you can think of a boutique over here who would be a good fit, and might be interested, please let me know, and I will contact them. I have a few ideas, but this stuff is so cool, it needs to be a good fit, wouldn't you agree?

Before we left, I offered to see if I could find anyone over here in Portland, to sell her work.  Therese gave me some marketing collateral, pricing sheets, and business cards to take home. “Raw power from Sweden” the logo says – we need some of that over here, I think. I’m not much of a shopper, so if any of you can think of a boutique over here that would be a good fit, and who might be interested in her work, please let me know, and I will contact them. I’m exploring a few ideas already,  but this stuff is so cool, it needs to be a perfect fit, wouldn’t you agree? So, holler if you have ideas, would you please?

In parting, I figured I'd include my very own iron snake in this snake-heavy post. I bought it years ago, after having survived an internship for the US Park Service, where I spent three months measuring abandoned historic buildings. There were snakes all over the place, and I was a nervous wreck. When the internship was up, I found this little guy in a gallery. I realized that he - better than anything else - would be a good souvenir to remember my rather unforgettable three months in Snake Country by. Thus, I grabbed my phobia by the fangs. Since then, I have grown to like him quite a bit!

In parting, I figured I’d include a photo of my very own iron snake, since this  is a rather snake-heavy post. I bought it years ago, after having survived an internship with the US Park Service, where I spent three months measuring abandoned historic buildings. There were snakes all over the place, and I was a nervous wreck. When the internship was up, I found this little guy in a gallery. I realized that he – better than anything else – would be a good souvenir to remember my rather unforgettable three months in Snake Country by. I felt like I had grabbed my phobia by the fangs. Since then, I have actually grown to like him quite a bit! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Nice People, Scandinavia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Nifty kitchen solution – 2, complete with a “retiree incubator”

I was recently in Sweden with my mother, working on a new kitchen for her. She spends half her time in the US, and half in Sweden. A few years ago, tired of planning their summers around the content of their suitcases, she and my stepdad bought a condo in  a lovely little town called Lidköping. While nice to have a place to call home away from home, the rather poorly planned kitchen could surely use an upgrade – thus our trip together.

The 1958 apartment building.

The 1958 concrete apartment building that houses their condo.

The building offers glazed-in balconies. As you can imagine - in the Swedish climate, this feature prolongs the season usability quite a bit. Some wise-crack termed it "pensionärskuvös", or "retiree incubator". A gentler soul might find that offensive, but I thought it was funny. So, from here on out, I will refer to this space as the incubator. :)

The building offers glazed-in balconies. As you can imagine – in the Swedish climate, this feature prolongs the season’s usability quite a bit. Some wise-crack termed it “pensionärskuvös”, or “retiree incubator” – a term that stuck. A gentler soul might find that offensive, but I thought it was really funny. So, from here on out, I will refer to this space as the incubator. 🙂

Other than being rather poorly planned, the kitchen itself offered the kind of wallpaper one might associate with a stereotypical elderly lady. (Only problem is, my mom does not fit that kind of stereotype.) Besides all the counters being well below standard height, there was this behemoth row of cabinets splitting the  space in half. There was very little usable counter space, and the built-in refrigerator was about to die. All of the above are off-putting to an avid user of kitchens (mom's a fabulous cook). As a final insult, through the two kitchen windows, one could gaze longingly out into the incubator, without any convenient way of getting there. (Currently, the only entrance to it is via the living room). This had to change...

Other than being rather poorly planned, the kitchen itself offered the kind of wallpaper one might associate with a stereotypical elderly lady. (Only problem is, my mom does not fit that kind of stereotype.) Besides all the counters being well below standard height, there was this behemoth row of cabinets splitting the space in half. There was very little usable counter space, and the built-in refrigerator was about to die. The furniture was left by the former owner. All of the above are off-putting to an avid user of kitchens (mom’s a fabulous cook). As a final insult, through the two kitchen windows, one could gaze longingly out into the incubator, without any convenient way of getting there. (Currently, the only entrance to it is via the living room). This, of course, had to change…

Here is the inside of the incubator - as you can see, there is plenty of space. It can easily house 8 dinner guests.

Here is the inside of the incubator – as you can see, there is plenty of space. It can easily house 8 dinner guests. The gardener in me has already decided where the herb garden will be – easily accessible from the kitchen!

We shrunk the monstrous row of cabinets to a single base cabinet,  relocated the range and sink, and moved the refrigerator. The location of existing HVAC, water and sewage lines informed those decisions - its neither cheap nor easy to make such changes in a concrete building. By changing the configuration, we also managed to fit in a standard size dishwasher. But the change that hands down will provide the largest pleasure upgrade of all, is the door to the incubator. We're taking out a window, and putting in a glass door instead. The gardener in me has already decided where the herb garden will be...

We shrunk the monstrous row of cabinets to a single base cabinet, relocated the range and sink, and moved the refrigerator. The location of existing HVAC, water and sewage lines largely informed those decisions – its neither cheap nor easy to make such changes in a concrete building. By changing the configuration, we also managed to fit in a standard size dishwasher and a microwave oven. But, the change that hands down will provide the largest pleasure upgrade of all, is the door to the incubator. We’re taking out a window, and putting in a glass door instead.

New configuration. Since this drawing was made, we have decided to move the microwave to beside the door instead.

New configuration. Since this drawing was made, we have decided to move the microwave to beside the door instead. You can’t quite see it, but beside the fridge, there is a wide doorway leading out into the hall. We are removing the threshold, taking out the plastic flooring currently in place, and adding cork in both rooms instead, as one continuous surface.

We are also making the single wall cabinet shallower. At a standard 30 cm dimension, it feels too intrusive in the relatively small space.

We are also making the single wall cabinet (between the door and the window) shallower. At a standard 30 cm dimension, it feels too intrusive in the relatively small space.

We chose a door style with gently rounded edges. The cabinets will be painted a warm white to make the kitchen as bright as possible.

We chose a door style with gently rounded edges. The cabinets will be painted a warm white to make the kitchen as bright as possible.

The sink will be stainless, with countertops in a p-lam with a late 50's/early 60's feel.

The sink will be stainless, with countertops in a p-lam with a decidedly late 50’s/early 60’s feel.

Found this fabulous orange glass, which will serve as backsplash - a bright infusion of happy color.

Found this fabulous orange glass, which will serve as backsplash – a bright infusion of happy color.

Above the eating area, on the opposite wall as seen from the range, will be a row of storage cabinets mounted high, immediately under the ceiling. To contrast with the rest of the cabinet doors, we chose this new, faceted marvel from IKEA. These cabinets will be far enough removed from the rest to be able to handle a more decorative surface - the two will be fun playing off each other!

Above the eating area, on the opposite wall as seen from the range, will be a row of five storage cabinets mounted high, immediately under the ceiling. To contrast with the rest of the cabinet doors, we chose this new, faceted marvel from IKEA. These cabinets will be far enough removed from the rest to be able to handle a more decorative surface – the two will be fun playing off each other!

Under those cabinets is a perfect opportunity for a featured wall paper. This remains one of the main contenders, but there is still time to choose... Its not quite as orange as the backsplash, but have similar tonalities, and the two are on opposite walls, so I think it would work. I love it - it reminds me of some of Tove Jansson's illustrations in her Mumin books.

Under those cabinets resides the perfect opportunity for a splashy, colorful wall paper. This remains one of the main contenders, but there is still time to choose… Its not quite as orange as the backsplash, but have similar tonalities, and the two are on opposite walls, so I think it would work. I love it – it reminds me of some of Tove Jansson’s illustrations in her Mumin books.

 

 

 

It was great to spend a few weeks alone with mom. Besides looking at appliances and kitchens, we also managed to spend time with family and friends. It was a wonderful trip. If all goes as planned, construction will begin in May. Were currently awaiting approval from the condo association to replace the window with a door. Apparently, we were the first to come up with such an idea. Crazy, huh? It seems like such a no-brainer… Anyway, fingers crossed, y’all.

Posted in Cool building materials, On Design, Scandinavia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments