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Publication Date: 2011-10-28


Q&A with Edie Van Breems and Rhonda Eleish of Eleish Van Breems

Rhonda Eleish and Edie Van Breems are first-rate examples of destiny. They are childhood friends and both of Swedish descent—so it’s no wonder they’ve built on that rock-solid foundation to become Eleish Van Breems, preeminent experts on Scandinavian design, furniture, and textiles. They count Anne Bass, Graydon Carter, and Cate Blanchett as clients, have developed their own elegant furniture, and have written two definitive books on decorating in the Swedish style; their third is due in the fall of 2013.

In between editing sessions and furniture appointments (“We’ve been at High Point,” Rhonda Eleish reported recently, “and it has been nuts”), we asked Eleish about her design idols, living in Connecticut, and how to make Scandinavian style work.

Q: Clearly, you are scholars on Scandinavian style. For you, what is the essence of it?

A: Recognition of the importance of nature and the impact it has on interiors and overall lifestyles. Light, colors, and the functionality of daily living also play a huge role. In Sweden there is a wordbruskonst, which loosely translates to “useful art.” This respect for economy and intimacy with nature is an integral part of Scandinavia’s design psyche.

Q: Scandinavian antiques are usually made of humble materials, but painted to look like marbles, gilt, and fine woods. How do you make them work in modern spaces?

A: Antique pieces, by virtue of their patina and imperfections, add a depth and soulfulness to rooms that could otherwise be one-note and cold. A rough-hewn, rustic, painted farm table, for example, is going to look amazing with contemporary metal chairs or formal, tailored, upholstered dining chairs by sheer virtue of the contrast. An 18th-century Gustavian chandelier in a barn room or a rustic, painted farm chair in a severe, all-glass or marble contemporary bathroom becomes almost sculptural.

Q: On that note, which styles mix best with Eleish Van Breems pieces?

A: Given that the Scandinavian approach is so clean and elegant, our pieces work really well in contemporary settings, plus Asian interiors and European and traditional American interiors.

Q: What are some favorite pieces in your Dering Hall assortment?

A: We love our giant, custom-made Svenskt Tenn fabric pillows for their bold colors—those will give any room a lift. Also, our custom-sized, painted canvases by Eva Badenhorst, inspired by Swedish manor-house murals. We are in love with the colors and patina that Eva creates, using antique sailcloth as a base.

Q: Have any modern-day influences found their way into your work?

A: We are especially excited by all the new eco-friendly materials that are in development, or becoming available now. Did you know that there is a German lab that can make a type of silk material from milk?

Q: What are your three ‘musts’ in any room?

A: We really focus on light and the lighting. A room should look fantastic no matter what time of day. Fixtures like our lanterns are only part of the story, with mirrors, reflective glass, crystals and window treatments all adding to the movement in a room. A room should always have a place to sit that is as stylish as it is supportive. We are partial to our Tessin Chair. A room should also always have art, along with a stylish, freestanding case piece. Art and function can be combined in decoratively painted Scandinavian cupboards, armoires, or buffets.

Q: For you, who are three Scandinavian design greats?

A: Carl Gustaf Tessin for being the passionate, unstoppable, unsung national design curator and patron of the Rococo and Gustavian period. Alvar Aalto, because, in a career that spanned from classicism to modern architecture, he always took a very, very humanistic approach. And the Svenskt Tenn company, the brainchild of artist-designer Estrid Ericson and architect Josef Frank, for its cheerful, organic, botanical textiles. We love Josef Frank’s vision that “a house should be an amalgamation of the things that the owner loves and feels at home with.”

Q: On the home front, you live and work in Connecticut. Does the state itself influence your work?

A: The landscape of the woods, the stone walls, the salt marshes and gentle rocky coastline: The rolling Litchfield County hills are a constant source of renewal and inspiration. We can truly say that there are glass houses in Connecticut for a reason!

-Rob Brinkley


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