Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Finding Scandinavia in Kathmandu

Disclaimer: I was not always into Scandinavian design, and I am by no means an expert on it. My parents were more Chippendale than Saarinen, and they designed our family vacations around visits to historic homes from tidewater Virginia to colonial Massachusetts. A taste for the traditional therefore infused my design sensibility for the first few years of my early adult life; I really knew nothing else.

But I was never one for stuffy old stuff, and I always gravitated towards fresh, bright colors -- they make me happy, and they keep things from looking too serious. More and more, I started to admire designers who incorporated a mix of old and new, traditional and modern. Remember the now defunct Domino Magazine? I could easily have climbed into those pages and made a happy home.

My urban planning schooling and world also began to turn me onto modern, more industrial design. Painted concrete floors. Small but airy spaces. Lots of light. Natural wood mixed with gleaming metal.

Like every good urbanite who fancies a modern aesthetic, I requested one Christmas a subscription to Dwell. I even sought out back issues while drinking Intelligentsia Coffee at the Coffee Studio, a case study in minimal design located in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood, which has a Swedish history.

All urban yuppie cliches aside, I really did fall in love with the simplicity of more modern designs, especially those that have emerged from Scandinavia. Don't get me wrong -- I have not forsaken the traditional stuff entirely, and I will always love some family antiques, not only for beauty but also for sentimentality. At the moment, though, all of these things are piled high in a Michigan basement, so my thoughts turned elsewhere when considering our apartment in Kathmandu.

With its perfectly small size, white-washed walls, and airy windows, our new flat seemed like the perfect place for putting some more modern design inspirations into practice. Minus the gray industrial carpet (sigh) and that camou-inspired bathroom tile, the apartment was a great blank slate. I could easily and happily envision the style of any one of these rooms in our new place.

Except that this is, after all, Kathmandu. No IKEA here. If anything, furniture here trends towards the heavy, carved, upholstered variety -- like The Real Housewives of New Jersey gone even more wrong.

So we envisioned getting some custom pieces made because we figured it would be economical in Nepal -- namely a sofa, desk, and tables. I scoured the web for images of furniture, and we even photographed a sofa at the Summit Hotel because it seemed perfect. We soon tempered our expectations, though, when we learned that wood is relatively expensive, even though labor is cheap. What now?

Then the unthinkable happened. Someone advertised a moving sale on the Kathmandu Kathmandu Google group, and a sofa answered our prayers. The sellers had gone through a lot of work -- and expense -- to have this piece custom made several years ago, but now that they were leaving the country, they had to leave it. And we happily took it -- for about $35.

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I love its straight lines and dark wood, which provides a nice contrast to the white walls and bright colors throughout the room. I had to have the cushion custom-made, but that was a shockingly easy and fast project, as were the solid silk coral pillows.

I picked up the ready-made blue and white pillow covers -- which I could envision in a Marimekko world -- at Dukhuti, one of our favorite fair trade stores in Kupondole.

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Then I added some more geometry with these striped mugs.

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I found them at Mahaguthi, another fair trade store in Kupondole.

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The striped mugs are currently serving as corner decor, but maybe eventually we will use them as pencil holders. What do you think?

For now, though, we have no real use for pencil holders because we do not have a desk. This set-up is our stand-in for the moment.

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I bought the handmade paper boxes (also known as our filing cabinets) at Mahaguthi and the little wooden calendar at Dukhuti.

Some of the details are filling in, but we still have a few bigger things to figure out. For now, our tin storage box is doing the trick as a makeshift coffee table -- and also lending a little industrial touch.

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But I am dying for a white, square Parsons coffee table like this one. What do you think, friends? Should we just keep the tin box and save ourselves the trouble and money of having a coffee table made, or is the box too small for the big room and long sofa?

For the desk and dining table and chairs, we don't know what we will do. Unless we get lucky with another great moving sale, we will probably have to get them custom made, perhaps using metal for both, since metal is apparently a lot cheaper than wood in Nepal.

Comments, suggestions, and brilliant ideas welcome. 75th and Sedgwick, I'm looking at you! Consider this our official request for your Phone-a-Friend advice.

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