The basic actions of everyday life ... cooking, eating and sleeping or sitting around doing nothing ... should be much the same the World over because, after all, as human beings, aren’t we all the same? We all need to cook, eat and sleep. But in reality, of course, there are lots of differences and for that we should all be grateful. Differences can come from vagaries of the regional climate; from appropriate use of local building materials; long-practiced local traditions; different ways of organising and accommodating a family and so on. What this means is that often how something is designed and made - even something that is ostensibly new and “modern” - can be very different from country to country and often things we take for granted as being the thing to do using the thing to do it with just isn’t.
The idea for this ongoing but occasional series of blogs is that often something is designed differently and looks different simply because people in the country where it is made, generally, do something in a slightly different way. It can be fascinating and useful to understand those differences - as any English people will know if they have ever bought bedlinen abroad without looking carefully at sizes and then found at home that it is awkward or impossible to fit a square pillow case on a rectangular pillow.
I hope readers will send in comments or ideas about the differences between the Scandinavian/Nordic countries and of course the differences between those countries and the UK in terms of their houses or their furniture and tableware.
To start the series rolling ....
Borgen, the Danish TV series, was remarkably popular here. Not remarkable for its quality, which was phenomenally good, but remarkable for just how popular it was here because until recently it was believed by TV executives that English audiences were not interested in foreign soaps and would not like having to read subtitles - fine for the art-house cinema but obviously not something English people would want to do at home - and we would not set aside two hours of our Saturday evening week after week. All, fortunately, wrong.
One letter to, I think it was, the Guardian, intrigued me. The writer questioned if the main character, Brigitte Nyborg, the Prime Minister of Denmark, would actually live in a house with a wide doorway between the bedroom and the living room and would actually leave the doors open. Well yes. Very possible.
In England doors between rooms are usually at the end of one of the walls so effectively in the corner of the room and are usually only 80 to 90 centimeters wide or (this being England) from 30 inches to 3ft wide. In many apartments in Sweden or Denmark and in many older houses the rooms are linked by wide openings with double doors. Admittedly this arrangement is found in England in grander houses in the 18th and 19th centuries when a whole line of rooms could be linked together en filade - more than anything to show just how many rooms you had - but is otherwise usually only found in smaller Victorian and Edwardian houses now where a front and middle room have been “knocked” together to form a larger living space. In Sweden and Denmark the business of linking rooms, particularly in apartments, means that you have a flexible space that can be opened up for entertaining or the doors can be closed in Winter to keep in the heat.
The other consequence from linking rooms with wide openings is that, generally, as in these apartments in Gothenburg, the decoration and flooring is taken through from one room to the next, creating flexible and unified spaces.
The photographs here also show another Swedish feature rarely found in the UK but I will leave it to another post in this series to write about the tiled stove.