A Texas family celebrates Christmas and design with Scandinavian style
Phone calls, e-mails, and digital photos of generations-old Scandinavian hutches, beds, chairs, and clocks flew back and forth across the Atlantic for several months in a happy confluence of technology and tradition. While Ellisiv and Chad McNeil built their new home in the small East Texas town of Tyler, Ellisiv’s Norwegian father was working nearly a half-world away to help furnish it with family heirlooms and antiques.
“He searched local estate sales, classified ads, and internet listings throughout Norway and Sweden to find the right pieces,” says Ellisiv. “He drove up to 14 hours each way to pick up some pieces.”
Some finds, including an 1800s Norwegian painted travel trunk, were closer to home—in the family’s barn in Oppdal, Norway. After father-daughter trans-Atlantic photo sharing and phone conversations (Did she want this Dala hutch? How about these dining chairs?), Ellisiv headed to Dallas with iPad in tow to share her father’s finds with interior designer Meredith McBrearty.
“We’d study his pictures and then narrow down what we wanted and exactly where we’d put it. We didn’t take everything. There was a lot of editing,” McBrearty says. The chosen pieces, including two Swedish tall-case Moro clocks and an eight-foot tall blue-painted Dala hutch, were shipped in a 40-foot container from Norway to Texas. “It took four weeks and, although it was expensive, it was worth it,” says Ellisiv. “It afforded me so many reminders of home.”
Even holiday decorations made the trip, including several little white-bearded figures called fjøs nisser (barn gnomes) that the McNeils post around the house at Christmas. According to Norwegian legend, the somewhat mischievous gnomes look after a farmer’s home and children. “You feed them rice porridge with sugar, cinnamon, and butter,” says Ellisiv. “But they also have a naughty side, and if they did not get fed, they might take your best milking cow,” Ellisiv warns. (Happily, not an issue with the McNeils.)
“From the beginning, we knew we would incorporate a lot of family heirlooms and antiques from Norway and Sweden,” says the designer. “While it was new construction, we wanted the house to have a warm, European feel to it.
That didn’t mean formal, however. Chad and Ellisiv, medical doctors and parents of three young daughters (plus two pet labradoodles), insisted on an open floor plan with a casual vibe. “They are so laid back,” McBrearty says of her clients-turned-friends. “None of the finishes and fabrics could be too precious. The house had to be liveable and elegant, yet understated.”
The Scandinavian antiques with their gently worn blue, gray, and whitewashed paint finishes made the color scheme an easy choice. The soothing blue-gray palette flows throughout the house, setting a peaceful, uncluttered backdrop. A shapely Swedish Moro clock (made in Moro, Sweden) strikes the blue note in the living room but isn’t just for looks. Ellisiv’s father set up the clocks in Texas (another is in the foyer) and ensured they were functioning.
In the living room, McBrearty paired durable slipcovered sofas with a tufted chocolate brown ottoman that stands up to all types of little-girl roughhousing. A pair of antique Swedish bergères upholstered in silk flanking the fireplace are formal but loosen up when paired with a funky blue glass side table. The living room is grounded with a pretty and practical rug. “The antelope pattern rug is fantastic, the designer says. “It hides everything!”
“I love to mix contemporary pieces with antiques. It keeps the house true to who lives there. It’s that balance between formal and informal that is so important in good design,” McBrearty explains. “We wanted to respect the style of the home and the antiques that we were using but also include contemporary elements that reflect this young family’s lifestyle with a calm, serene environment— visually peaceful.”
Even during Christmas the blue theme dominates and decorations reflect Scandinavian influences. Garlands of greens are dusted with silver foliage and sprigs of white and green berries. Tall white amaryllis and urns of green pears dress the mantel, hung with embroidered cream-and-blue stockings.
Although the house is new construction, McBrearty introduced European character and a sense of age with decorative glazes and finishes. Walls, with their large arched openings, and ceilings were finished with a pigmented gypsum plaster that creates a surface reminiscent of those in European homes. Ceiling beams in the living room, several wood doors, and kitchen cabinets were distressed and stained. Floors are a vintage-looking wide-plank white oak.
The living room opens on one side to the kitchen, “which is here we really live,” says Ellisiv. There, nearly three-inch thick limestone floor tiles from a French estate were refurbished as kitchen countertops. A custom plaster vent hood and 19th-century colored cement backsplash behind the range “make the kitchen,” McBrearty says. The designer confesses she labored and worried the most over the kitchen but it’s now her favorite room in the house. “I think you could park a car on that island,” McBrearty says. “It’s a true working island. The children do homework there, have meals, and chat with friends.”
Bar stool seats are covered in a faux leather vinyl for easy cleanups. Heavy crown moldings and standard upper wall cabinets were nixed and replaced with a hand-carved plate rack made by Norwegian brothers. “The idea was to make it look like a European style kitchen,” McBrearty says.
A dozen antique chairs shipped from Norway (they don’t match but were close enough, the designer says) were stripped and white-washed and surround a trestle table in the dining room. A blue Dala hutch (from the Dalarna region of Sweden) that dates to the 1800s adds height, and sheer draperies the buff color of the plaster walls soften the space.
French doors connect the dining and living rooms to the loggia—a favorite spot for watching TV. Stone arches fitted with motorized insect and sun screens keep the room cozy and bug-free throughout the year. “We often push together the sofas to make a large daybed and all of us watch family movies,” Ellisiv says.
Ellisiv’s parents, Ola and Anniken Lien, visit their daughter and family at least every other Christmas and feel right at home in Texas, surrounded by furnishings they remember. The McNeil girls and their Norwegian Gommo (grandmother) bake and decorate a gingerbread house (and make another party of eating it after the holiday). One of the girls even sleeps in her grandmother’s childhood bed.
“I love that we were able to incorporate so much from Scandinavia,” McBrearty says. “It made everything about their home so personal and meaningful.”
Photography: Emily Minton Redfield
Produced by Elizabeth R. Beeler
Architectural design: Ryan Phillips, Ryan A. Phillips, 903/805-4507. Interior designer: Meredith McBrearty, 6642 Velasco Ave., Dallas, TX 75214; 202/390-2912, meredithmcbrearty.com.
Above: Arched entry doors were distressed for a vintage look.
A gorgeous wreath on the front door welcomes holiday visitors.
Garlands of greens dotted with silver foliage trail the stair railings. An antique chair was upholstered with “Versailles” fabric from Rose Tarlow-Melrose House. A Turkish Oushak rug covers the white oak floors.
Wide arched openings connect the foyer, front stair hall, and living room in the Texas house. Plaster walls and ceilings and distressed beams and doors give the house a European feel. The room maintains a sense of elegance without being overly formal.
The custom tufted ottoman in a gorgeous chocolate-brown invites kids to run and jump on it.
Hung by the Chimney with Care
Two antique bergère chairs from Sweden cozy up to the fireplace hung with custom-made stockings.
Blue and Cream Palette
Flowers and natural greens complete the Scandivaian blue-and-cream palette. The embroidered stockings were custom made with trimmings from Samuel & Sons in dusty blue velvet.
Anniken McNeil, named for her Norwegian grandmother, Anniken Lien, awaits the arrival of Santa on Christmas Eve.
The ornaments on the tree speak to the style of the McNeil home – a mix of simple, sophisticated ornaments with fun, colorful glass balls
Antique chairs and an 8-foot hutch were shipped from Scandinavia and were stripped and whitewashed. Sheer drapes by the doors to the loggia soften the space but keep it casual.
Another view is on the following slide.
The antique dining table is from Wisteria, and the reproduction chandelier is from Paul Ferrante.
Cookies for Santa
Festive baked goods displayed on white cake plates are in theme with the Scandinavian palette.
The McNeils post Norwegian barn gnomes on the hearth during the holidays. The stone archways are fitted with motorized screens that allow the family to use the loggia nearly year round. Sofa and chairs are from RH and coffee table and drum table from Wisteria. Indoor-outdoor rug from Dash & Albert.
To give the new home an aged look, walls were plastered and cabinets distressed and glazed. Countertops are made with 3-inch thick limestone tiles salvaged from a French estate. The range hood is plaster. Barstools upholstered in wipeable vinyl are wonderful for a family with small children.
The range backsplash is 19th-century colored cement tiles imported from Europe by Chateau Domingue, a Houston, Texas, business.
The farmhouse sink and Newport Brassbridge-style faucet complement the antique features of the kitchen.
A hand-crafted Norwegian plate rack adds vintage charm, hanging above a wood picnic box from Norway that dates to the 1850s.
Serene Master Bedroom
A soft, gray-blue secretary from Sweden was one of Ellisiv’s father’s Scandinavian finds, and McBrearty built the room’s color scheme around it. The blue headboard fabric is from Michael S Smith and the antique Swedish desk chair is upholstered in Duralee’s “Chinchilla.”
Classic Master Bath
Twin vanities are tucked in arched niches. Cabinets were given a distressed finish and topped with marble.
A Waterworks bathtub is similar in style to those popular in England and France in the early 19th century.
Ellisiv and Chad McNeil with daughters Emma, 9, Isabella, 5, and Anniken, 3.