When one thinks of Modernism, one’s mind might conjure images of Le Corbusier chairs, Mies van der Rohe floor plans, Braun stereos, and wide ribbon windows. One typically wouldn’t think of 19th century Neoclassical apartments, their detailed moldings and accommodations perhaps a little too ornate to read as “modern.” The thing about these seemingly disparate styles, though, is that they are informed by remarkably similar impulses and objectives — simplicity, symmetry, harmony, functionality — and when paired together, often yield beautiful results. Just ask graphic designer Steffen Olsen.
Olsen and his partner, Erlend Tårnesvik Dreiås, share a taste for pared-down Modernist furnishings and fashions, their furniture a mixture of industrial materials, simple forms, and mid-century influences. When they first moved in together seven years ago, they rented a flat in a new-construction building. While the clean lines and nondescript styling of new buildings might seem perfectly suited to a couple with Modernist leanings, the two felt that something was sorely missing. “It lacked both soul and personality,” Steffen notes, “just blank walls and a generic layout.” After three years, the couple decided it was time to make the leap to a home of their own. They ended up purchasing a centrally-located apartment in an old, 1897 building — a space that their realtor had described as “charmingly off-level.”
Paired with Steffen and Erland’s contemporary style, the apartment’s details are able to shine. Beautiful moldings that, by another hand, might recede to the background, are allowed to come to the fore, a subtly cool monochrome palette accentuating their details. Simultaneously, individual pieces of design — a yellow floor lamp, a Componibili nightstand, an Eames hang-it-all — are able to act as beautiful punctuations, accents that complement and contrast against the overarching schema. It is a home that is at once elegant and whimsical, minimal and effortlessly warm. —
Sofa: “Cosy” in grey wool, by Bolia
Sofa cushions (from left): “Regency” in petrol blue by Habitat, “Kumari” by Bungalow, “Stoten” by Habitat, “Dot Cushion” by HAY, “Regency” in mustard by Habitat
Teak and leather stool: Vintage
Coffee table: Muubs
Brass pots: H. Skjalm P
Teak armchair: Vintage
Cushion in armchair: “Ice” by Wrong for Hay
Ceiling light: “Aperture” by Habitat
Yellow Floor lamp: “Bobby” by Habitat
Black side table: “Componibili” by Kartell
Book shelf: Homemade, built by Steffen’s twin brother
Inset bookshelf in nook: Homemade, built by us!
Framed artwork inside bookshelf: “Di” by Helene Brox
Queen: Solar Queen by Kikkerland
Big glass bottle: Vintage
Teak wall lamp: Vintage, the light bulb is “Diamond lights” by Frama
Big glass storage in window: Habitat
Concrete pot: Granit
Framed artwork: OTT+STEIN exhibition poster, from Berlin
Table lamp: “Cord Lamp Mini” by Design House Stockholm
Wall shelf: “Pocket” by String
Bag on floor: “Wader” weekender by Royal RepubliQ
Artwork on wall: “Zing!” by Boneface via Society6
Cabinet: Vintage teak cabinet
Lamp: Eiffel Tower base bought in Copenhagen, the glass shade is vintage
Framed artwork: Remake from a sign on a closed shop in Oslo
Vase: “Rio” by Broste Copenhagen
Light houses: “Urbania” by Kähler
Framed artwork: “Fole Billa!” (translation: “very cheap”), made by Steffen, dialect from where he’s from in Norway. The frame is vintage.
Candleholders: “Winebottle” by Ferm Living
Paper bird: Origami paper crane
Concrete pot: Granit
Dining table: “Kilo” by Habitat
Dining chairs: “DSR” by Vitra
Ceiling light: “FL/Y” by Kartell
Coffee maker: Chemex
Enamel mug: Labour and Wait
Magazine: Hello Mr
Framed artwork: “Eames 3” by House Industries
Side table: Søstrene Grene
Vase by Granit
Dandelion paperweight by Hafod Grange
"The living room originally had floors that had been discolored over the years," Steffen notes. "They’d turned orange and rough. The room felt dark and depressing, so 7 coats of white paint later the living room had become the light and airy space we wanted!"
"The sofa is 'Cosy' from Bolia," Steffen says, "and it really is cosy!"
"Books books books! The nook was originally there," Steffen says, "but we wanted to build a book shelf there instead, that would suit the age of the apartment and use the space efficiently. Also: Erlend has about a million books that needed a home."
"The oversized ceiling rose didn’t have a light fitted to it when we bought the place," Steffen says, "and we wanted a piece that would contrast [with it]. The origami pendant 'Aperture' from Habitat makes a warm and beautiful light, and seemed like the perfect choice."
The vintage teak armchair was a birthday gift from Steffen to Erlend. "It makes a pretty little reading corner," Steffen says.
"As Erlend has worked with books for many years," Steffen notes, "his private collection is towering up. We had to have a lot of storage for all the books, and wanted a modular version that we could adjust along the way. The solution was to have it made. This bookshelf is made by [my] twin brother."
Steffen and Erlend in their living room.
The view into the dining room from the living room.
"Mid-century furniture has carefully been selected throughout the apartment," Steffen notes, "and in the dining room, we got hold of this teak vintage gem for 60 dollars! The top is perfect for display, and we love to combine weird and unique items with newer decor. The framed artwork is a remake from a sign on a closed down shop in Oslo. The Eiffel Tower lamp was bought on a trip to Copenhagen, and the vintage glass shade is a later addition."
"We don’t want too many things in our dining room, but framed artwork is essential," Steffen says. "The 'Fole Billa!'-poster was made by Steffen, it’s a common saying from the area in Norway he’s originally from, and it translates to 'very cheap.' The frame is vintage, which we painted glossy black."
"The dining table is 'Kilo' from Habitat," Steffen says, "and it’s designed by the Norwegian designers Elling Ekornes and Trine Haddal Hovet. We love the style of it and together with the Eames DSR chairs. It’s a perfect match!"
"We have gotten some special and quirky decor over the years," Steffen says. "[I got] this monkey from stylists Kråkvik & D’Orazio and photographer Siren Lauvdal who were clearing out their studio. The big vase is from Granit, and as often as possible contains our favorite flowers, tulips!"
"The big windows with the original moldings was one of the first thing we fell in love with when we first saw this apartment," Steffen says. "We’ve had many meals next to this window, and love to look out and see the big leaf trees in the street we live in."
The view into the bedroom from the dining room. The dining room and bedroom were originally one large room, so when Steffen and Erlend moved in, they decided to split it up. "Ever since we saw the apartment for the first time, we knew we wanted to build a new wall to make two rooms instead of one," Steffen says. "To stay true to the age of the building, we added french doors that would suit the age of the apartment and it’s other old features. With the dark grey wall in the bedroom, we wanted to make an illusion of dept, an effective way to make it feel more spacious."
"We wanted to keep all the original features in the room," Steffen says, "and we love the crown moldings and the pretty window paneling. [I'm] lamp obsessed, and it’s in the bedroom this comes to show – Jielde on the side table, a AJ lamp on the wall, and the ceiling light is custom made. We didn’t find a ceiling light we wanted, so my twin brother made this lamp for us. It’s put together by four single bulb socket pendants. We love bare bulbs!"
"Yes, those daily routines," Steffen says. "Ever since I saw this on Society6, I knew it was perfect for our overall style. Luckily for the both of us, no day is the same, both of us have work that doesn’t feel like a routine machine. In the weekends it’s fantastic to wake up to the smell of fresh coffee, and we can both drink coffee in bed for ours."
"The overall ceiling height in the apartment is almost 10 feet," Steffen says, "so in the bedroom we had to take advantage of it. As we didn’t want a closet cramping up space. An exposed closet rod makes the bedroom more open and airy, and the overall look is organized. It’s easy to find what we have planned to wear. For a warmer look in the bedroom, we added a cut to size-shelf and stained it in a darker tone. Without going all sauna!"
"The 'Hang It All' by Charles and Ray Eames in the limited edition walnut and black was one of the first pieces planned for the new bedroom," Steffen says. "We knew we had to get hold of it. [It] isn’t just practical, it’s a decorative piece perfect for our bedroom."
The kitchen. "We really wanted a separate kitchen," Steffen says, "and the kitchen was the room we loved most about the apartment when we bought it. But after living here a while, we saw how unpractical it was, and just really wanted something new with our own style. All tiles were cut and laid by ourselves, and to have underfloor heating here is amazing!"
The kitchen sink and backsplash. "Black tile grout isn’t super common in Norway," Steffen notes, "and every supplier we talked to was quite skeptical. We had the black and white theme in mind, and are really glad we did go along with our design plan for the kitchen. The black kitchen tap is from Grohe, and the black sink is from Blanco."
"We love to have the things we use the most on display," Steffen says, "as they decorate the space as well as doing their purpose!"