I have a bit of a lifestyle crush on Entertainment journalist, editor and founder of brilliant online magazine Sweden with Love, Ulrica Wihlborg. Not only was she an award-winning LA-based journalist for several years (a place that I’ve always had a hankering to move to for a while – the orange trees! The sunshine! The ocean!), but she has since returned home to Sweden, a place that Natasha and I are ridiculously fascinated by (personally I blame it on a gap year spent with Swedish snowboarders, but that’s another story…).
Having moved from LA in 2012 where she had an incredibly successful career writing cover stories for People magazine, Ulrica, her husband and three children are now based in Karlshamn, “a small coastal town in the south of Sweden that hails from the 1700s, with a population of about 20,000 people”. Here, she tells us about life in Sweden, moving from LA and how she created her beautiful family home….
Why did you choose to move back to Sweden from LA?
Two words: my kids. I worked at People magazine in Los Angeles for more than a decade and loved my career. I experienced so many incredible things, and I felt very grateful for that part of my life. I knew I wanted to have a family, but I always thought I could have a career and kids and a healthy marriage. I am woman, hear me roar! So when I got married, I dove into motherhood with as much enthusiasm as an Olympic diver jumping off the springboard. The thing is, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Who does, right? By the time we welcomed our daughter, we had three children under the age of five. I was head over heels in love with those little humans, but I was way in over my head! I always tell my kids to do their best, no matter the circumstances. But at that point, I wasn’t able to give my best to anything. I wasn’t good at anything that mattered to me — motherhood, marriage or my career — and that’s not a fun place to be. I had to make a choice, and looking at those little faces, that choice was easy. We’d already bought a house (a two-storey home dating back to 1929) in Sweden a few years earlier, and my parents lived close by, so we thought it would be an amazing adventure for our family. Crazy, maybe, but crazy amazing.
What are the main differences between life in Sweden and California?
The toughest thing for me has been the weather. I don’t like the cold, and I don’t like winter. I love the feeling of always being able to be outdoors year round. There’s a lot of freedom in that, and I miss that freedom immensely. Honestly, the months of January through April are utter torture. I can’t seem to eat enough D-vitamins! On the other hand, my children live a lovely life here. There’s no freeway traffic. They’re always outdoors digging in the dirt or climbing trees. My eight-year-old son bikes to his football practice by himself. Yes, it still freaks me out a bit, but everyone does it!
THE DINING ROOM
Did it take long to find the house?
We actually bought the house two years before we moved, with the intention of living there in the summers when we were on vacation. It popped up for sale while we were there and I just thought it was so pretty. I love old houses, and this one had been carefully restored without losing its original charm. We had no idea we would actually live there permanently, so it was on the small side, but that made it a good exercise in downsizing.
What was your overall design inspiration?
I’ve always been in love with Kathryn M. Ireland‘s designs. To me, her interiors are the perfect mix of Europe and California: Her style is laid-back and lived-in, grown up and traditional, but always fun and interesting. I’d already collected a lot of fabrics by Kathryn, as well as Sally McQuillan of Raoul Textiles in Santa Barbara, and they were my starting point. Everything else had to match those fabrics!
Chair covers upholstered in Arcadia by Raoul Textiles; the 12-foot long sofa was made in LA and features cushions from Raoul Textiles, Rooms & Gardens and Cisco Home; the two square coffee tables are from Noir Furniture; the Moroccan pouf is from Rooms & Gardens and the sea grass rug from Pottery Barn. The antique chandelier was purchased at a local Swedish antique store.
The b&w image of Chateau St. Julien in France was taken by Ulrica. The antique Chinese prayer table is from Rooms & Gardens.
Was it hard designing the house whilst living in LA?
It was actually a lot of fun. And looking back, one of the best decisions I made was to design the house while we lived in LA. Moving across the world with three small children, quitting a career I loved, leaving some of my closest friends…there was so much change in a short amount of time. I can’t even explain the comfort and joy I felt when that container arrived from California. My parents, my aunt and my cousins came over and helped us carry everything into the house. We placed all the pieces in their designated spots, hung the curtains and shades, and unpacked all our dishes from our wedding registry. The whole house was beautifully furnished in a day with things I had spent a lot of time and love picking out. It was so wonderful to see it all just the way I had imagined, and it made me feel instantly at home.
Have you made any changes to the house since living there?
I haven’t really made any changes. I’ve picked up a few pieces from local antique stores, but in general, it’s exactly the way it was originally designed. I’ve grown to love everything that we brought with us, since I spent so much time choosing each piece and all the fabrics. And some of the pieces I bought when I graduated from college and got my job at People, so they are meaningful to me.
The bed linens is from Matteo Los Angeles and the cushion is upholstered in Raoul Textile’s Dominic fabric. The rug is from Calypso St. Barth’s; the two framed antique French botanical prints are from Aria Antiques in San Francisco.
Where do you shop for your interior finds?
Apart from Kathryn and Raoul Textiles, I love Rooms and Gardens in Santa Monica and Cisco Home in Brentwood. The Santa Monica Antiques Market usually has a nice collection of vintage fabrics and antique paintings. In Sweden, one of my favorite furniture stores is Frojd af Sverige, and I love to browse local antique and thrift stores for accent pieces.
AXEL AND GUSTAV’S ROOM
Axel and Gustav’s bunk bed features pillows made from seed sacks (also mounted on canvas and made into wall art); IKEA stepping stool painted in Farrow & Ball’s Clunch; the lamp shade and letter hook is from Anthropologie; IKEA votives are used as pencil holders.
How have you adapted your personal style to also be hard-wearing and child-friendly?
Everything in the house is washable, including the handknotted wool rugs, couch, chairs and pillows. I chose only natural materials, because they tend to grow more beautiful with age. There are no shiny surfaces anywhere! And I’ve painted the walls a cream white, so they’re easy to touch up or clean with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I want to have a grown-up home, and for my kids to love and respect their home. But at the same time we should all feel comfortable and cosy. And, I don’t want to freak out if they spill ketchup on the rugs!
How do you stop the house from becoming overwhelmed with toys and clutter?
We actually don’t buy a lot of toys for the kids. The only plastic allowed in their rooms are their Legos, so that makes it pretty easy. There’s not a ton of toys to buy that are made of wood! And the house is fairly small, so we don’t have a lot of room for storage. That makes it easier to limit the amount of stuff we bring in in the first place. My kids are also pretty young, so I can get away with more….for example, if I notice they haven’t played with a toy for a long time, I put it on a shelf in my own closet. If they don’t ask for it for two months, I donate it to charity.
Artwork by the boys; Axel and Gustav’s desk is market find painted in Farrow & Ball’s Lime White. The turtle school poster and metal lamp are Swedish.
The custom seating area with storage is upholstered in grey linen; cushions in Raoul Textile’s Patra fabric and the middle cushion is made from a 1940s dress Ulrica found at the Santa Monica flea market. The four framed photographs are polaroids taken by Ulrica at the Chateau St. Julien. Walls painted in Farrow & Ball’s Borrowed Light.