A real Christmas tree, candles, red apples and all the traditional Swedish dishes contribute to this family's celebrations. In this snowy part of the world, it is especially important to create colourful accents.

Johan and Pernilla Porten are suitably proud of their charming house in Charlottenberg, Värmland, about one mile from the Norwegian border. After all, they built the 186 square metre house themselves. Even the wood they used came from the forest on the family property. 'All the wood was cut and sawn into planks in the family sawmill and then left to dry until the construction began in the summer of 2010,' says Pernilla. For city dwellers this approach may seem quite exotic at first glance. But given the seemingly endless forests that surround the family home, it's not all that difficult to understand that there are those who enjoy opportunities that others wouldn't even dream of.

Pops of colour in an otherwise understated, neutral interior are balanced out by their natural origins: the rosy red of a cluster of apples and the fresh green of firs and leafy house plants.

'We are very proud of our house, which we finished in August, 2011. By the time we were ready to move in, we had spent many early mornings and late nights working on it through a very cold winter and during hot summer days. The year included a wedding, a birth, a trip abroad and many dinners cooked on a hot plate, before we finally reached our goal,' recalls Pernilla.

The finished house is a large and airy single-storey structure with an open floorplan that is perfect for large parties and entertaining. 'On Christmas Eve my family comes here to celebrate with us. There are more than 20 people when they all show up. That's when it is really ideal to have large spaces and high ceilings,' she says. The three-metre-long dining table has long benches instead of chairs. Johan made the furniture himself. They'd searched everywhere for chairs that would fit the table he had built, but could not find any that suited, so he built the benches too.

Despite all the white finish walls, high ceilings and generous paned windows, it never gets cold and bare because the Porten family likes their home to be cosy and intimate. It is tastefully furnished and the Christmas decorations are largely green and natural colours, with several small trees in various rooms.

It is an attention to detail that lends the home its cool Scandi personality. Furs and skins are dotted about the living areas and monochromatic geometric patterns are a recurring motif in the furnishings.

'When it comes to decorations, I am very frugal,' Pernilla says. 'Nature is my inspiration and I use moss, tiny trees, twigs, cones and the like, to decorate. The children are allowed to have some gnomes in their rooms, but that's all. Advent candles decorate the tables in the living room and hyacinths contribute to the fragrant holiday spirit. Their scent is a part of the holiday season for me. That and red winter apples! Do not skimp on festive aromas and use a lot of oranges, apples, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger,' she advises.

Candles and lanterns are strategically placed so that, when lit, the house is filled with an undeniably cosy ambiance.

The family door is decorated on the first weekend of Advent, and not a day before. The entrance is adorned with welcoming twigs and knotted bundles of greenery on the door. 'I think it is important that each festival has its special time. I hear so many people complain that everything is going too fast, that time runs away from us. I think that's one of the reasons why it feels so right to take time from your busy life to enjoy Christmas. We have a long winter, so it is best to enjoy the holiday when it comes.' However, even though the decorations do not go up until December, Pernilla starts planning and looking for inspiration in the early autumn.

The Portens apply simple but traditional tables settings for the holidays using neutral, earthy tones and textures, decorating with twigs and subtle greenery from the neighbouring forest. Warm candle light and the fragrance of hyacinths add to the holiday ambience.

'I collect recipes for the best candy or the tastiest homemade mulled drinks. I have always had high culinary ambitions for the celebrations at this time of year. I usually have to lower the bar as the holiday approaches because there is never enough time. But I guess it's a part of my Christmas celebration, getting to dream and seek inspiration. If I achieve just a fraction of everything I had planned, I am still happy and look forward to the time spent with family.'

Pernilla and Johan think traditions should be passed on to younger generations. Every year, December 25th starts with the children opening the gifts in their stockings. As they explore the treasures stuffed within, Pernilla puts two large pots of rice pudding on the stove. Later in the day they visit the children's grandparents who live nearby.

The bedrooms stick to a scheme of layers of white, from the painted wood paneling to the lighting, with the same natural accents added in.

There they eat porridge and other seasonal delights from their grandmother's traditional kitchen. 'After that, we go to the home of Johan's mother and father where we exchange presents and then we go home and wait for the evening's guests. The 25th is my favourite day during the holiday season,' she says. 'After that, the house is calm and everyone is happy and satisfied. We sleep in, and when we get up we stay in our pyjamas. We eat late breakfasts, play with the children and relax. There is no stress and no high expectations.' 


The owner Johan and Pernilla Porten live with their three children in the Swedish styled house they conceptualised themselves.

The home This 186-square-metre home is an airy single-storey structure with an open floorplan, built with natural materials from the surrounding forest on the Swedish-Norwegian border.

Get the look

Clockwise from top left: Reindeer doormat, Al-Futtaim ACE, Dh69; Hanging light, Flamant, Dh3,070; Cushion, Next, Dh58; Chair, Country Corner at Aati Essentials, Dh900; Candelabrum, Zara Home, Dh165; Goodwill bauble, Bloomingdale's Home, Dh25; Leontine garden lantern, Maisons Du Monde, Dh360.

Images by Cecilia Möller/Living4media