Danish Pastel Decor: Appealing or Repellent? A Generational Debate
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Danish Pastel Decor: Appealing or Repellent? A Generational Debate

Lilac upholstery and pink mushroom lamps. Two editors, generations apart, debate a hot décor trend’s validity.

Fri, Aug 5, 2022 10:02amGrey Clock 3 min

AT A RECENT morning meeting, an editor at The Wall Street Journal’s Off Duty section brought up an interior design trend divisive enough to spur sleepy staffers into either visceral hostility or love at first sight. The style, known as Danish Pastel and currently populating TikTok and Instagram, riffs irreverently on Scandinavian and midcentury-design. The look maintains its antecedent’s simple shapes but replaces the restrained palette of neutrals and natural wood with pastels. Midcentury mushroom lamps pop up in lavender and sage. Accessories have googly eyes.

Off Duty section editor Dale Hrabi narrowed his gaze, resisting this “cute-ification” of a classic style. Meanwhile, assistant editor Nina Molina, a Gen-Zer, cooed over the cheerful colours and cartoonish kitchenware.

With battle lines drawn, the two asked designers for their thoughts on the trend, then returned to face off. Here’s how the debate, edited for clarity, unfolded.

Dale Hrabi: Within the Danish pastel spectrum, I can concede that some things have value, say Muuto’s Kink vase [below], but other stuff just seems ridiculous, like those vases with the faces on them. The Kink vase is a legitimately clever innovation and the color nicely underlines its playfulness.

Nina Molina: The Muuto vase is innovative and clever, but design doesn’t have to be that. It can just be stupid and fun. I think a lot of Danish pastel is about the emotional reaction you get out of seeing those objects in your room.

DH: But it’s like living in a world where the only things to eat are coloured mints or pink fudge and you’re missing out on all the more complex, dimensional flavours, like savoury brisket and kimchi. What do you like to eat? Are you a sugar addict?

NM: I do love sugar. I need to have a little bit of sugar every day. My whole family has sweet tooths…sweet teeth?

DH: But notice you said “a bit.” An interior designer in Denver, Julie Brayton, said she could see using one or two elements from the trend to add a little irreverence to a room. And Munich blogger and editor Karoline Herr [whose home office is shown above] says a pastel statement piece, like a couch, can give an otherwise neutral modern space just the right amount of edginess.

NM: Those Togo chairs remind me of roly polies, too bug-like.

DH: Do you know what I like about them, though? They’re kind of ungainly and look like rumpled Shar-Pei dogs. Do you know the French term “jolie laide?” It literally means “pretty, ugly.” Put Togo chairs in pastels and they become jolie laide. Not too cutesy.

NM: I love that. It’s like when someone is unconventionally attractive, it makes them more approachable. So maybe the ugliness is the edginess?

DH: You need some edge in life to make things interesting. Take the trend’s checked rugs. They are the only point of rigour in this otherwise blobby, gooey world. I think interior design needs rigour and, you know, aesthetic ambition even when it’s playful. Speaking of which, I feel really sorry for Matisse. The poor guy’s been dragged into this.

NM: That’s funny because Chay Costello, the associate merchandising director at MoMA Design Store, was glad young people have adopted Matisse, who’s been on the walls of MoMA practically since it opened in 1929.

DH: I’m also kind of offended that Danish and Scandinavian design has been co-opted so cartoonishly. It’s like taking opera—something culturally advanced and pure—and rerecording it with kazoos.

NM: That’s so horrible, Dale! Chay says there’s a boldness to Danish pastels, that it takes bravery to embrace colour. No one questions a grey or beige interior, but it’s also not very exciting.

DH: I’m wondering here: Am I too uptight about being sophisticated, as someone who came from provincial Canada to New York City? Maybe I hide behind very socially approved notions of sophistication—neutral colours, clean lines—and am inhibited in a way you and Chay are not.

NM: Chay mentioned that the pandemic changed people’s relationships to their homes. If these are my four walls, how do I make them more pleasing? If you lighten a dark blue room a few shades to pastel, wouldn’t it be more comforting? Pastels remind me of the animated TV show from the early 2000s “Dragon Tales” and of Studio Ghibli movies like “My Neighbor Totoro.” I associate them with good times.

DH: Interesting. I associate them with Strawberry Shortcake, that super-shrill cartoon character. But I agree. The world is very grim now. Maybe if I were just starting out, with an uncertain future, I would reach for this kind of immersive “happiness.”

NM: Danish pastel has a fun and bubbly personality, and I like its silliness. It’s OK to embrace the sweetness.

Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: August 4, 2022.


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Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

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A water lily painting by Claude Monet of his Giverny gardens is expected to achieve at least US$65 million at Christie’s November sale of 20th-century art in New York

Le bassin aux nymphéas, or water lily pond, painted around 1917 to 1919, is a monumental canvas extending more than six-and-a-half feet wide and more than three-feet tall, that has been in the same anonymous private collection since 1972. According to Christie’s, the painting has never been seen publicly.

The artwork is “that rarest thing: a masterpiece rediscovered,” Max Carter, Christie’s vice chairman of 20th and 21st century art said in a news release Thursday.

A first look at this thickly painted example of Monet’s famed and influential water lily series will be on Oct. 4, when it is revealed in Hong Kong.

The price record for a Nymphéas painting by Monet was set in May 2018 for Nymphéas en fleur, another large-scale work that had been in the collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller. That painting sold for nearly US$85 million.

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