SARATOGA SPRINGS — It’s her home Swede home in the United States.
Milky built-in shelves, woodsy and flower-like luminaires, tangerine egg chairs and a medley of overseas art are behind the workaday exterior of a two-story residence on Friar Tuck Way in Saratoga Springs. Over the past 15 years, Elena Brannstrom has transformed the suburban abode with a hodgepodge of mid-20th Century Scandinavian-style furnishings and decor.
“I’m a savvy buyer, too,” Branstrom said with a laugh. “I spend a lot of time on the internet.”
Creating the space to match Brannstrom’s vision has been a work in progress. The now 63-year-old immigrant left Stockholm with three children in 2005 to settle with her late husband, Steve Porter, in Saratoga Springs. She kept a slew of paintings and a chandelier, but left the majority of her belongings behind.
Brannstrom stayed in an apartment off North Broadway for five months before purchasing the current residence for $300,000. With a lease expiring before track season, the newlywed couple felt compelled to choose a permanent home.
In the beginning, she held bittersweet feelings toward the property. She favored the 2,100-square-foot house’s high-ceilings, window lighting and spacious backyard, but scorned its wall-to-wall beige carpeting, cheap doors, old wallpaper and popcorn ceiling.
After removing the carpeting to replace the flooring with oak, Brannstrom found stains covering the cement. To this day, she describes the wall-to-wall carpeting as a “no-no.”
“It was terrible, and in a dining room, for me, that’s so gross,” she said about wall-to-wall.
Moving into the house on Friar Tuck Way included compromising with her new husband, who she met through work back in Stockholm. Porter held what she described as a “traditional” taste. According to Brannstrom, his former home was styled like a golf clubhouse.
Because the pair had conflicting design inclinations, Brannstrom slowly rolled in new pieces to warm him up to her style. After a while, Porter became supportive of her changes.
“If I had explained to him that I wanted to stick a big round bowl here, he would go and say, ‘No,’ ” Brannstrom recalled. “One day, when he came home from work, he was sitting there and looked up and said, ‘Umm, ah, I like it.’ ”
“That’s how a lot of pieces in my home came to be,” she continued.
Brannstrom’s style has nearly century-old roots. From the 1930s to the 1970s, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland adopted simple interior design schemes often dovetailing with naturalistic Nordic symbols. The movement was pushed predominantly by designers Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen.
Typical arrangements were carpetless, incorporated sustainable materials and warm colors, and scaled back clutter wherever possible.
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Traveling exhibitions in the U.S. showcased what became later known as “Scandinavian Design” in the 1950s. Retail store Ikea, the closest of which is in New Haven, Conn., has popularized the style in the U.S. since its 1970s North American launch.
For Brannstrom, the uncluttered look helps stabilize her mental health. She keeps dishes behind a white, opaque cupboard “so I can’t see a lot of stuff.”
Things have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her children, Sam and Nike Brannstrom, as well as family friend Morgan Honeybill, started self-quarantining at the residence in March.
“With so many people in the house it’s a mess all the time, but I am trying to control myself,” Brannstrom said.
Brannstrom transitioned from working at a health insurance agency to be a stay-at-home mother once she arrived in the U.S. She set firm rules for her children to eat at the table and avoid running around.
Because of that, Brannstrom said, the area was kept in tip-top shape.
Over the years, a number of her children’s friends and other guests were bedazzled by stand-out features such as her dandelion chandelier or large Frida Kahlo tapestry hanging above the entrance.
Ceiling contractor Jamie Lynch frequently joked, “Wait, is this Ikea?” while working on home installations.
The area is a mixture of modish and démodé. Along the walls, Brannstrom carries a cluster of paintings created by family and friends back in Sweden; in the living room, a pillow reads “Stockholm” (Scandinavian style typically deviates from text designs); in the dining room, there are Swedish Dala horses —traditional handcrafted wooden statues.
“A lot of the things I have are a second choice because you can’t just find it or it’s too expensive,” Brannstrom said.
Brannstrom attempts to hunt for deals. The couch in the family room is the costliest item among her amenities, according to Brannstrom. She says many of her pieces aren’t “super expensive,” but doesn’t specify costs.
Some of the pieces were free. Brannstrom found an oil painting of a nude woman in the trash back in Sweden during the 1990s. It currently hangs above her piano.
“Somebody didn’t like it and just put it there,” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Wow, I love it.’ ”
The painting’s warm tones caught Brannstrom’s attention. It’s akin to many of her accent pieces, including a cinnamon-colored couch and sofa, a burnt sienna sunburst clock and a wooden orb chandelier hanging above her dining room table.
Her affection for peculiar luminaires is abundant throughout the house. Even in a tight bathroom, Brannstrom has a rose-like lighting fixture descending from the ceiling.
“When you say ‘weird,’ it’s the mid-century modern part of it,” she said.
Brannstrom purchases furniture and decor from retailers such as CB2, Ikea or West Elm. Some of her goods came from shopping outlet trips to Manchester, Vermont, with Porter nearly 10 years ago. Brick-and-mortar favorites in the area have since shuttered.
New England trips are among a number of fond memories of Porter, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2017 at age 65.
At the time, Porter’s mark on the home’s interior had drastically faded after years of Brannstrom gradually moving pieces in. He even surrendered to changing the color of the house’s siding from dark to light brown.
Having fewer reminders of Porter’s taste around made the mourning process “maybe 2 percent” easier,” Brannstrom said.
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