Last week we spent five beautiful days in Denmark and one in Sweden. Now, I love Britain with all my heart, mind and soul, but Scandinavia constantly, patiently, gently, whispers for my attention. I have felt a deep connection with these northern lands since I first visited thirty years ago, and art, music, design, literature and personal connection continue to keep me in thrall.
The first things that overwhelmed me were the light and the colour. The light is not bright, but it is everywhere, it seems to radiate up from the street and pour from cracks in the pavement. It was raining nearly the whole time we were there, but still there was this soft, beautiful light. It finally dawned on me that it must come from the sea: Denmark is made up of hundreds and hundreds of islands, completely surrounded by sea, and is only ever gently undulating... no hills or valleys to catch or block the light. It is sea-light. And the colours... the colours are the colours of the sea, the sky and the shore... soft grey-blues, dove grey, softest pinky grey, taupe, charcoal, white blonde, ash, and white... so much white... beautiful white, full of every colour of light that exists. So monochromatic that even barely pigmented colour sings, but gently, softly, liltingly. I was in a personal heaven.
The next thing that took hold of me and pulled me inside out and back-to-front and practically left me breathless with longing and wonder was the innate sense of style that permeates from every door, window, garden, shop front and item of clothing. I felt like I had come ashore in a dream, stepped into a favourite magazine or fallen into the pages of a beloved book. It felt like me.
Personal style and interior decoration are the same in Scandinavia: natural, neutral, simple and soft, a mixture of beauty, comfort and practicality. All those lovely, muted, understated colours, exquisite attention to detail, respect for old buildings, warmth, light and a sense of calm. Simplicity. A sense of balance. No clutter, no chaos. And light.
Windows to exclaim over as you explore the pretty little streets: bowls of orchids, tiny succulents, my favourite houseplant known in Denmark as 'spots-in-the-air', little displays of collected treasures. Front doors which nearly always have welcoming green plants climbing up custom-built cast-iron supports. Elegance and simplicity.
Gardens, whether large or small, public or private, that have a real, tangible, sense of place. Open space with simple stone and evergreens. Nothing contrived or fussy. Sedums and succulents in carefully placed pots. And always somewhere to sit: everybody stays outdoors for as long as they can in the summer. Absolutely everyone has a very large square umbrella or awning so that they can still sit out if it's raining.
Loveliness and comfort in fresh, clear, wholesome things: dill, clear glass, aquavit, white, linen, lit candles, the sea, ryebread. Everything seemed to be done well, to somehow embody peace and purity, from the pouring of a glass of beer to elegant town planning and appreciation for historic buildings, to a properly integrated, modern transport system that runs to time.
Oh, and the sea. Did I mention the sea?
This last photo was taken at possibly one of the most breathtakingly lovely art galleries I have ever been to, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art just south of where we were staying in Helsingør. I spent nearly the whole time here in deep, happy tears, an almost spiritual experience of connection to the sea and the intensity of art, watching the misty grey-blue sea lapping at the shoreline as an Alexander Calder mobile sculpture flipped back and forwards in the breeze of an offshore storm.
Does all this make me sound a bit dippy? Because, it's probably time to own up that actually, I am.