The Charm of Gustavian Style
The enduring appeal of the Swedish country style known as Gustavian lies in part with the combination of colors most frequently associated with the style. In part, as well, is the furniture style: unpretentious emulations of high-style European versions of the time period. Simple checked and striped cotton upholstery on chairs and bleached or whitewashed floors add to the equation.
The Gustavian period lies in the 18th-century, getting its name from Gustave III who ruled Sweden from 1771 to 1792. The furniture designs drew upon the neoclassical style sweeping Europe at the time, a style especially associated with Louis XVI of France. Economic circumstances in the Scandinavian country resulted in unpretentious versions of the European furniture it emulated. Even within Sweden the Gustavian creations played out at different levels of society, resulting in more simplified versions at the lower rungs of the economic ladder.
Gustavian furniture was typically painted in soft hues of gray, Swedish blue, or creamy whites. It’s the painted pieces, often worn and imperfect, that have enjoyed lasting appeal. The antiques can be hard to find, but some companies are creating masterful reproductions. (See resources below.)
A Gustavian settle, and an armchair and table, from a room by Carol Glasser and Katrin Cargill. (From House Beautiful. Detail of photo by Karyn R. Millet.)
A Gustavian settee in a room by Shannon Bowers. The trumeau is 19th-century. The stripe cushion fabric is Christian Liaigre linen for Holly Hunt; pillows are French muslin. (Source: Veranda. Photo: Peter Vitale.)
JoAnn Barwick, author of “Scandinvian Country”, created reproductions of Gustavian furniture. (Unfortunately her collection has been discontinued, but you’ll find other resources below.) The chandelier is Swedish style; “Every Swedish dining room has one”, says the former editor-in-chief of House Beautiful magazine and founder of Country Living magazine. Notice the use of checked fabric on the chairs.
The colors most frequently associated with Gustavian style are: muted, dusty grayish-blues sometimes with a greenish cast; soft blueish-gray; and creams and light beige or tan tones. Don’t be surprised, though, to find furniture pieces or fabrics in brighter hues.
The soft Swedish country palette grew from the need to keep interiors light during the short, sometimes murky winter days.
Interpreting and Mixing the Look
Swedish country colors of soft, pale gray, cream and light blue in sitting area of the home of antiques dealer Loi Thai.
Also from the home of Loi Thai, a 19th-century Gustavian secretary in apple green. Displayed above are 17th-century Dutch botanicals.
A Swedish tall case clock and floor mirror in the foyer of Loi Thai’s home. (The three images above are from Traditional Home. Photos: Erik Johnson.)
In a whiter and brighter room designer Alexandra Angle has used a country Swedish Gripsholm armchair upholstered in yellow checked fabric. (From House Beautiful. Photo: Victoria Pearson.)
Fitting In Among Other Styles
A white-painted Gustavian chair sits comfortably in a mix of antique pieces in a room by designer Jack Phillips. The room is lively with mix of pale to brighter blues. (Photo: Michael Partenio. Source: Traditional Home.)
The entertainment chest in this bedroom by designer Michael Carter is a reproduction piece from Real Gustavian. (Photo: Eric Roth; Source: Traditional Home.)
A Swedish chair, against the glass door, is part of the softly hued scheme in a bedroom by Jeffrey Bilhuber. (From House Beautiful. Photo: William Abranowicz.)
A pair of gilded and black-painted Gustavian chairs reside along side a mix of styles in a room with creamy wall color. The designer: Martha Angus. (The source: Traditional Home.)
Designer Lisa Luby Ryan has married a Gustavian dining table with a 19th-century French antique baking cupboard and chandeliers. The chairs are from Oly with chair-back fabric from Cowtan & Tout. (From Traditional Home. Photo: Werner Straube.)
As an example of the versatility of painted Gustavian antiques, a pair of Gustavian chairs and a sofa settee, both circa 1850, have been used in a setting with an Oriental rug. The designer: Julie Edelmann. (Detail of photo by Edmund Barr. From Traditional Home.)
Using the Color Scheme
Designer Thomas Pheasant has used soft tan and pale gray-blue in a foyer that features a Swedish tall case clock painted a muted blue.
In the home of Malene and William Waldron the softly hued walls, white-painted floor, and an 18th-century corner cupboard create a look that has a Swedish country feel. The chandelier has a Swedish look as well. The muted limeish-green tablecloth adds just the right punch of soft color. (Photographer: William Waldron. Source: Elle Decor.)
The pale gray hued armoire in this bedroom could be Swedish. The color scheme uses soft and muted blues and grays against a background of pale gray that seems to have a yellow-greenish cast. Gwen Driscoll designed the room. (Photo: Pieter Estersohn. From Elle Decor.)
Farrow & Ball Light Gray is the background color in the kitchen-dining area of Ina Garten’s “New Barn”. The cabinet in the Barefoot Contessa’s dining area is from Axel Vervoordt. Whites, creams, and soft tan in the dining area round out the color scheme. (Photo: Simon Upton. Source: House Beautiful.)
Mixing old and new, designers Jesse Carrier and Mara Miller have created a breakfast nook in those soft gray-blues and blue-grays. The elegantly draped window coverings contrast with the rusticity of the painted floor. (From Traditional Home.)
Brighter Variations on the Scheme
This vignette is charming and sweet. The light seafoam green of the damask wallpaper picks up the color in the antique trumeau and chair fabric. The colors are still muted, but without the gray effect. My guess is that the antiques are French. (From Southern Accents at MyHomeIdeas. Photographed by Roger Davies.)
For the Greystone Estate showhouse, Nathan Turner used various antique elements and a palette of blue and beige, with dashes of muted persimmon, to create a “Belgian aesthetic”. Elements in the look: a circa 1750 Spanish chair, an antique suzani fabric, and a softly striped Kilim on the window seat. Striped curtains in complimentary blue complete the sunny look. (Veranda is the source.)
Contemporary Takes on the Scheme
Frank Roop has created a contemporary room design using upholstery in soft grays, with accents of blue, against a background of light tan. The color scheme is well suited to a modern setting. (From Elle Decor.)
A subdued palette of cream and soft gray have been used by designer Eleanor Cummings to create a serene living area. Silk curtains play against the reclaimed oak floors. (This and the image below are from Traditional Home. Photos: Fran Brennan.)
An elegant seating area (of the living room above) features two needlepoint chairs, silk curtains, and a linen covered footstool. It’s a scene that takes us back in time.
And, that’s an elegant and serene place to end.
Some sources for Gustavian furniture, both antique and reproduction:
Dawn Hill Antiques. Specializing in 18th and 19th century Swedish and French painted antique furniture.
English Country Antiques and Home Furnishings.
Tone on Tone.
Nordic Style, Classic Swedish Interiors. Also has fabrics and wallpaper.
Real Gustavian. (see above for link.)
Country Swedish. Handcrafted reproductions. Fabric, wallpaper, and rugs.
A blog worth visiting:
Except for the ‘welcome’, I can’t read a thing on this blog (it’s in Swedish I’m sure), but it has great images of 18th-century country Swedish antiques: Master Henriks.
For information on European Neoclassical furniture:
An article in Art News.
(Unfortunately Wikipedia falls short on the subject.)
Publication sources for the images in this post:
Elle Decor. House Beautiful. MyHomeIdeas. Traditional Home. Veranda.