The Nordic world of interiors

Alison Graham reveals her fetish for Scandi kitchens, cupboards and Metro tiles, which was inspired by dramas such as The Bridge and Borgen

There should be a support group for someone like me. I have a fetish. No, nothing kinky, at least I don’t think it is, but I have a thing about cupboards. And shelves. And tiles. And the imaginative use of standard lamps. Help me! Sit me in a circle with other sufferers so we can hold hands and cry with delight at the glassfronted units in politician Birgitte Nyborg’s kitchen in Borgen.


Nordic and Scandi dramas are balm to the souls of people like me, the kind of people who, when watching television, always look first to the background for recessed shelving. Even if someone is being strangled in front of it, or is being knifed by a clever maniac who is wreaking revenge for myriad wrongs done to him by society, our eyes will always crinkle with happiness if said shelving is painted in muted earth tones. Then, as the stricken victim folds to the floor, we’ll try to read the titles of the books he’s just been blocking with his grievously wounded body.

Take The Bridge, which I loved for many reasons — the perfect, flinty chemistry between two directly opposite personalities in its lead detectives Saga Norén and Martin Rohde; its refusal to lapse into feel-good cliché. And Rohde’s house! Oh, it was a thing of beauty, a glass and wood confection in the middle of nowhere (this, of course, turned out to be key to the plot of The Bridge when a madman came to call).

That lovely long family dining table in the open-plan kitchen, the big marital bed in a room open to the light (though curtains probably would have been a good idea). It was glorious. I wanted to live there; I wanted to be married to Rohde even though he was a bit of a scallywag, so I could trill with happiness in such lovely surroundings.

Rohde was “just” a cop, but his wife was an interior designer and they simply accepted such glorious surroundings as an integral part of their lives. That’s another one of the many things I love about Nordic and Scandi drama interiors: they just ARE. No one ever exclaims in surprise at someone else’s tripod floor lamp in natural wood. Good, sparse design is democratic, it’s for everyone. Even Saga Norén’s stripped-back flat had a certain chicness, largely because it was very like her personality — no flounces, no fuss, functional but not without soul.

In the first two series of Borgen, Birgitte Nyborg’s family home — the one she shared with her husband Philip and their two kids — was a dream, but it wasn’t showy… like Birgitte herself. In fact, it was a surprisingly modest residence for a prime minister (as she was then). But it had its quirks — a bedroom leading straight from the kitchen, entered via an admittedly rather lovely set of glass-panelled doors. What about cooking smells and privacy? And, of course, it had bookshelves, loads of them, framing a doorway into yet another room. I spent hours gazing over Birgitte and Philip’s shoulders in rapture.

By the third series, Birgitte’s personal and professional circumstances had changed and she was forced to downsize dramatically. That’s what we were led to believe, but though it was in a grotty area her flat was glorious, with glass-fronted cupboards in the kitchen (which could only be reached by standing on the countertops because the ceiling was so high, but they were so gorgeous I could forgive this palaver) and the bright, white crisp tiles, which I think are referred to as “metro tiles” (they have the shape and texture of shiny house bricks). And when Birgitte relaxed, it was on that lovely big, blocky red sofa.

I was even taken with her spin doctor Katrine’s tiny flat, which appealed to the little girl in me who has always loved dolls’ houses. It was compactly open-plan, everything was in easy reach and it was lit with artfully arranged desk lamps, little flourishes that I find irresistible. Even Nordic accessories are just a little bit dreamy.

Katrine’s ex-boyfriend and fellow spin doctor Kasper had a brief fling with another woman, who made him a series of meals he never ate because he was always late home from the work that consumed his life. Such is my obsession that I enjoyed these aborted dinners because she always set the table beautifully, with chic glassware and lovely crockery. She once served him oysters on the balcony of her flat. Oh, that wide-rimmed serving bowl and the simple white porcelain dishes (I have some of these: they are thrillingly utilitarian).

Like all the best interior design, everyday Nordic furnishings and fittings in TV dramas never look as if someone is making a point — they are part of the scenery in a good way. And they are a delight.

Radio Times TV editor Alison Graham will be hosting a Q&A with The Bridge stars Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia at Nordicana 2014, a festival of Nordic fiction and film which takes place in London on 1 and 2 February