Bored with Monochrome? Brighten up Your Scandinavian Interior with Folk Art

Rustic Swedish attic bedroom with rag rugs.

Today, “Scandinavian style” might be synonymous with great expanses of white and grey, but in the past it was anything but. Nordic folk art loves color. It’s bursting with bright shades of red, blue, yellow, and green and alive with flowers, birds, and other nature-inspired motifs.

A simple old Finnish living room
This living room inside a home in the Seurasaari Outdoor Museum in Helsinki is a little faded by time, but you can still imagine the bright blue, red and green. Pardon the blurry photo, it was quite dim in there!

If you’re starting to feel the monochrome minimalist look is a little lacking, folk art is the perfect way to add a splash of color while keeping with the Nordic design theme. Folk art also brings a comforting sense of tradition, continuity, and rootedness that gives a home that warm, inviting ambiance.

Scandinavian folk art has roots stretching back as far as the 15th century, and although each artform has waxed and waned in popularity, they never really go out of style.

Needlework

Northern Europe has a rich history of distinctive needlework, including textured Tvistsöm embroidery and the geometric patterns of huck weaving often found on kitchen towels from the 1940s. Floral patterns, birds, and scenes from everyday life are common motifs.

Vintage Swedish folk embroidery and other needlework isn’t particularly difficult to find or expensive, so it’s a budget-friendly way to give your home a little character.

For a subtle touch of folksy flair, try a single embroidered pillow mixed with monochrome ones the same color palette. A red or blue design on white cloth will fit in seamlessly in a modern home. Embroidered tablecloths and runners work well, too. And, of course, there are always wall hangings.

For a modern take on folk colors, check out Fram Oslo’s wool blankets and throw pillows. Their tastefully cheery designs are inspired by bunads (traditional clothing) from various regions of Norway and are produced in Grinakervev, Norway.

Dala Horses

Now one of the most recognizable and charming symbols of Sweden, the Dala horse started out in the 17th century as a carved, painted wooden toy from Sweden’s Dalarna province.

Its popularity gradually spread throughout the country and until it burst onto the international scene in 1939 when a giant Dala horse at Sweden’s pavilion New York World’s Fair caught the public’s imagination.

Bold red, blue, white, and black are the classic base colors, but these friendly horses sometimes show up in other shades and colors such as green and orange. Put one a shelf in the kids’ room, on the fireplace mantel or bookshelf in the living room or on the hall table. They look especially nice in pairs or groups of different sizes. Horses live in herds, after all.

As with any sought-after souvenir, fakes abound, but you can get a real hand painted, made-in-Sweden Dala horse from the Nils Olsson company, which has been making the horses since 1928. They also have Dala pigs and roosters. I’m a little sad they don’t have Dala sheep, though.

Rya Rugs

Known as the oldest type of Scandinavian rug, the cushy, shaggy rya wasn’t originally a rug. These heavy woolen textiles got their start in the early fifteenth century when Norwegian and Swedish sailors wove them as them less stiff, more washable alternatives to furs. By the late 17th century, the concept had moved into urban households where they were used as bedspreads and had taken on more intricate, colorful designs. They even enjoyed a period of popularity with the upper classes.

Older vintage ryas are out there, but they don’t come cheap. Thanks to the shag rug trend of the 1960s and 1970s, though, ryas from that time are easier to find and Rugs of Sweden has got you covered.

If shag rugs aren’t really your thing, the flat-weave trasmatta (rag rug) is a good alternative for bringing a little color to your wood floor. Woven from scraps of worn-out linens and clothes in limitless color combinations, they’ve been used as rugs since the mid-1800s and they’re still in widespread use today.

Rosemåling

Rosemåling, or “rose painting,” is the Norwegian art of painting elaborate, richly colored floral designs on wood. It’s traditionally done on boxes and tableware, but these days you can find it on all kinds of products, including pillows, ceramic mugs, and even in print form.

Originally painted during the cold, dark winter months, rosemåling motifs are often full of flowers, leaves and vines as well as scenes from Norwegian folklore that evoke the of spring. The Etsy shop Skandic has a nice little collection of vintage pieces.

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