I do not like labels, in particularly not the defining ones, since their lack of paradox, complexity, and changeability make them smell an awful lot like lies, or at least gross simplifications. I consider myself a human, most of the time, that is anatomically female and culturally cosmopolitan. The rest is details, social constructions that occasionally have something interesting to say about my experience, but most of the time hide more than they reveal. One of the details is that I was born in the part of the world that rather arbitrarily is labeled Sweden. I moved away shortly after I finished high school, which has made my lasting impression a mix of idyllic childhood memories and critical teenage disillusionment. I never got a chance to get the adult’s more nuanced perspective on the country I grew up in.
There is one thing that I have fond memories of from both my younger, home-team-supporting days, and my older, no-team days—the aesthetics. I can claim no objectivity here; I was force-fed white walls, pale pine floors, woven rugs, linen cloths, natural materials like wood, metal, and sheep skins, sparse design, pale, subdued colors and white white white. It is all about the light, about letting the sun in whenever it comes for one of its rare visits. I never got sick of it, though, and I still find Swedish design the most unpretentiously beautiful and livable.
I appreciate that it is a classless aesthetics—you can find it in Stockholm’s most fancy villas and in the smallest, summer cottage. Everybody can afford to not have too much stuff…to keep their rooms simple, open, and clean. Rich people often get too tempted to show off their wealth, which is probably why high couture and design can be so tacky, and I am sure that there are tasteless Swedes, but most of the time they use the inclination to spend their money on quality over quantity. The result is homes that you can (and should) walk barefoot in, where a jar of dandelions looks sunny on the kitchen table, and quickly boiled summer potatoes with fresh fish, a bit a butter and dill is all the feast you need.
Sebastienne and I currently live in muggy Georgia with its fireflies and ice tea, without a single reindeer in sight (Not that there were any reindeer outside Stockholm, either.) and plenty of sun to go around. We have made this part of the world our home, and though I rarely miss Sweden, I do miss its beauty. Luckily, my Texan wife, who has a (perhaps) surprising love for romantic French country-style, was easily won over to the cozy Swedish country cottage look. My mother gave us a subscription to “Landliv” (Country Life), and its monthly dose of white and wood helped to convince her. The real reason, though, is that we are going to have such a small house that almost any other style would overwhelm the space. I promised her that if we ever get a castle—she can have all the romantic swirls she likes.
First step in Swedish-ification is to paint the walls and the ceiling white. The natural wood is only kept in saunas, ski cottages, and hunters’ cabins. To pick the white was easier said than done, and took us hours of considerations. We had originally planned to use Behr’s “polar bear,” but we decided to use a more ecologically sound paint, which meant that our search for the perfect white had to be done all over. The company Sebastienne found, Yolo Color House, http://www.yolocolorhouse.com/color/explore-color/?color=imagine02, uses “no mutagens, no hazardous air pollutants, no ozone depleting compounds, no formaldehyde, no phthalates, no volatile organic compounds (VOCs),” and has amazing colors to choose from. We wanted a white that really looked white—not yellow or gray, but at the same time did not feel cold or eye-numbingly bright. The color we finally settled on, “Imagine 2,” has an almost imperceptible hint of lime green in it, like elderberry flowers, something they did not mention in the description, but which we really like—it looks bright and cheerful. The runner-up, “Air 1” ended up looking much too dark and creamy ones we saw the large paint chip. We picked semi-gloss, since it looks best on wood, and is easier to keep clean.
Compared to most paints, the YOLO paint smelled a lot less, and as a good paint should be, it covered well, and did not get streaky. The only question/complaint is that it made our nails rust and show up, which is something we are going to contact the company about, even though the second coat managed to cover most of them. Over three 10 hour work days, we got it all done. A handful of friends (Amelia, and Matt and Erin, thank you!) helped, which we were very grateful for.
The second necessity (in my opinion) is the pale, plank floor. The white pine is naturally so gorgeous that it seemed like a shame to cover it with any stain. After long research, Sebastienne (she is so good at that…) found OSMO polyx-oil, which is a natural oil stain from Germany. It is a hard wax, which means that it penetrates the wood rather than staying on the surface, and then hardens. Sebastienne also contacted the company to ask which color combination would preserve the raw wood color, and with that information in hand, we ordered a gallon and a quart of clear, matt-silk stain, and a sample of translucent white to help counteract the wet look of the clear.
The OSMO is supposed to not release any toxins, or anything unsavory at all, when dry, but while we put it on it smelled like turpentine, or something in that direction. Good ventilation is a necessity. We bought the special brush, despite that it cost $30, because we had read that it could get sticky if you did not apply it right. It was easy, though, as long as you applied it thin and really brushed it into the wood. If we saw any wet spots, we wiped them off with a rag. Something that also made a difference, is that we had used sticky, tacking cloths to clean the floors with beforehand, which helped get rid of any leftover sawdust. Once the second coat is dry, it gets lightly buffed it, and ta-da!
Once it was all done, we laid on the floor in our bedroom, soaking up the peaceful beauty, never wanting to leave. It gets harder and harder to go “home.” For our anniversary (3 years already!), we will spend our first weekend there, celebrating Midsummer’s Eve, which is second in popularity only to Christmas in Sweden. It will be a new experience to be in the house without working. To learn to love it through leisure. I am sure it will be lovely, we will build a maypole, decorate it and ourselves with flowers, eat pickled herring and salmon, and plenty of berries. I will feel very Swedish. Paradoxically, a label I do not really mind, after all.