In 2017, Scandi is king. From New York to Tokyo, the world voraciously consumes culture, cuisine and design from this small corner of northern Europe. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of interiors. Few homes are without a token of this trend, whether it be through furniture, decor or ambience. It has been given the nickname of “democratic design”, such is its accessibility to the world at large. You could be forgiven for thinking this a recent development but Swedish design has always been innovative and has a pedigree stretching back centuries. The desire for simplification of form and understated elegance is nothing new and it began to flourish most dramatically under the reign of King Gustav III in the 18th Century.
Gustav was a middling monarch politically but he is held in high regard for his appreciation of culture. He used his power to cultivate a national identity based around theatre, music and the arts and his most enduring legacy in design is the style which came to be called “Gustavian”. An extended visit to the French court in the 1770’s entranced Gustav; he was captivated by the neo-classical grandeur of Versailles and returned to Sweden determined to create his own Paris in the north.
This personal campaign for perfection did not consist of simply mimicking French design and dropping it wholesale into Stockholm. A practical sort, Gustav recognised the need to create an aesthetic that took the best aspects of what he had seen in France while imbuing it with a uniquely Scandinavian flavour. The dark, sumptuous palette of Versailles was completely unsuitable in a country used to squeezing every drop of light from long winter nights so the new style embraced the use of crisp white and pale hues. Extensive use of gilding - these were royal palaces, after all - accentuated the qualities of candlelight and created an atmosphere of understated opulence. If Swedish design can be said to be a constant process of simplification, this is where the journey truly began.
As previously mentioned, Gustavian design is a pared-back version of French neoclassicism. This movement was a response to the Greek and Roman antiquities being collected in vast numbers by the aristocracy and is defined by a love of symmetry and simplicity. Tables, chairs and cabinets are usually carved with scallop detailing, often with a rosette at the top. Clean lines are highly prized. These qualities began to amplify as the desire for furniture like that of the King began to spread out from the aristocracy and into the middle classes. From this point on, Gustavian furniture became more rustic and homespun. Where the upper-classes used white and gold, the masses brought in pastel tones and an unfussy sense of simple decoration. Nowadays it’s rare to find a truly white piece of Gustavian; the paints were mixed by hand using whatever pigments were available so most have faded to the warm grey that is now considered such a key part of the aesthetic.
The elements of Gustavian design may have been born from the unique circumstances of their time but they have proven to be very-well suited to our tastes today. The muted colours, honest materials and restrained sense of decoration are completely at home in the contemporary home. These rare antiques also speak to our desire for uniqueness and originality. They are that rare group of objects that bind together heritage and progression. We at Cotswold Grey are thrilled to be able to offer a selection of these prized pieces for sale in Moreton in Marsh.
Each one has a character uniquely its own. “Gustavian 7” is characterised by a soft, undulating pattern. The wood flows like ripples on the surface of water. Open the lid and you discover a labyrinth of drawers and cupboards painted in a chalky blue with the luminance of moonlight. “Gustavian 10” meanwhile possesses the almost mathematic order of a Roman temple. It is all right-angles and reeding, painted in the powdery tone of dusk.
These pieces are individuals and each lends a distinct quality to the room they are displayed in. It’s impossible to capture their subtlety and charm in writing or even a photograph; they have to be experienced and felt. You’ll find a wonderful sense of history and exquisite design in the pieces here in our showroom. Be sure to pay us a visit and sample their elegance for yourself.