Anne Interiors Interior Designer Glasgow UK

The Parisian-Scandinavian-Wabisabi Obsession (with 5 Mood boards)

Parisian Scandinavian Wabi-sabi
Light Neutral Moodboard

Table of Contents

Just as the world of interior and architecture continue to evolve throughout history so does my design style inclinations. I know I have always expressed my love for the Scandinavian aesthetic but the truth is my preference shift every so often. However, I find that it always gravitates across these very distinct styles that share some common characteristics to each other—these are the Scandinavian, Japanese (wabi-sabi) and Parisian styles.  I notice that whenever I see inspirations with a successful blend of these three, it makes my heart flutter.

Maybe because I am Asian, I have a special affinity to the Japanese aesthetic, particularly to the use of natural materials specifically the rustic wood elements, paper and straw and the yearning for tropical air. But the old European vibe very much appeals to me as well—its interior architecture in particular. Perhaps the history of art and architecture courses at university truly impressed on me.

It is the cross between these two distinct culture and heritage that turns me on. The marriage of clean, functional minimalist with vintage rustic glam. Before I get too carried away, let me discuss these three styles in more detail to help you understand where I’m coming from.

History of Interior Architecture

Because we will be looking into interior design styles, the focus of this history discussion will be in the evolution of interiors. I feel the need to discuss a bit of architecture history in order to paint a picture of how these design styles came to be and to better appreciate the characteristics that we now behold.

What influenced French Interiors?

The classic French style dates back to the Renaissance (1400s) that started in Italy. A deviation from the church-centeredness of Gothic architecture in the Middle ages, Renaissance architects pursued symmetry and proportion. It is the age of “rebirth” that looked back to the Greek and Roman “classical” period. It marked a shift toward innovation and dissemination of knowledge to the masses rather than through the church and this carried through to Baroque and Rococo architecture of the 17th to early 18th centuries.

Gothic vs Renaissance

GOTHIC interior
Basilica of Saint-Denis, Paris

Gothic emphasizes on verticality enhanced by the wide use of ogival arches (rounded arches with a pointed tip) symbolic of “pointed to heaven”.

RENAISSANCE Palazzo_Strozzi_giovanni sighele
Photo credit: Giovanni Sighele

Renaissance featured more Romanesque forms (building a home around a courtyard, for example), often based around circles and rounded arches instead of the vertical.

Baroque and Rococo

However, Baroque and Rococo are distinctly more theatrical, ostentatious and evocative compared to the Renaissance. While Baroque originated from Italy and characteristically ornate, extravagant and masculine, it culminated in Rococo (also called, Later Baroque) that developed in 18th century Paris and while still elaborate, it is classically more feminine in comparison to Full Baroque.

Follow this link for an extensive comparison of Baroque and Rococo styles.

BAROQUE St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Malta By A,Ocram
St. John’s Co-Cathedral, Malta By A,Ocram

Baroque was deeply emotional- darker dramatic and theatrical with bold, contrasting colors. All those shadows and curves created a sense of movement and a powerful impression. It was an attempt, through architecture, to pull people back to the Catholic Church.

ROCOCO Hôtel de Soubise_DavidCPhillips
Hôtel de Soubise_by DavidCPhillips

Rococo is light, playful, airy, and decorative introducing whites and pastel colors with delicate gilding. 

Neoclassic

And then another reaction to the Baroque and Rococo excesses led to the Neoclassic style (late 18th to 19th century) . While still grand in scale with dramatic columns referencing to Greek and Roman detailing, it has simpler and more geometric forms. Predominantly Palladian type, inspired by the villas of 16th-century Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, who was himself inspired by the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome.

NEOCLASSIC Pantheon_interior
Pantheon_interior in Paris Photo by Tom Bricker
NEOCLASSIC Jacques-Germain Soufflot's final plan of th Pantheon de Paris
Jacques-Germain Soufflot's final plan of the Pantheon de Paris

Haussmannien - the quintessential Parisian Style

This leads us to the Haussmann architecture— the quintessential Parisian style of the 19th century architecture. This style is very much influenced by the mixture of Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassic.

Haussmann architecture Photo by Tom Alphin ©Microsoft Corporation
Haussmann architecture Photo by Tom Alphin ©Microsoft Corporation
Haussmannien Interior-photo by SOFIA OLIVEIRA
Haussmannien Interior-photo by Sofia Oliveira

Classic British Architecture

Just a segue to Classic British Architecture before I proceed:

Since I live in Britain and it is also relevant to our topic on classic architecture, I feel I have a responsibility to give a brief discussion on Britain’s Classical architecture history (namely Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian) as some of my local readers might be curious to find out how their homes relate to a specific period in the history of the world of architecture.

On that note, it is an interesting phenomenon that while British history moved forwards, its architectural style moved “backwards”. By backwards I only mean what classical period influenced them, specifically:

 

Georgian and Regency Architecture (1714-1837)

Roman-inspired Palladian style architecture which is Neoclassic. Best examples are the houses in Downing Street. Photographed below are the exterior and interior of the House of the Prime Minister at No.10 Downing Street.

GEORGIAN no-10 Downing St Architecture
GEORGIAN no-10 Downing St Interior_photo by Historic England
Victorian Architecture (1837-1901)

Revived the Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles, or also called ‘mock Medieval’ aesthetic. Ornate and extravagant with lots of lancet (pointed) elements in its architecture. Indeed, the Victorian age was the height of the British empire.

VICTORIAN Houses of Parliament_photo by Guilhem DE COOMAN
Houses of Parliament_photo by Guilhem DE COOMAN
Victorian Gothic Blackmoor-House_via Sotheby's
Victorian Gothic Revival style Blackmoor-House_via Sotheby's
Victorian Gothic Blackmoor-House interior_via Sotheby's
Victorian Gothic Revival Blackmoor-House interior_via Sotheby's
THE “GINGERBREAD” HOUSE

Did you know that the gingerbread house is a typical Victorian house? Victorian builders used “gingerbread trim”, sometimes referred to as Carpenter Gothic—fancifully cut and pierced frieze boards, scrolled brackets, sawn balusters, braced arches and gable trims—to transform simple frame cottages into one-of-a-kind homes.

Gingerbread house in Argyll Scotland
Gingerbread house in Argyll Scotland
Edwardian Architecture (1901-1914)

Influenced by Baroque, Georgian and the Arts and Crafts movement. Typical house design styles were Tudorbethan (mock-Tudor), Neo-Georgian (classical revival yet again!) and Edwardian eclectic.

Edwardians gave rise to ‘suburban living’ due to rapidly increasing populace and new railways. So homes became larger on leafier plots of land and shorter compared to Victorian. 

The middle classes who lived in these homes had less of a need for servants so cellars and the second floors have disappeared, but in came larger halls and spacious gardens.

However, the Edwardian period came to an abrupt end with the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Edwardian home exterior
Edwardian home exterior
Edwardian interior
Edwardian interior_via Houzz

Did you notice something?

Late Georgian (Regency) and Haussmann architecture have very striking semblance especially in their referencing to the Neoclassic (Palladian) style. The only difference is Haussmann has a more pronounced and abundant balcony ironworks taking advantage of the height of the industrial revolution of that period. 

Haussmann Architecture Paris
Haussmann Architecture Paris
Victorian Oxford-Street-London
Oxford Street London

If you are interested to read more about these elaborate classic styles here are the links to some informational but enjoyable reading on Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassic, Haussmann, and Britain’s classic architecture.

So that’s so much about the history of what influenced the Parisian style we know today. And for the purposes of this post, it is the Parisian Haussmann and Classic British Interior Architecture styles that have drawn me into this obsession.

Scandinavian

To continue, to a certain extent, a part of it (Renaissance and Restrained Baroque) travelled to Northwest Europe through the North German school of Lübeck and influenced Scandinavian architecture— the Great Castle-building activity in particular—instigated by the Danish and Swedish rulers of the 16th to 18th century.

That is probably why we find these lovely architectural detailing as well in the charming Scandinavian interiors. However, the Scandinavian design itself is a movement that emerged only in the early 20th century. It is characterized by simplicity, minimalism and functionality which flourished after the war.

For a bit more Scandinavian design history, click here.

Scandinavian_by Fredrik Karlsson
via Fredrik Karlsson

Japanese

In contrast, halfway around the globe, the history of Japanese architecture dates back to prehistoric times (Jomon period in particular) where the population is predominantly hunter-gatherers and the basic type of dwelling is a pit house.

Japanese pit house

It was strongly influenced by Chinese culture like other Asian countries, so it has characteristics common to architecture in Asian countries. At one point they had raised houses similar to what we have in the Philippines provinces. The space underneath is where cattle and livestock supplies are normally kept.

Japanese elevated house
Japanese elevated house
Bahay Kubo in Philippines
Traditional "bahay kubo" in the Ifugao province, Philippines

Interior Design

Throughout this “classic” period in France, from the Renaissance down to the Haussmann, because of the sense of grandeur of the time the prevailing features are floor-to-ceiling wall panelling, old herringbone floors, tall windows with ironworks (typically Haussmann), elaborate moldings, marble mantels, gilding and marquetry. Some of the favourite materials are naturally marble, gold, crystals, terracotta, mirrors, plaster and lacquer in paintings and furniture.

In Scandinavia, although they acquired a bit of this classic French in the earlier centuries, the Scandinavian style itself wasn’t coined until the early 20th century so it is relatively new and young and the emphasis was on furniture when it began. The main focus is on function, attractive in a minimalist way and in balance with nature. The most common materials are wool/ sheepskin, linen, leather, glass, silver, ceramics and textiles.

Almost always, walls are just left white and bare and not much for window treatments.

It is worth noting that when it comes to fireplaces, compared to the very symmetrical French centred to the wall, the Scandinavian way is to the corner of the room. Smaller accent chairs float closer to the fireplace while sofas generally anchor the middle of the room, leaving walking space behind it.

Scandinavian fireplace
Classic Scandinavian apartment in Stockholm

The Japanese however are very much into woodwork. Obviously, their choice of material is always wood in various forms – planks, straw, paper, tree bark—along with bamboo and silk from Chinese influences. But unlike some Chinese and Western architecture, the use of stone is avoided.

The structure is generally post and lintel with movable/ modular paper-thin walls (shoji panels) and floors covered in Tatami mats. Arches and barrel roofs are completely absent. Speaking of roofs, as you may have noticed they have very distinct curved eaves. Quite oversized they sometimes cover a full veranda and it gives the interior a characteristic dimness, which contributes to the building’s ambience.

For more about traditional Japanese architecture, read this.

Traditional Japanese architecture
Japanese interior
Traditional Japanese interior with tatami floor mats surrounded by shoji screens ©TOKI

The Japanese aesthetic combines two very interesting religions:

  1. Taoism, “aesthetic ideal of emptiness”, believing that the mood should be captured in the imagination, and not so heavily dictated by what is physically present.

 

  1. Shinto, the indigenous religious tradition of Japan, provides a basis for the appreciation of the celebration of imperfection and insufficiency, characteristics resulting from the natural ageing process or darkening effect.

 

Of the two, it is the latter that speaks to me. I believe this embodies the “wabi-sabi” philosophy that I am very much drawn to which is essentially finding beauty and contentment in the incomplete and the imperfect. However, up to now it is much debated that wabi-sabi is rooted to the Shinto religion.

Nevertheless, in my opinion and to my preference, this is the element that adequately complements the “perfect” classicism and minimalism of the Parisian and Scandinavian styles. It breaks what is expected and creates curiosity and interest.

It is fascinating how very opposite cultures and distinct design aesthetics can combine to form a beautiful trend that we see in interiors today. A very successful blend of old and new, classic and modern. There is something about the combination of these three styles that makes an interior special. It’s not just a homey, comfy, not even a luxe interior. It is curious. There’s a magical flair to it.

So, without further ado, feast your eyes on some of the interior inspirations that I’ve gathered which eloquently displays the beautiful marriage of these three styles. I have supplemented moodboards for each unique “color look” as a rough guide since I never really found the one exact interior that exhibits all the elements that I want from each of these three styles.

My 5 Moodboards

(Please note that ALL individual photos from hereon were acquired from Pinterest. But ALL moodboards were designed by myself using inspiration images from Pinterest.)

You will notice common characteristics among these five moodboards:

  1. The recurring “blank canvas” which are the distinct herringbone or chevron wooden flooring along with the very classic architectural detailing. The backdrop of ornate mouldings and panelling  is one of the magic ingredients of this style.
  2. Modern and functional Scandinavian pieces of furniture;
  3. Imperfect, raw or aged wabi-sabi decor pieces;
  4. A punch of humour or something unexpected in the form of artworks or decorations;
  5. Statement lighting.

Never neglect lighting! I cannot stress enough the importance of lighting in interiors in general let alone in a dramatic Parisian style. The right lighting punctuates a room. And I’m not only talking about the central light. Sometimes a ceiling light isn’t at all necessary. Most of the time it’s decorative rather than functional. But your floor and table lamps play vital roles in creating successful mood lighting. And always remember, it better make a statement!

1. Light Neutral Scheme

Parisian Scandinavian Wabisabi Light Neutral Moodboard
Light Neutral Moodboard

2. Dark Neutral Scheme

I would always like to incorporate a “dark” area in the house. I have tried to sway myself to embrace a totally light and bright interior. But something in me calls for drama. Maybe that’s why the Parisian style appeals to me so much, coupled with the wabi-sabi philosophy.

Dark elements, either on one wall, a full room, or in accessories provide that necessary contrast to make an interior interesting. It definitely grounds a predominantly light room. It completes it—a sort of yin and yang. And it exudes more drama when furnishings are done ever so sparingly.

Parisian Scandinavian Wabisabi Dark Neutral Moodboard
Dark Neutral Moodboard

3. One Accent Colour Scheme

For those who are lovers of color, this style could get really interesting once injected with colors! Believe it or not at one point in time I was a very colourful person but now that’s only limited to some of my wardrobes since I went neutral.

Anyway let’s begin with the simplest– a classic neutral backdrop with a SINGLE burst of colour. Achieve this either through funky modern art, neon lighting, or a pop of color (preferably neon) in your furniture.

A subtle hint of ONE colour adds playfulness to your classic white interior. I favour pastels and neons in one same shade for a good impact since I recommend it done sparingly on only two to three pieces of furniture and accessories. 

Parisian Scandinavian Wabisabi
Minimal Colour Moodboard

4. Tonal Drama Scheme

The important thing with using colors is don’t do it half-heartedly. Especially in this style that calls for boldness and drama. Either you go all the way or not at all.

So, if you want color, you might as well go bold and daring with it. Think ornate moldings and panelling painted in one solid pop of color from walls to ceiling! Toned down by minimal furnishing and very neutral wood tones in furniture and either tonal or neutral-colored upholstery. That would be the ultimate Parisian drama!

Parisian Scandinavian Wabisabi Tonal Drama Moodboard
Tonal Drama Moodboard

There is more than one way of delivering a tonal look. The most common way is of course by using just one colour in different tones (hence “tonal”) – from rich, jewel tones to muted and pastel tones. 

Disregard the green plants and the random vase of flowers and you will see what I mean by these following rooms having one main colour with varying tones.

And then, a more interesting tonal scheme is when you combine up to a MAXIMUM of three different colours of varying tones—either from the same temperature (warm or cool) chart or from the opposite end of the temperature chart. 

For discussion purposes let’s use each colour of the rainbow as our reference for main colours with RED being the warmest colour and BLUE the coolest. Note that I did not choose VIOLET (or purple) as the coolest because technically (referring to the colour wheel) violet is achieved using blue and red together. So violet can basically be considered both warm AND cool.

COLOUR SPECTRUM AND WHEEL
Colour Spectrum and Colour Wheel

Interiors with main colours within the same temperature range:

Interiors with main colours on opposite ends of the temperature chart:

This gives the room a more interesting complementary or contrasting vibe.

Note that in basic colour theory principles, complementary colours are: Red & Green, Yellow & Violet, and Blue & Orange. Notice how your eyes and brain look for these in the photos below.

5. Psychedelic Scheme

As for the psychedelic, it’s the evident combination of three or more colors (oftentimes, ALL) in the color wheel. There’s no question that you see almost all the colours of the rainbow.

So, it is wise to use a neutral colour on your walls and ceilings to tone it down a bit and create some focus and grounding effect. But of course it’s all up to you if you think you can handle the busyness of this scheme all over every surface of your room.

Parisian Scandinavian Wabisabi Psychedelic color scheme moodboard
Psychedelic Moodboard

Bonus Scheme

Whilst it is a dream to live in period Victorian and Georgian terraces and Gingerbread houses here in the UK, most of us dwell in typical 1930’s to post-war houses. But this should not stop us from injecting a classic flair to our equally precious homes. We can acquire this in a smaller scale through antique furniture and accessories such as oversized gilt mirrors, chunky wooden frames,  crystal chandeliers, or splurge on an antique classic marble mantel, Parisian antique wooden or wrought iron double doors, aged porcelain or terracotta vessels, vintage persian rug, French armoires, a heavy oak table with huge ornate pedestals, etc.

Give it a good sanding down and keep it raw. Et voila! You also achieve an imperfect wabi-sabi look! Just keep the elaborate pieces to a minimum, say one huge piece per room at the most, in order to maintain an airy modern Scandinavian vibe.

Or go ahead and add these classic detailing to your quaint home! Why should you put too much care on what “housing experts” say about what you should and shouldn’t do to a specific type of home (except for listed houses, obviously)? It is your own home anyway, you bought it with your own hard-earned money to make it your “forever” home.

So why should you let anybody else dictate what you can and cannot do? Take heed from the French, “laissez-faire” – the rule of no rules—go ahead and do what makes you happy!

Brutalist Shell with Classic Styling
Brutalist with Classic Twist

The pictures below show what goes well with a stark brutalist interior. Disregard the ornate mouldings in some of the interiors but focus on the furnishings and styling. 

Imagine a bare room, free from mouldings and architraves (not even a skirting!), very minimalist to the point of being clinical. Your classic, vintage finds with elegant forms and warm colours and textures should breathe life into this brutalist shell. Throw in some modern and humorous artwork and decor to balance the serious aged look with something laid-back and fun.

So in essence, due to this “bonus” scheme in order to cater to more modern homes, there’s basically two iterations for this style trio: 

1. First is by using a bare brutalist (wabisabi) backdrop styled with minimal classic pieces; 
2. Second is an opposite approach: ornate classic backdrop styled minimally using modern Scandinavian and raw wabisabi furnishings.
 
Nonetheless, both exude the Parisian-Scandinavian-Wabisabi aesthetic that I’ve fallen in love with!🖤🖤🖤
 

To summarize here is an overview of the similarities and differences of Parisian, Scandinavian and Japanese in table format for easier distinction.

Comparison of the Style Trio

Table of Comparisons

Did you notice though, now that it’s all in a table, can you clearly see where their main similarities lie? The common denominator among the three is IN their manner of styling (minimally)—the fearlessness of empty space. And whilst Parisian and Scandinavian may encourage combination of contrasting decors, they are done with due restraint.

All these years I’ve been in love with the Scandinavian style but I feel that there is something missing. Alas! It is that touch of Parisian and Wabi-sabi.

My take on this is practice a bit of relaxed restraint like the Scandinavians, appreciate the imperfect as the Japanese do and add that hint of drama which is quintessentially Parisian!

What I love about these three styles in one is style-wise it can be applied luxuriously and extravagantly for high end interiros, while on the other end of the spectrum you may tone it down to have a more affordable luxury whilst not losing that sense of magic and drama.

To conclude in the words of Yuriko Saito,

“Underpinning or complementing these aesthetic ideals, is the valuing of contrast; when imperfection or the impoverished is contrasted with perfection or opulence, each is emphasised and thus better appreciated.”

 

I hope that I have piqued your curiosity with this post and inspired you to give this trending interior a try. To be honest I believe it will be more than a trend but an enduring lifestyle to last centuries like its predecessors.

Let me clarify though that this post is not to lecture you on what Parisian, Scandinavian and Japanese Wabi-sabi IS and SHOULD be. I’m just sharing what I have observed (and researched) about these styles. I’m sharing with you what bits and pieces I love about each of them and what I’m taking with me to achieve and create my style aesthetic. And in essence these are:

  • the lavish classic form and details of the old Parisian and the humour in the manner of styling of modern Parisian;
  • the functional, clean and comfortable modern furniture of the Scandinavian;
  • and the mystical imperfection of Japanese wabisabi decors, materials and finishes.

All these elements combined in equal proportions; I achieve my unique design style. And I just know that this is the style I’m in love with and I will be married to for the rest of my life.

I dream of one day turning our home into an embodiment of this style. But while it is still an elusive dream, I hope to work with clients who share this same passion and vision for their home. It would be my ultimate pleasure to administer the realisation of this magical style.

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Carmen
Carmen
1 year ago

Madly in love with this! Thanks for the well thought through presentation.

Meena
Meena
3 months ago

This SPOKE to me. I’ve been trying to pinpoint name wise what my style is & when I saw this post it hit me like a ton of bricks. I also felt that flutter!!! I was trying to figure out how to incorporate the victorian aesthetic in my home with more modern pieces. This shows me it is possible!!