Classic interior design styles and how to light them – Gustavian

In the latest in our series, here’s how a Swedish king who’s been dead for 200 years still influences beautiful interior design…

If there is one style that has come to typify the Swedish ‘look’, it has to be Gustavian, named after Sweden’s Gustav III, who reigned from 1771-1792. But how did a Swedish king, who died over 200 years ago, come to lend his name to a design trend that has endured for over two centuries and continues to influence contemporary design trends? Here at Pooky, we’ve been finding out more about the man behind the look and his legacy and we’ve put some ideas to help you bring a touch of Gustavian style – and lighting - to your home. Like many aristocratic young men of the 18th century, Gustav was well educated, well travelled, well connected, and had a taste for high culture. He was described, at least when he was young, as very charming; he was also very extravagant, a tendency not helped by his visit to the French court of Louis XV – the Sun King – at Versailles, the splendour of which seduced Gustav utterly. He was also much taken by the antique decorative style he saw among the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, typified by classical columns, friezes, medallions and swags.

Gustav III of Sweden looking rather splendid in his coronation robes; painted by Alexander Roslin
Back home in Sweden, Gustav was determined to adopt and adapt the neoclassicism of the French court and create a simpler, softer Swedish version – but he relied on the talents of a French architect, Louis Jean Desprez, and a French decorative painter, Louis Masreliez, to help him realise his vision. The royal palace and theatre at Drottningholm were transformed:

The library at Drottningholm Palace
Plans for an even larger, grander new palace at Haga were drawn up, this time by a Swedish architect, Olof Templeman. Although the palace was never built, Templeman and Masreliez completed a picturesque pavilion at Haga; it stands to this day and gives us some idea of what the Haga palace might have been:


Inside the Haga Pavilion
Despite the enlightenment of his youth and a keen eye for design, Gustav came to a sorry end. He had become concerned about the possible impact of the French Revolution on his own country and instigated increasingly draconian measures across Sweden. In March 1792, a disgruntled aristocrat decided that enough was enough: Gustav was assassinated during a night at the opera. He was just 46 years old.

Gustavian style – the legacy

Although Gustav had fallen from favour, in the most dramatic way possible, his design legacy - a combination of simplicity and symmetry - lived on, absorbing elements of French Empire style and the Arts and Crafts movement. You can see its influence at work in the 19th century interiors painted by Swedish artist Carl Larsson, in modern Swedish interior design, and in the highly popular shabby chic style of the late 20th and early 21st century:


'Cosy corner' by Carl Larsson; and a contemporary Swedish apartment showing distinct Gustavian influences

The essence of Gustavian style

You don’t have to live in a palace to bring some Gustavian style into your home and it can be easily adapted to suit modern as well as period interiors. Just follow the basics…

Colour – keep it soft and muted

Opt for pearl grey and white, soft blue, green and pink, and straw yellow – the colours of Swedish nature, sky and water. Then there’s the Gustavian penchant for decorative painted features.


The Gustavian colour palette

Furniture – delicate details with a pared-down look

Look out for pieces with fluted legs, moulding and ribbing, and painted wooden frames. They carry a hint of the French neoclassical but without the glitz. Here’s a traditional Gustavian sofa in a contemporary setting. And how about the simple but subtly elegant features of this combination - a painted console table, candles, silverware, and white porcelain that would work well in a variety of room settings:

Image credit


No Gustavian piece is more distinctive or recognisable than the traditional Mora clock. If your budget permits, choose an original; otherwise reproductions are widely available for under £200.

And here’s a modern version of another Gustavian favourite: the half corona bed canopy. If you like the idea but want something lighter, opt for soft white muslin drapes – equally Gustavian but with a touch of shabby chic.

Floors and fabrics

It’s natural all the way; plain, stripped or painted wooden floors, and wool, linen, cotton, hemp, or hessian for upholstery, curtains, cushions and rugs.

Contemporary British interiors with a hint of the Gustavian: Sitting room by Lucy Barlow; Kitchen by Alex Gardner.

Lighting your Gustavian style home

Take our word for it, when it comes to Gustavian, you can’t beat a chandelier for a bit of razzle dazzle in your home. And what could be more elegant in a sitting room or dining area than Pooky’s Juliet, with its glittering crystal teardrops? All you’ll need to complete the look is a liveried footman, with a powdered wig. 
Juliet Chandelier

When it comes to table lamps, Pooky’s Otto, made of turned wood, with a distressed white finish, would be a natural choice. And for the Pooky version of a Gustavian floor lamp, try the Moonshine and the pared-down elegance of whitewashed wood.

Gustavian reflections

Gustav III may have wanted to tone down all that French bling but he wasn’t averse to a touch of gold. He and Louis XV shared a love of large windows that flooded rooms with natural light, and mirrors with gilded frames, to make the most of that light during the daytime and to reflect the flickering of dozens, sometimes hundreds, of candles by night. Pooky’s Gustavian mirror recommendation is the simple but majestic Feathers, with its aluminium frame cunningly disguised in antiqued gold. It’s available in three different sizes and we like to think that it would have received their royal majesties’ seal of approval.


More in our series 'Classic interior design styles and how to light them': 1. Mid-Century Modern 2. English Country House style 3. Industrial style 4. Eclectic style 5. Coastal style 6. Scandinavian style 7. Art Deco 8. French chic 9. Shabby chic 10. Zen 11. Modern Rustic 12. Bohemian 13. Shaker style

Let Pooky light up your Gustavian-inspired home – browse our full range of affordable designer lighting here.