Friday, 15 January 2016

THE HOUSE THAT KARIN LARSSON BUILT


OBJECT OF THE WEEK

BY: NATANIA SHERMAN

Scandinavia is trending right now, in everything from architecture, travel and blogs to books with titles like “Nordi-Cana.” The concept of Scandinavian design is synonymous with clean lines, unique furnishings, a smattering of bright colours balanced with an unpretentious and liberal use of white space, all finished in natural materials, especially wood. The design aesthetic of Swedish furniture store, IKEA immediately comes to mind, but at the turn of the century before there was affordable pre-fabricated furniture, the concept of a Swedish style of design would have been radically different. Today’s object is a house decorated by a Swedish interior designer from the late 19th century named Karin Larsson. Karin, and her husband, the painter Carl Larsson, were trailblazers of Swedish design and the home they lived in embodies the principles of “Scandi-Cool.”

BW gården utomhus
Lilla Hyttnä, the Larsson family home (source)

Karin (nee Bergöö ) Larsson’s home, which is known as Lilla Hyttnäs, is located in Sunborn in Karin’s hometown in Sweden. The house, which is now a museum called the Carl Larsson Garden, was originally a small cottage that Karin and Carl Larsson converted into their family home. The couple met in 1883 at a Scandinavian artist’s colony located at Grez Sur Loing in France, and moved back to Sweden to marry and start a family. Carl Larsson went on to become a famous Swedish painter. Although she studied handicrafts at the Royal Swedish Academy of Arts, Karin gave up professional art and devoted herself to her growing family but she never lost her creative touch and domestic life became her medium of self-expression. The Larsson cottage, which was a gift from Karin’s father to the couple in 1889, was transformed by Karin’s innate design sense as she decorated almost exclusively with items that she designed herself.

Karin Larsson in 1882 (source)

The Larsson’s home, Lilla Hyttnäs, was a far cry from the Victorian style interiors that were popular in Scandinavia in the early 19th century. Larsson’s design choices broke with convention because she used motifs inspired by Swedish folk art traditions. However, Karin was not looking solely to the past for inspiration. Despite not being a professional designer, she took inspiration from contemporary art movements such as the Arts and Crafts Movement in Great Britain, and even the 19th century craze of Japonisme, when Japanese ukiyo-e prints started to become available for export to Europe. Her style combines naïve forms with clever minimalism for a décor style that is clean, modern and eccentric. Karin Larson's home was not merely an exercise in aesthetics. She and her husband both had very strong opinions about what their house should look like, and designed their home around their beliefs about health and domesticity. While the Victorian tradition was to separate children and adults, the Larsson children and their parents participated in family life as a unit, surprising their contemporaries by eating together the way we expect families to do today. The Larsson house was designed with this sense of family togetherness in mind.

A bedroom at the Larsson home featuring textiles made by Karin (source)

Larsson was primarily a textile artist, however she also designed her family’s clothing and furniture in addition to the tapestries and embroideries that adorn her home. If you can’t visit Lilla Hyttnäs in person, one of the best ways to experience Karin’s handiwork is through the countless watercolours by her husband, which showcase their domestic life. Carl Larsson’s family became his favourite subject matter later in his life. The images he painted reveal an idealized domesticity and surprisingly modern interiors that showcase the creative life of the Larsson children.

Karin Larson in the kitchen with her children from a painting by Carl Larsson (source)

For a long time, only her family and those who saw reproductions of her husband’s paintings knew of Karin Larsson’s unique design sense. However, in recent years, designers and institutions are publicly recognizing Karin’s contribution to the design canon. In 1997 IKEA sponsored an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled “Carl and Karin Larsson: Creators of the Swedish Style” The Larsson home itself is also living a second life, not as family home, but as a national heritage site. Images of Lilla Hyttnäs always surprise me, because the despite the lack of mod-cons and electricity, the interior spaces are so contemporary. The house is truly a testament to Karin Larsson’s vision and skill that her private home came to define a national style.

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