WHEN I visited Stockholm, late last summer, I was prepared to keep my eye on design. Blond Scandinavian furniture, after all, defined forward-thinking sophistication when I was growing up, and big floral Marimekko prints in a living room meant that its occupant wanted to make the world a better place. More recently sophistication in design has meant taking inspiration from the blond neoclassical furniture named for King Gustav III, the eighteenth-century Swedish aesthete; the Swedish company Ikea is among the leaders of a revival of a style that looks like delicate, sun-bleached French Provincial.
I was happily surprised to find that Stockholm is filled with echoes and expressions of two of my favorite styles--Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts, which co-existed in the 1890s and the first decades of this century. Every city has a defining era. Stockholm's was the Belle Epoque, when Alfred Nobel was amassing the explosives-based fortune that would allow him to establish his prizes, and when the profits of industrialization were changing the face of the city. The streets the guidebooks will tell you to wander are the preserved medieval ones of Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town, with their imposing baroque palaces. They are indeed charming, but the streets that delighted me most were those of Ostermalm, a fashionable residential neighborhood in the center, where I saw everywhere perfectly maintained examples of the restrained, elegant Swedish versions of both Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts architecture. Ostermalm's indoor market, for instance, which houses the city's best victuallers, has the Edwardian grandness, the wrought-iron flourishes and polished mahogany counters, of Harrods Food Halls--not to mention the silkiest herring I've ever tasted, and little cartons of tiny wild strawberries and juicy, pillow-soft cloudberries picked in the Swedish countryside.