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Maximalist Scandinavians… is there really such a thing? Reader, you better be-leaf it.

A minimalist approach to furniture design has long been popularised by the widely celebrated mid century modern aesthetic. If the words ‘home decor’ and ‘Scandinavia’ are used in the same sentence, one could be forgiven for conjuring up an interior full of clean sweeping contours and calming natural tones. Undeniably, the 20th century put Scandinavia on the map as a mecca of visionary sleek and simplistic design in the field of furniture and interiors.

However, this hasn’t always been the case. The wonderful watercolours of celebrated Swedish painter Carl Larsson offer a vivid insight into the 19th century Scandinavian adoration of colour and print within the home. This painting below details the Larsson children, all dressed up at 5 in the morning to celebrate the name day of the family’s maid Emma. The ceiling is hung with a cloth covered in red stripes and embroidered birds. This was designed by Larsson’s wife, Karin, who practised as a painter and textile designer and whose characterful home interiors are lovingly chronicled by Larsson in his watercolours. The red tassels used in the maids’ rooms were inspired by the ornamentation of traditional Swedish costumes and reflect Karin’s interest in weaving folk references into the design of her home.

A Day of Celebration by Carl Larsson
Source: wikiart.org

With its emphasis on cheerful colour and folk motifs inspired by the natural world, the Larsson’s beloved family home, Lilla Hyttnäs, became famous as a leading example of creative Swedish design. The artistic Larssons were inspired by the writing of British print designer William Morris, who called for a return to the simplicity of artisanal design and elevated natural beauty. Folk art-inflected flowers and plants are seen throughout the home of the Larssons, along with classic patterns like pinstripes and gingham. Characterised by familiarity and comfort, Lilla Hyttnäs was a forerunner of the practical Scandinavian value that homes are above all to be lived in… by why not make them beautiful along the way?

Images of Lilla Hyttnäs. Source: carllarsson.se

The Larssons were not the only ones to colour their homes with folk art. Many antiques from Scandianavia – and Eastern Europe – are adorned with intricate hand-painted motifs detailing the natural world. Scandinavians famously value a close connection with nature, a trait which is certainly evident across the beautifully decorated facades of many folk benches, wardrobes and chairs. Birds, fruit, foliage and flowers are depicted in colourful hues and serve to bring a touch of the beloved outdoors into the home.

Current day trends have also seen a rise in the popularity of the folk aesthetic. Thanks to leading bohemian brands like Anthropologie diving headfirst into bright florals and patterns, we are seeing more people toting decorative folk prints across their homes, clothes and accessories. A rejection of clean lines and minimalism, folk is for the non-conformist among us. It’s an opportunity to be playful, to delight in colour and natural beauty. Below are some stunning examples of folk antique design at its very best, an exuberant expression of the joy found in colour, pattern and the natural world. From Sweden to Transylvania, revel in this selection of hand-painted folk furniture and beware of catching folk fever.

Read on to hear about the famous Dala horse!

A traditional 19th century hand painted Swedish bench

An antique 19th Century Swedish Folk Art Cupboard

The Dala horse is a world-recognised symbol of the Dalarna region of Sweden and it has a charming origin. These simple wooden horses were originally carved by men working out in the forest to bring home as toys to their children during the long, dark winter months. The village of Bergkarlås is thought to be where Dala horses first originated, although neighbouring communities Risa, Vattnäs, and Nusnäs also became centres of horse making. These villages were also known for homing many artists who decorated furniture and clocks and it is thought that the spare scraps of wood were then used to carve Dala horses. You may notice variations in the decor and outline of the horse models as the colour and motifs are often common to the locality of the community in which they were made. Nusnäs Dalas, for example, have quite a flat, stout nose whereas models from the Rättvik region are of a more elegant and elongated stature.

Many early Dala horses were not painted at all until the beginning of the 19th century when people began to cover them in a simple coat of red or white paint. The decorative motifs on Dala horses find their roots in the Swedish tradition of adorning furniture with patterns inspired by nature. According to a local tale, a wandering artist was painting a farm when some children approached him and asked why their toy Dalas were not painted as beautifully as those in his own work. He decorated the children’s horses and the aesthetic caught on, leading to the widespread celebration of Dalas at a national – and then international – level.

A Vintage Nils Ollson Dala Horse

A pair of folk decorated Transylvanian Chairs

Transylvanian ‘Fancy County’ Antique Bed Frame

19th Century Swedish Oak Hand Painted Wedding Chest

Rare Rustic 19th Century Folk Decorated Swedish Cupboard

20th Century Swedish Folk Art Rocking Chairs

Ukrainian Folk Art Trunk

Browse a hand-picked selection of folk vintage and antiques here.

Title image: bocadolobo.com

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