How Catherine II's cousin was 150 years ahead of IKEA
How Catherine II's cousin was 150 years ahead of IKEA

We are all familiar with the Scandinavian style - light shades, natural wood, comfort and democracy, interiors that have come down from the pages of IKEA catalogs. But several centuries before the advent of IKEA, the Swedish monarch Gustav III wanted to create a local Versailles - but the treasury was empty, and the natural conditions were harsh. It was then, in the distant 18th century, that the prototype of the fashionable Scandinavian style - the "Gustavian style", appeared.

The interior is in the Gustavian style - the style of Swedish classicism

King Gustav III of Sweden, a cousin of the Russian Empress Catherine II, was an extraordinary man. He ascended the throne in 1771. In his youth, the king received an excellent education, was fond of literature and philosophy. Gustav loved theater and even composed plays himself. On any diplomatic visit to other countries, he found time to visit new theatrical performances. Gustav especially respected French theaters - and the French government was very interested in the young king and received him with great honor.

18th century interior, designed by Louis Adrien Marelier in the Gustavian style

In Sweden, however, he was remembered not so much for his education as for the coup d'etat - the restriction of the nascent democracy and the emergence of a local version of "enlightened absolutism" (which was greatly facilitated by Versailles). In addition, there were rumors about the king's special love for young favorites and neglect of marital duties - before him, no ruler of this harsh northern kingdom had allowed himself to express his preferences so clearly. Once Gustav decided to conduct an experiment to prove the toxicity of coffee, which is still laughed at: the criminal twins, one of whom was "condemned" to drink three coffee pots a day, and the other three teapots of tea, survived both the king and their executioners, having died in extreme old age … In general, Gustav III was a normal European monarch of his time - calculating and extravagant at the same time. And, like any normal European monarch, he dreamed of his own Versailles. But it was Gustav III who, making his dreams come true, invented the very "Scandinavian style" that fascinated the whole world and does not give up its positions.

Interior in Gustavian style with painted wooden furniture

To implement his "design" plans, Gustav chose a family nest - Gripsholm Castle. However, the state treasury was inclined to quickly empty, and the king was unable to invite French masters for a long time. Swedish craftsmen copied French samples as best they could, but here they were hampered by the inaccessibility of expensive materials. That is why, instead of the classic carved furniture with gilding, Swedish craftsmen began to make painted tables and chairs from pine and birch. Sometimes they used inlay with more expensive types of wood. Even with the scale, there was "nowhere to roam" - and local solutions appeared, allowing you to save space while creating an elegant and luxurious interior.

Modern interiors in classic Gustavian style

Slides have gained particular popularity - display cabinets with a collection of expensive porcelain, usually Dutch or Danish. However, the simplicity of the "Swedish Versailles" was explained not only by the scarcity of the treasury. Both Gustav III and his subjects were Protestants. The founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, vigorously condemned the luxurious decoration of temples - and the desire for moderation became the core of Protestant ethics. Bulky gilded stucco and mirrored walls were simply unacceptable for a Protestant king!

Interior details in Gustavian style Interior details in Gustavian style

Gustav's favorite master was Georg Haupt, a talented cabinetmaker who was able to gracefully adapt French fashion to Swedish realities. Straight legs, oval or square backs of chairs, clean lines, delicate marquetry technique … However, many popular motifs of the Gustaivan style, for example, tall grandfather clocks, originated in the provinces. The enterprising inhabitants of the village of Mora are tired of struggling with the harshness of the climate and decided to take up crafts - certainly some "fashionable". They began to spontaneously unite in artels and collect watches in beautiful wooden cases, literally scattered into the homes of the rich throughout Sweden. The light shades so characteristic of modern Scandinavian style were also an attempt to create beauty in harsh conditions. Sweden is a country with a dark and gloomy climate, where the sun rarely appears in the sky, which means that it was necessary at least to create the illusion of illumination in the interior. This is how everyone's favorite white walls and whitened natural colors appeared.

On the left is a slide with a clock

At the end of the eighteenth century, the "Gustavian style" penetrated the homes of ordinary citizens and became a kind of national treasure in Sweden. It was enough to paint the old furniture white and cover the chairs with fabrics of pale shades to get a little closer to the style of the royal court, and carpets and earthenware could be purchased from local artisans. Expensive inlay was replaced by naive painting, instead of expensive wallpaper, painted wood panels were used … So the style of "Swedish Versailles" became cozy and sweet - domesticated.

Historical and modern interiors in Gustavian style Tiled stoves are also an important element of the Gustavian style

King Gustav was killed by conspirators in 1792. The style named after him has outlived the king for centuries. For example, in the 1880s, the designer Karin Larsson designed the interior of the Lilla Hüttnes house in the Gustavian style, and her husband, illustrator Karl Larsson, captured her work in his watercolors. The works of the couple have become incredibly popular, now "Lilla Hüttnes" is open to tourists from May to October, and Larsson's book of reproductions and stories has been reprinted forty times and remains a bestseller.

Watercolor by Carl Larsson Carl Larsson's watercolor painting of his family in a Gustavian interior designed by Larsson's wife

In the 20th century, the Gustavian style experienced another rebirth thanks to the designers Rachel Ashwell and Laura Ashley, who glorified home comfort and vintage furniture in their projects. In Scandinavia itself, back in the 50s, the "naive" painting of furniture of classical forms was popularized by the designer Josef Frank. And IKEA designers have created a recognizable "Scandinavian style" filled with stamps and easily copied techniques - it is already difficult to recognize the regal predecessor in it, but white furniture, pale shades, as if born from the harsh northern nature, funny drawings and inexpensive wood species remained unchanged.

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