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Simply Swedish

August 2017
Simply Swedish
PHOTOGRAPHER: 

Arriving from Sweden with all of their furnishings in tow, a Volvo senior buyer and his family settle in for their three-year stint in the Lowcountry 

In the entryway of Therese and Jacob Lenberg’s Hobcaw Creek home, a pair of white IKEA clocks hang side by side. The timepieces are identical, save a single detail: one is set to display local time, while the other marks the hour in the couple’s hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden. Situated above a clean-lined console adorned simply with a rotating arrangement of fresh flowers, the modern-meets-earthy installation sets the tone for the rest of the abode, a 2,800-square-foot rental the expats have made their own by imbuing it with their singularly Swedish style.

The two love Nordic design—so much so that when Jacob’s job as a buyer with Volvo brought them to the Lowcountry in 2016, they packed up every piece of furniture they owned, down to the last light fixture. “We have a lot of outlet adaptors,” Therese quips. A former fashion merchandiser now studying to be an interior stylist, she is particularly passionate about the clean lines, muted color schemes, and natural materials that define the Scandinavian aesthetic. “It influences me very much,” she says of this approach to decor. “In Sweden, you’ll see lots of bright woods; dusty pastels; black-and-white monochrome; and gold, copper, and marble details—all things I like to use in my home.”

The couple and their two children—Edith, age four, and Valter, age two—are here only temporarily, for a two- or three-year stint. But they refuse to spend that time in a house that feels provisional. “Some people would say, I don’t care, I’ll only be here for a few years, but that’s not for us,” Therese says. “Before we left, I even went out to the shops and bought some more Swedish styling things to bring.”

The lady of the house knows a thing or two about making a distant country feel like home: before meeting and marrying Jacob, her work in fashion took her abroad four times, including four months in China and a year in Australia. But this time, with two young children in the mix, the decision to begin a new life on another continent was a weightier one. When the opportunity arose for Jacob to transfer to Volvo’s new Berkeley County facility, he and Therese had just finished rehabbing a townhome near the beach in their beloved Gothenburg, a coastal metropolis with many parallels to Charleston. “Both are very old cities with many historical sites,” Therese says. “And like Charleston, Gothenburg is by the water; young people want to live there; and there are lots of nice shops, restaurants, and hang-arounds.”

As an added boon, the couple enjoyed living close to their parents. Still, the lure of a cross-Atlantic adventure was too great to pass up. “It was a big decision, but we never really thought about saying no—this opportunity comes once in a lifetime,” Therese notes.

Jacob had traveled to Charleston several times before. “He kept talking about this neat little place with summer all year round, and that appealed to us very much,” Therese says. Her first visit, though, was a whirlwind house-hunting trip, as they didn’t want to return to Sweden without signing a lease. The Hobcaw Creek abode didn’t immediately check all their boxes: Therese had hoped to find a home with a front porch, and she wasn’t originally thrilled with the yellow-and-green exterior. “Still, it did have many good features, like big windows and a back patio,” she says.

A year into their stay, the family is very fond of the place. “It is charming,” Therese says. “Now it reminds me of a Pippi Longstocking house with the yellow siding and all the doors and angles,” she adds, referencing Villa Villekulla, the fictional residence of the popular Swedish children’s book heroine.

No doubt Therese has warmed to the home in part because within it, she’s created just the sort of modern-yet-inviting interiors that Swedes are known for. Take, for example, the dining room, where a rustic bookshelf composed of collected wooden crates adds texture and contrast to a gallery wall populated with graphic black-and-white artworks. A white tablecloth, gauzy curtains, and simple blue-and-white rug round out the room’s sparse-but-welcoming vibe. The living room strikes a similar balance: candles sit in small pools of wax, evidence that the family recently enjoyed some hygee (pronounced “hoo-ga”), the Danish concept of slowing down, cozying up, and reveling in life’s little pleasures. A coffee table Therese made from old wooden pallets lends further warmth to another grouping of monochrome art and a bold striped rug.

Unsurprisingly, IKEA is a favorite source; Therese notes that designs from the affordable Swedish retailer can look elevated when mingled with handcrafted items and pieces from higher-end purveyors. “It’s all about getting a nice mix,” she explains. “If everything is IKEA, it just looks like IKEA, but when you mix it up, no one can really know.” For the Lenbergs, DIYs are an important part of that mix. Across from the IKEA clocks in the entryway stands a luxe-looking coat rack Therese crafted from copper piping purchased at Lowe’s. And in Edith’s room, the bed is covered with a patchwork comforter Mom sewed herself. The creative stylist-in-training mastered the art of sewing while attending a fashion-studies-focused high school, and she’s been crafting from her growing collection of textiles ever since. “Whenever I see a fabric I like, I buy it and keep it in my closet until I can use it,” she says. “I love working with my hands, so this DIY trend is really something for me.”

Perhaps the Lenbergs’ favorite space is the back porch, which they’ve outfitted in a way that’s true to form: a side table composed of an old electric spool keeps company with woven IKEA chairs, while a dining table draped in linen is set off by weathered wooden chairs and industrial farm lamps Therese spray-painted white.

Most nights, the family gathers here for a simple meal of grilled fish or meat paired with fresh produce from the farmers market. Swedish winters are famously long, dark, and brutal, so they cherish these alfresco moments. “We don’t have this opportunity in Sweden because of the weather, so every night we can sit outside—either with guests or just by ourselves—will be remembered,” Therese says. “That’s the best, best part.”