The Nordic Track
Two design-minded Swedes think outside the white box to create a warm and inviting Scandinavian sensibility
In the modern parlance of design blogs and shelter magazines, the Scandinavian-chic rubric translates to spare spaces, streamlined furnishings, and a palette that vacillates between white, gray, and white. But there’s something more soulful on display in the carefully curated interiors at c/o the Maidstone, Jenny Ljungberg’s intimate hotel in East Hampton, New York.
“Most Americans think of Scandinavian design as minimalistic,” says the Swedish hotelier, who built a reputation on updating historic properties in her homeland before turning her attention abroad. “What I knew to be our special cachet and design style is much more eclectic, warm, and free-spirited than that. I wanted to bring all the beautiful things I had seen and grown up with to the United States.” So Ljungberg set her sights on the weekend escape two and a half hours east of New York City, purchased an aging inn at the center of town—a 19th-century landmark with clapboard siding and a columned veranda—and enlisted designer and frequent collaborator Nadia Tolstoy (yes, of those Tolstoys) to transform the 19 rooms with traditional materials, including fur, velvet, and wood.
To start, Ljungberg drafted a list of notable Scandinavians—everyone from Alfred Nobel and Hans Christian Andersen to Eero Saarinen and opera singer Birgit Nilsson. Each would serve as the decorative theme of the individual guest rooms. Tolstoy created vivid mood boards. “We were looking to create an atmosphere miles away from the cliché of Nordic design as cold and unapproachable,” says Tolstoy, who also incorporated staples such as Hästens beds, claw-foot tubs, and marble vanities. “For the same reason, we decided all the rooms should have patterned wallpaper that creates interest and helps tell each character’s story, and a visual language that was true to him or her without being too literal or predictable.”
Thus the Carl von Linné cottage—named for the Swedish botanist who laid the foundations for modern taxonomy—is a naturalist’s dream, with rustic furnishings, scientific illustrations and dried specimens of plants on the walls, and a serene woodland color scheme that conjures the feeling of sleeping outdoors. On the other end of the spectrum, the Edvard Munch room is moody and medieval—a fitting tribute to the expressionist painter behind The Scream. An intricate brocade pattern creates an ornate backdrop for opulent, gold-framed mirrors and blackout linens, and a somber pair of dome chairs features dramatic crocodile-skin upholstery.
Still, not all the decor choices are that obvious. “I have a soft spot for smaller rooms where the less apparent details are revealed gradually during your stay,” says Tolstoy. “There’s a table mirror in the Hans Christian Andersen room that has duck’s feet, referencing ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ and a giant matchstick light that’s a wink to ‘The Little Match Girl.’ It’s something you may not notice at first.” Likewise, snowflakes adorn the walls in the Roald Amundsen room, an homage to the Norwegian polar explorer, and scientist Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition to Polynesia is commemorated with a stylized palm-leaf motif.
But the hotel’s commitment to color and pattern finds its apotheosis in the Josef Frank room, a playful canvas of vibrant hues and competing nature-inspired prints. One of Ljungberg’s favorites: Notturno, a cobalt-blue fabric punctuated with cheery yellow lemons that covers a curvilinear settee beneath a bay window. “I’ve always loved Josef Frank’s prints—they were so ahead of his time when he created them in the 1940s,” she says. “I didn’t want to choose just one or two patterns that matched perfectly, but rather showcase them all in a daring, memorable design explosion.”
Those patterns also appear in the hotel’s public spaces: on tufted armchairs in the Living Room restaurant, ottomans that double as coffee tables in the reception area, and decorative throw pillows on the screened-in porch. Swedish antique woven fabrics and rag rugs served as another source of inspiration, and traditional elements—deer and cow hides, sheepskin throws, painted Dalecarlian horse statuettes—create a strong sense of place. “I think this intentional authenticity is a good approach to ensure that interiors age well,” says Tolstoy. Adds Ljungberg, “We wanted to make sure we captured the courageously bold, the vintage, the old blue-blood strain, as well as the homey feeling that makes up a truly successful Swedish home.”
Perhaps nowhere is that philosophy more apparent than in the hotel’s quirky name. Rather than simply calling the building the Maidstone, Ljungberg chose a sweet, somewhat forgotten address form as a prefix. “In the old days, Swedes would travel to Italy or the Alps in the summer and stay with friends for months on end. People who wanted to contact them wrote their name followed by c/o the family name. It meant that you were cared for and belonged somewhere.” It’s a fitting moniker for a place that wears its hospitality—Scandinavian or otherwise—on its sleeve.