I know Swedes love their cinnamon — the more the better — but still, the cinnamon roll at Cafe Saturnus is just silly. Reining in my tendency to exaggerate the size of baked goods, Saturnus’s cinnamon rolls — kanelbulle in Swedish — are almost the size of my face.
Parlsocker — white sugar pearls that are bigger than but not nearly so sweet as our sugar crystals — cover its top. Picking up the roll, my breakfast, to pull it apart, it weighs at least a pound. This kanelbulle could swallow a Cinnabon and still have room for a dozen Krispy Kremes.
Still, in 45 minutes, every last bite of the roll and parl of socker will be gone. This is because 1. it’s delicious, albeit bready, and 2. armed with a personalized map — “Dina’s design-shop guide” — made by the longtime friend I’m visiting, Elin, I’ve got serious shopping to do.
Seven months ago, I moved into a newly constructed home. Fairly contemporary, it has lots of glass and an exterior clad in black corrugated steel. The interiors are mostly finished, but I’d love a final few finishing touches, themselves perhaps touched with the simple, functional beauty of Scandinavian design. To find these, I’ve come to Stockholm and entrusted my search to Elin, a lifelong resident of Sweden’s capital city.
Stockholm’s design shops and Elin’s own fabulous style, a graceful mixture of modern Scandinavian with worldly whimsy, are worth flying across the ocean for.
My belly full of cinnamon roll, I walk around the corner to stop No. 1 on Dina’s design-shop guide, Plan Ett (Birger Jarlsgatan 32, www.planett.se). Pushing open the glass-paneled front door, I remind myself not to fall in love with anything big. Shipping something home is not in my budget. I need little-ish finishing touches: coasters, serving trays, a throw, decorative glass bowls.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t admire the clean-lined sofas from Finnish company Adea and the elegantly amusing lighting fixtures from Dutch company Moooi that Plan Ett carries. Directing my attention to one of her latest favorite items, a copper light by local designer Jonas Bohlin, store owner (and former clothing designer) Lisa Fredriksson apologizes for her poor English. I catch myself swooning, over both the lamp and Fredriksson’s definition of “poor English.” My Swedish is nonexistent, so it’s great that most Stockholmers speak wonderful English and seem to look for excuses to use it.
Time to focus on pieces I can actually buy: those that fit in a carry-on, or at least a well-padded checked bag. Thankfully, most of Plan Ett’s two floors are given over to items of modest size.
Tom Dixon is a British designer, but his Etch candleholders (they can fit in a purse) and shade pendants (they’d need a checked bag, carefully padded) are everywhere in Stockholm, from the entryway of Elin’s parquet-floored Functionalist flat (built in the 1930s and redone three years ago) to the moody main dining room at Beirut Cafe.
Plan Ett has Dixon’s pendants and candleholders in a variety of finishes. The latter are displayed beneath a nearly-life-size 3-D moose head. The moose is a puzzle made from pieces of Plexiglas. Also, it’s hot pink. Once the puzzle is finished, you need only find a wall to hang it on. If I didn’t already have a white resin moose head hanging in my guest room . . . .
Even though eight Ikea Bastis dog-tail hooks are in my entryway as coat hooks, Plan Ett has sculptural and simple round coat discs that tempt me. Arranged as Fredriksson has them, the colorful circles look like bubbles floating up the wall.
Two moose heads are too much for one house, but you can never have too many places to hang coats, right?
On the other side of Humlegarden — one of the many parks in the Ostermalm district, where the city’s design shops are concentrated and where most of the shops on my guide are — Nordiska Galleriet (Nybrogatan 11, www.nordiskagalleriet.se) is trouble.
The front two-thirds of its expansive main floor is dedicated to chairs, tables and sofas by such Scandinavian design stars as Hans Wegner, Ole Wanscher and Arne Jacobsen. (There’s also a basement with close-outs and a second floor dedicated to Fritz Hansen, the iconic Danish design firm founded in 1872 and whose catalogue today includes pieces by Jacobsen, Wegner, Kasper Salto, Piero Lissoni and Piet Hein, among others.)
NG also has modern classics from outside Scandinavia. Twenty feet inside the front door is a Sacco, the world’s first beanbag chair and one of the few beanbags to be beautiful in its shapelessness. Designed by Italians Piero Gatti, Cesare Paolini and Franco Teodoro for Zanotta in 1968, it’s in the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and would look great in most any living room — especially mine.
As much as it tempts me, NG simultaneously saves me. Price tags here don’t just include prices but also the name of the piece, its designer(s) and the year it debuted. Just the kind of information you need to do an Internet search.
While still in NG, I find a Sacco chair in the MoMA’s online store. Just in case I decide I can’t live without it.
Elin tells me not to miss the back third of NG. There are gifts perfect for my two two young nieces: Georg Jensen elephant piggy banks, Kenana Knitter Critters knit of homespun yard by women in rural Kenya, and the Liv Taklampa, which is a pendant light as much as it is a tutu. Thanks to those tags, I learn Liv was designed by Bohlin, the same Stockholm-based designer who did the copper lamp beloved by Plan Ett’s owner.
To soften the molded plastic seats of the Kartell Masters Stools I already have, Shepherd of Sweden makes short-hair sheepskin pads in a variety of colors.
There’s little upstairs in the Republic of Fritz Hansen showroom that’s not available in the United States. But, because the only Republic of Fritz Hansen showroom in the U.S. is in New York, far from my home, I luxuriate in a leather upholstered Egg — a chair designed in the late 1950s by Jacobsen for his Royal Hotel in Copenhagen — for longer than perhaps should be permitted. Two hours after a normal lunchtime, the morning’s kanelbullar has worn off.
It’s fika time. Also, since it’s mid-October, sunset is fast approaching.
Maybe even more important than design to Swedish culture is fika. Both a noun and a verb, fika means, respectively, “afternoon coffee break” or “to take an afternoon coffee break.” (Swedes rank third in the world for per capita consumption of coffee.) Whether using fika as a noun or a verb, implied is that some sort of sweet treat will accompany the coffee.
Since my breakfast was fika-y, Elin takes me on a pseudo-fika, replacing coffee with tea. Since I skipped lunch, she supersizes the snack part.
Afternoon tea is a British invention, but several of Stockholm’s hotels have embraced it, offering towers of scones, lemon curd, clotted cream — “it’s never as good outside of England,” Elin confesses — cucumber sandwiches and an assortment of other small bites accompanied by tea.
Overlooking the Royal Palace and Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm, Grand Hotel Stockholm doesn’t just host Nobel laureates when they’re in town for the annual mid-December award banquet, but also, year-round, the city’s most expensive and most formal afternoon tea. The hotel’s Cadier Bar has beautiful views of the harbor and setting sun. In winter, if you want a sunset tea, make reservations for 2 p.m.
It turns out the tea and its treats are too much to recover from. And Elin’s suggestions too numerous to hit in a single day.
Elin’s guide is my companion for four more days. H&M is a Swedish company, and Stockholm’s flagship store (Drottninggatan 56, www.hm.com/us) has a home department on its top floor. It’s exactly what you’d expect, except animals are printed (poorly) on everything. “I wanted you to see the diversity,” Elin says when I complain I didn’t find a single thing there.
You smell Zara Home (Birger Jarlsgatan 15, www.zarahome.com) before you walk in. Still, my nose manages to survive the scented-candle assault long enough for me to find white ceramic elk-head salt-and-pepper shakers.
Almost directly across Birger Jarlsgatan from Plan Ett, Norrgavel (Birger Jarlsgatan 27, norrgavel.se) wasn’t in Elin’s guide, but now that I’m recognizing local designers — or at least Jonas Bohlin’s lights — I’m confident enough to explore on my own. On the outside, it’s colorful. Inside, it’s Ikea meets Crate & Barrel, with fun throw pillows and its own take on the Dala horse, a symbol of Sweden you will see almost everywhere. Norrgavel’s Dala horses are rough-hewn and painted in matte black and matte white, making them more design-y than folksy.
Next to Norrgavel at Oscar & Clothilde (Birger Jarlsgatan 27, www.oscarclothilde.com, two plastic olive trees greet you. They’re a perfect representation of what you’ll find beyond: Cost Plus World Market meets Ethan Allen Goes to Tuscany.
Spend your time instead walking over to the Hallwylska Museet for a glimpse of Scandinavian design before it became Scandinavian Design. This palatial private residence was designed by the same architect as the city’s Nordiska Museet, Isak Gustaf Clason, and built in the late 19th century. The Hallwyl family’s winter home, the mansion was built without a thought to budget and with the idea that it have space to fully exhibit Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl’s extensive and eclectic collections.
The Hallwyl’s Scandinavian design and Wilhelmina’s opulent decor — the rooms today are exactly as she furnished them — give Versailles a run for its money.
A glass-front cabinet in the Hallwyl mansion’s great drawing room dates from the 18th century and once belonged to Pope Pius VI. Hanging on that room’s walls are 16th-century Brussels tapestries. In the smoking room is a 17th-century tortoise-shell and ebony cabinet-on-stand from Germany. Of course the countess’s collection of weapons and armor, which includes rapiers, executioner’s swords and a 15th-century Ottoman suit of armor, has its own room. I don’t think there’s an item in the house without serious provenance.
Her china collection has a dedicated room, too.
Because Wilhelmina’s collections aren’t random enough on their own, the museum also has a slice of Count Walther and Wilhelmina’s wedding cake in its collection. Also, a clipping from Walther’s beard. I do not do the guided tour (offered in English) and, sadly, am unable to find either of these items on my own.
Walking back to Elin’s — Stockholm has public transportation but is a wonderful city for walking — I do find my favorite cinnamon roll. Except it’s not a cinnamon roll.
Albert & Jack’s has a blueberry square. It’s nowhere near the size of Saturnus’s treats, which makes it possible for me to bring about one dozen of them home, packed tightly against the coat discs, all in my carry-on.
Mishev is the editor in chief of Jackson Hole magazine and the assigning editor of Inspirato. Her writing has appeared in Sunset, Outside and National Geographic.
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