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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There was a time, not too long ago, when the most important must-have for would-be renovators was space. It was all about space to be together and space to be apart.

But as house prices increase across the country, the conversation has started to shift from size for the sake of it towards more flexible, well-designed spaces better suited to contemporary living.

For the owners of this 1920s weatherboard workers’ cottage in Fremantle, the emphasis was less on having an abundance of room and more about creating cohesive environments that could still maintain their own distinct moods. Key to achieving this was manipulating the floorplan in such a way that it could draw in light, giving the impression at least of a larger footprint. 

See more stories like this in the latest issue of Kanebridge Quarterly magazine. Order your copy here

Positioned on a site that fell three metres from street level, the humble four-room residence had been added to over the years. First order of business for local architect Philip Stejskal was to strip the house back to its original state.

“In this case, they were not quality additions,” Stejskal says. “Sometimes it is important to make sure later additions are not lean-tos.”

The decision to demolish was not taken lightly. 

“Sometimes they can be as historically significant as the original building and need to be considered — I wouldn’t want people to demolish our addition in 50 years’ time.”

Northern light hits the site diagonally, so the design solution was to open up the side of the house via a spacious courtyard to maximise opportunities to draw natural light in. However, this had a knock-on effect.

A central courtyard captures northern light. Image: Bo Wong

“We had to make space in the middle of the site to get light in,” Stejskal says. “That was one of the first moves, but that created another issue because we would be looking onto the back of the neighbouring building at less appealing things, like their aircon unit.”

To draw attention away from the undesirable view, Stejskal designed a modern-day ‘folly’.

“It’s a chimney and lookout and it was created to give us something nice to look at in the living space and in the kitchen,” Stejskal says. 

“With a growing family, the idea was to create a space where people could find a bit of solitude. It does have views to the wider locality but you can also see the port and you can connect to the street as well.”

A garden tap has also been installed to allow for a herb garden at the top of the steps.

“That’s the plan anyway,”  he says. 

A modern day ‘folly’ provides an unexpected breakout space with room for a rooftop herb garden. Image: Bo Wong

Conjuring up space has been at the core of this project, from the basement-style garaging to the use of the central courtyard to create a pavilion-like addition.

The original cottage now consists of two bedrooms, with a central hallway leading onto a spacious reception and living area. Here, the large kitchen and dining spaces wrap around the courtyard, offering easy access to outdoor spaces via large sliding doors.

Moments of solitude and privacy have been secreted throughout the floorplan, with clever placement of built-in window seats and the crow’s nest lookout on the roof, ideal for morning coffee and sunset drinks.

The house has three bedrooms, including a spacious master suite with walk-in robe and ensuite overlooking the back garden. Adjustable blades on the bedroom windows allow for the control of light, as well as privacy. Although the house was designed pre COVID, it offers the sensibility so many sought through that time — sanctuary, comfort and retreat.

Adjustable blades allow the owners to control light on the upper floor. Image: Bo Wong

“When the clients came to us, they wanted a house that was flexible enough to cater for the unknown and changes in the family into the future,” Stejskal says. “We gave the owners a series of spaces and a certain variety or moods, regardless of the occasion. We wanted it to be a space that would support that.”

Mood has also been manipulated through the choice of materials. Stejskal has used common materials such as timber and brick, but in unexpected ways to create spaces that are at once sumptuous but also in keeping with the origins of the existing building.

Externally, the brickwork has been finished in beaded pointing, a style of bricklaying that has a softening effect on the varied colours of bricks. For the flooring, crazy paving in the courtyard contrasts with the controlled lines of tiles laid in a stack bond pattern. Close attention has also been paid to the use of veneer on select joinery in the house, championing the beauty of Australian timbers with a lustrous finish. 

“The joinery is finished in spotted gum veneer that has been rotary cut,” says Stejskal. “It is peeled off the log like you peel an apple to give you this different grain.”

Rotary cut timber reveals the beauty of the natural grain in the kitchen joinery. Image: Bo Wong

Even the laundry has been carefully considered.

“The laundry is like a zen space with bare stone,” he says. “We wanted these different moods and the landscape of rooms. We wanted to create a rich tapestry in this house.”

The owners now each experience the house differently, highlighting separate aspects of the building as their favourite parts. It’s quite an achievement when the site is not enormous. Maybe it’s not size that matters so much after all.


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