Design Definitions: Gustavian Style

We both love perusing design books and have paged through several lately that refer to “Gustavian” style.  It’s a phrase we’ve passed over without really stopping to think about what it means.  It’s clear from the context that it refers to a variant of Scandinavian style–one less minimal and modern than what we’re used to thinking of as “Scandinavian.”  So we thought it would be interesting to dig a little deeper and find out where Gustavian style came from, and what it really means.

Let us just take a second here to say that we’ve had so much fun thinking about Gustavian style and doing a little research about it that we’ve decided to create a semi-regular series on RHW  called “Design Definitions.”  For each one we’ll take a closer look at those design words we see all the time but, if pressed, would have a hard time giving a clear definition for.  Like just what is the difference between Art Deco and Art Nouveau?  We’re excited to find out!

Now, back to Gustavian Style.  Turns out the style arose from a trip King Gustav III of Sweden took to France in the 18th century.  He was so inspired by Versailles that he decided to imitate elements of it in his own palaces, but with a Swedish interpretation.  The style is characterized by a whitewashed palette, bare floors, carved-legged and often painted furniture, and sometimes sparkling chandeliers or gilded mirrors. These first two pictures show the soft, pale colors indicative of Gustavian style.  Except for the floors, all of the wood is painted or washed with a light color.

These children’s rooms embrace the white-on-white-on-gray Gustavian palette but are still fun and whimsical, with plenty of room for imagination.

Peek at the comments on Apartment Therapy on any given day and you’ll find an almost unanimously vitriolic response to painted furniture. Ol’ Gustav III would have probably been raked over the coals for his obvious love of furniture washed in pale colors.

Gustavian style embraces intricate detailing–we think it’s a nice break from the more austere mid-century look that has been dominating the design world.

Another thing that researching Gustavian style led us to was learning a bit about the Swedish Mora clock. These clocks are omnipresent in Swedish homes (the ones pictured in design books anyway), and also hail from 18th century Sweden.

Here are a few rooms that have a modern take on this classic style:

What do you think about this style–is it too shabby chic, or are you a Gustavianite? We love to hear your thoughts! Come back on Wednesday for a little crafty update to Mera’s bathroom. Thanks!

12 responses on “Design Definitions: Gustavian Style

    1. k80bennett

      I hear you! The books say the pale colors work well in the dark winters of Scandinavia, but it would be pretty flat and cold I think here in gray Oregon.

  1. Katy Gilmore

    I like Gustavian style (I better stay out of Apartment Therapy chat rooms because I also really like a piece of painted furniture now and again). And like Laura I want the colored version of Gustavian – like Carl Larsson paintings – with patterned wool rugs. Most of all I love these posts – so great to have the Mera/Katie smart mind meld applied to analysis of these oft-heard but not always defined terms!

  2. Carol Crump Bryner

    I’m glad that you’re going to explore these different styles. I am also fond of paint-washed furniture, and love the examples you’ve shown here, especially that blue clock. I remember my grandfather “whitewashing” the kitchen walls, and also Emily Carr talking about “calcimining” the walls in her house. It gave a soft look to the walls and covered a multitude of wall flaws. But Carl Larsson is the person I (like Katy) think of when I think of Swedish style. Thanks for this great post!

  3. Emily Wignall Design

    love, love this style! i think it’s very calming and also respectful of the past. i know it’s not popular to paint furniture on apartment therapy, but I really love the way it can accentuate the small details of a piece of furniture!

  4. y2knina

    It does look a bit shabby chic, but definitely more chic than shabby. I’m not sure what I think of it as a livable style for me (well, yes, I do, it’s far, far away from my style) but I do find something really compelling about it. Maybe it’s just these spectacular photos. Some of the pieces looks incredibly uncomfortable, yet somehow draw me. I want to look, but not touch?

    Love the idea for the new series, btw.

    1. k80bennett

      It must be the quality of the pieces that keeps it from veering shabby. I have a pretty strong aversion to intentionally distressed furniture, but these just look like they’ve worn with time. Glad you like the series idea!

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