In a land where weather has dictated design decisions, it’s telling that a favorite Swedish aphorism remains “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Which serves as a reminder to all of us to take responsibility for one’s own well-being amidst the reality of our environment. In other words, observe your surroundings; look to the sky and be visionary.
Evidence of this pragmatic ingenuity can be found throughout Sweden—and particularly on the idyllic isle of Skeppsholmen in Stockholm. For years, Skeppsholmen served as a base for various branches of the Swedish military, including the Royal Marines, many of whom were housed in a structure designed in 1699 by Nicodemus Tessin, Jr., the architect of the Royal Palace of Stockholm.
Originally built with materials from the ruins of Swedish castles—and thereby serving as an excellent example of 17th-century recycling—the “Long Row” of housing ultimately became a government-listed historic building. As a consequence of this listing, the design firm of Claesson Koivisto Rune embarked upon a meticulous renovation that preserved the building’s heritage while also enabling its evolution into Hotel Skeppsholmen.
Recognizing the import of weather on this historic isle, the design firm embraced the concept of fog and maritime influences as design catalysts for this project. A palette of sun-bleached pastels and pale grays complement the building’s wooden shutters and original stone staircases—and each room bears a plaque dedicated to the military member who claimed these walls as home.
What is particularly remarkable about this urban resort is the manner in which it is fully integrated into its surroundings. An oasis of art and nature, the isle of Skeppsholmen is home to several of Stockholm’s most notable museums, including ArkDes, Sweden’s national center for architecture and design, and Moderna Museet, alongside which Picasso’s recumbent sculpture Déjeuner sur l’herbe lingers on a lawn.
Hotel guests and visitors to Skeppsholmen share the verdant walkways that lead to a sculpture garden comprised of vibrantly colorful and kinetic works by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. In summer, the island is home to various festivals enlivened by food and drink. At water’s edge, just beyond Sweden’s very first tennis court (circa 1882), stands a 19th-century castle known as the Skating Pavilion where the King of Sweden hosted ice skating parties, complete with hot chocolate.
Should you pause at the waterfront along Skeppsholmen and gaze up the lawn beyond the tennis players toward Hotel Skeppsholmen, amidst all the activity, the people coming and going, it’s almost possible to see the Swedish equivalent of George Seurat’s painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte). Here then is an integral aspect of Swedish culture: the ability to foster an inclusive society through thoughtful design.
In a similar vein, whereby an historic structure has been transformed into a gathering place—or a Swedish variant of an agora—consider Hallwyl House, the erstwhile residence of Count and Countess von Hallwyl who created a Mediterranean palazzo in the center of Stockholm. The palatial domicile offers an encyclopedic window into Sweden’s Gilded Age, thanks to Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, an inveterate collector who catalogued every object in her 1898 mansion—from kitchen utensils to china, linens, art, furniture, weaponry, and Steinway pianos.
Guided tours in period dress enable a vicarious thrill of living amongst the von Hallwyl family—yet it is during the summer when Hallwyl House becomes most vibrantly democratic with the conversion of the palazzo’s interior courtyard into a convivial restaurant. Apart from the pleasure of dining amidst a Swedish palace, guests are witness to a broad cross-section of Stockholm’s populace—and the overall atmosphere evokes a grand house party hosted by the Count and Countess.
And finally, for one more example of the manifestation of Sweden’s policy of allemansrätt (or “everyman’s right”)—that subconscious reminder of every person’s self-worth and equality—head to the isle of Tjörn, an hour north of Gothenburg on the West Coast of Sweden. There, amidst a rugged landscape known for its Iron Age cairns and ancient stone circles, the sculpture park and heritage museum known as Pilane shares its rolling hills and boulders with grazing sheep. Each year, more than 60,000 visitors hike the hills dotted with the sculptures of contemporary artists. It’s not uncommon to see groups picnicking beneath massive horses or gigantic marble busts or a giant egg, another reminder that Swedish design functions at its best when it benefits all.
For, as any Swede will remind you, there’s no such thing as bad weather—not when you are thinking about the world around you.