A Swedish friend once shared with me that Swedish summers are amongst the best in the world—particularly while enjoyed in the Stockholm archipelago. Barring the obvious subjectivity of the opinion, it’s hard to dispute that viewpoint while seated on the porch of a Swedish summer house, sipping rosé Champagne and nibbling grilled wild chanterelles, freshly-picked that morning and served on toast points. Yes, indeed, nothing like Swedish summer.

Comprised of more than 30,000 isles, the Stockholm archipelago is where numerous Swedish people keep summer houses that have been in their families for generations—and it was at one such summer house that I first discovered the essence of Stockholm design.

On a Sunday morning in August, we cruised on a classic ferry from Stockholm harbor into the archipelago, once populated largely by fishermen and farmers and now home to more than 50,000 summer houses, an abundance of which are red-painted cottages. Swedish artists such as August Strindberg and ABBA have sought creative refuge in the archipelago—and in the calm of a summer Sunday, it is easy to understand why.

At the red-painted summer house of my friend, a dog greeted us as we crossed the lawn. From the porch, a waterfront view opened before us. Inside the house, which had belonged to the same family for three generations, hand-painted furniture in Gustavian pastels was complemented by bright textiles and fresh flowers. It was the sort of home where every piece of furniture appeared to hold a story of summers past: of laughter and late white nights spent skinny-dipping in the bracing waters.

What I learned about Stockholm design during that day was in keeping with the Swedish policy of allemansrätt (or “everyman’s right”) that enables everyone the right to anchor or traverse any terrain not directly in the vicinity of private buildings. A policy that provided us with those fresh chanterelles—and one that feeds into the democratic spirit that fuels the egalitarianism and functionalism of Swedish design.

The best of Stockholm design stems from the tenet that mixing the old and the new forms a timeless elegance that rewards the eyes as well as the soul. In other words, you want to sink into the atmosphere and adopt it as yours. That’s what happened that August afternoon in my friend’s summer house in the Stockholm archipelago: I felt immediately at home, welcomed into the family.

Something similar happens when you walk into Mälarpaviljongen, the verdant floating oasis on Lake Mälaren that reveals a great deal about Stockholm’s design aesthetic. Situated on three pontoons along the lakeside promenade Norr Mälarstrand, Mälarpaviljongen is far more than merely a waterfront restaurant, bar, and lounge—and functions equally as a beloved seasonal seaside resort that celebrates the Stockholm design for living in the peak of summer.

Accessible via footbridge, Mälarpaviljongen’s original 19th-century wooden open-air pavilion remains nestled at water’s edge amidst a grove of willow trees. For a truly enchanted evening, a dinner within this classic Swedish summer house festooned with colored lights and candles and jars of wildflowers offers a bird’s-eye view of the intersection of Stockholm design and the joy of life. Mälarpaviljongen is particularly festive throughout Stockholm Pride when the entire 700-seat haven bursts into rainbow color—a reminder that family in Sweden is all-inclusive.

Throughout Stockholm, numerous well-designed spaces serve as exemplars of the city’s pervasive design savvy. Soon after receiving a gift from Svenskt Tenn from my friend with the summer house, I wandered into what has become Stockholm’s most celebrated design authority. Founded in 1924 by an art teacher named Estrid Ericson, Svenskt Tenn defines Swedish design through the prism of art, altruism, and sustainability, with all profits donated to various fields of research.

Working with the Austrian architect Josef Frank (who bequeathed more than 2,000 furniture sketches and over 150 textile designs), Ericson inaugurated a new chapter in Swedish design that softened the tenets of functionalism through the use of boldly-colored textiles and bright patterns, mixed with objects found at flea markets and along the shore. The sophistication was in the mix—and as one professor of art wrote, “Svenskt Tenn [is] a detailed dream version of a way to live.” On the upper level of the store on Strandvägen, Svenskt Tenn’s Tea Room overlooks the bay, further fueling inspiration for the adoption of Stockholm design in one’s own life.

Equally alluring is the aptly-named Ett Hem (Swedish for “a home”) situated in a leafy enclave of Östermalm in central Stockholm. The four-story manor house operates as luxury lodging for guests who relish a contemporary take on the late 19th-century Arts & Crafts style as depicted in the works of Swedish artist Carl Larsson and his wife Karin, the celebrated interior designer. Ett Hem’s owner worked closely with designer Ilse Crawford, founder of Studioilse, to create the atmosphere of a great house marked by casual elegance.

Returning to the archipelago, there’s the design-saturated Island Lodge located on a private island that was once a military outpost. Accessible via sailing yacht, the sylvan isle offers seven geodesic dome tents outfitted with Mille Notti linens, animal skin rugs on hardwood floors, and reading chairs beside a wood-burning stove—the very definition of “glamping” amidst the archipelago’s stunning natural beauty.

As our boat glided into a small cove, swans floated along the shoreline where the owners greeted us with glasses of Champagne. There were chanterelles and blueberries and oysters. Later in the evening, we gorged on crayfish as a blood-orange sunset blanketed the sky—at which point, it seemed that, here again, was the very essence of Stockholm design: the gracious spirit of hospitality infused by the elegance of place.


For more on Stockholm, check out www.VisitStockholm.com or follow the conversation at #VisitSwedenLGBT and #OpenToEveryone