A seating area adjoins the kitchen, with a Josef Frank sofa upholstered in Pierre Frey's ‘Shanghai’ fabric, alongside a number of other pieces by Josef Frank, including the red armchairs, round stool, floor lamp. The wooden coffee table is a 1940s Swedish design, and a vintage rug by Märta Måås-Fjetterström defines the area. At the back is a bar cabinet in elm burr designed by Marie-Louise, with a Picasso lithograph to the right. Swedish vintage wall sconces are installed on the left.It is difficult to imagine that anyone, faced with the graceful, soaring proportions of a 1914 Art Nouveau apartment in Stockholm, would respond by lowering the ceilings, installing spotlights and dispensing with the original floors and finishes. Yet these unsympathetic renovations happen just as frequently in the grand apartments of Europe's capital cities as they have done in London's classic Georgian and Victorian terraces. But the beauty of these buildings can never be completely concealed. When the interior designer Marie-Louise Sjögren began to hunt for “something remarkable” for her family in 2018, this was still clearly it.
Enviably located in Stockholm's Östermalm district, the top-floor apartment has beautiful views over the city and nearby Humlegården park. Marie-Louise refers to it as an ‘attic apartment', but while this might imply a distinct pokiness in England, the ‘Jugend’ style of the building translates to high ceilings and generous windows throughout–some floor-to-ceiling, others with dapper curved profiles. Nevertheless, it took a long renovation to bring the space back to its former glory. Having consulted the original plans for the building, Marie-Louise worked with an architectural studio to reconfigure the layout, reintroducing a corridor at the back that opens on to the bedrooms and bathrooms, and installing a kitchen in one of the three interlinked sitting rooms at the heart of the apartment.
Marie-Louise's design decisions have been sympathetic, yet not slavish. A concrete floor is laid in the entrance hall and hallway, its subtle finish lending a little modern edge among the oak floorboards in the rest of the house. The kitchen is another modern addition; what would previously have been a narrow, confined element of the apartment has been promoted to a prominent position in one of the three central rooms. A striking island in Portuguese Estremoz marble rises out of the centre of the room, while the rest of the units are designed to look like an extension of the flat's deep windowsills, while affording the occupants a birds-eye view over the street outside.
An arch around the windows in this space prompted her to add gentle arches in other rooms too; the corridor features an elegant vaulted ceiling and arched alcoves accommodate storage on either side of the bed in the main bedroom. There is also plenty of contemporary luxury in the main bathroom, which stretches across two rooms, with a sauna, a walk-in shower and an indulgent bespoke double vanity. The latter, like the bar cabinet in the kitchen, was made in a rich, warm elm burr in imitation of the designs of Josef Frank.
For the decoration, Marie-Louise chose a muted blue-grey for a ‘pale Scandinavian’ vibe, a marvellously subtle shade that barely reads as blue at all in certain lights, but gains more of the tone when seen next to the rich woods that feature on much of the furniture. “I was aiming for something between the classic Jugend style and that of the Swedish Grace movement,” explains Marie-Louise, and indeed the apartment walks a clever line between the feminine curves of the former and the spare, more discreet aesthetic of the latter.
Marie-Louise runs a furniture gallery in addition to her main interior design business, and sourced pieces for her apartment with an expert eye. There are plenty of 20th-century Scandinavian pieces, with an emphasis on Josef Frank, whose furniture designs she fell in love with while working at Svenkst Tenn as a student, and vintage Swedish textiles, including some by the renowned designer Märta Måås-Fjetterström. Occasional modern designs lend an urban sensibility, such as the Horse armchair by Magniberg that occupies a corner of the sitting room, and a striking plastic armchair that demands attention in the main seating area.
It might come as a surprise that this elegant, sophisticated apartment functions very well as a family home, but Marie-Louise is charmingly blasé about life there with three small children. “Yes, I wanted it to have the serene feel of a gallery,” she says, “but above all I didn't want it to be stiff or formal. We make sure it always feels like a home, with fires and candles burning everywhere for a sense of warmth," she explains. “And the children ride their scooters all over the floors, they are quite happy.”