Photo by Christian Razukas and Bagus Tri Laksono
Johanna Brismar Skoog, in her first posting as an ambassador, lives in the residence alone, after her youngest son graduated from Jakarta International School and departed for France, and after her husband, Brismar Skoog’s predecessor as Sweden’s ambassador to the EU, left for a posting to the United Nations in New York City.
Almost all of furniture and products in the official part of the house, a mid-century take on the stately residence in the tony Kebayoran Baru section of South Jakarta, are exquisite exemplars of Swedish design from the embassy’s collection.
Brismar Skoog says that there wasn’t much that she wanted to change after moving in, apart from moving a few paintings around.
Flanking the foyer is a small drawing room used a waiting area or an intimate meeting room. Dominating the space are two plush armchairs and a sofa featuring vibrant green patterns done by Josef Frank, an Austrian Jew who founded the modern Viennese architecture before becoming a Swedish citizen in 1939. Frank was a polymath, creating amazing and distinct designs in several areas, including furniture, furnishings, fabrics, wallpaper and carpets. “He is the quintessential Swedish designer,” Brismar Skoog says. “His colours and designs were innovative. He was playing with colour in a way that survives time.”
The drawing room, which also boasts an exquisite nesting table, features several original watercolours of dandies done by the Swedish artist Nils Dardel, active in the first half of the 20th century. A painting by Dardel, an acclaimed Post-Impressionist, was for a time the most expensive piece of Swedish art ever auctioned.
The expansive main room has immense windows affording peaceful views of the residence’s lush garden and swimming pool. Throw pillows and footstools from Frank’s “Tehran” collection accent the comfortable space defined by sofas.
A curio cabinet holds several pieces of contemporary hand-crafted Swedish crystal from Brismar Skoog’s personal collection. The crystals are smooth and minimalist, she says. “It’s more about using natural light, not about the shape.” To the side are several reupholstered wooden chairs done in ornate Gustavian style, reflecting the Francophila of the 18th century Swedish monarch.
Off of the main room is an alcove that also overlooks the garden. “This is a place for music–a cuddling-up area. It makes you feel so close to nature,” Brismar Skoog says while sipping tea. “It is very tropical here. This is what I like best about the house. It is a secret oasis when I come back from the office.” Fronting the sofa is a Svenskt Tennsofa table designed by Frank. The table, made from gorgeous knotted elm root and walnut, has three legs and seems to float above the floor.
Along the passageway that leads to a guest bedroom is one of Brismar Skoog’s remarkable personal finds: An antique safe from Surabaya, East Java, complete with gilt dials secreted behind knobs and lovingly restored by a Belgian named Moessen living in Yogyakarta.
Guests access a cozy dining room through an opening from the main room. Flanked by sleek silver candlesticks and above a Nordåkers Snickeri chiffonier, custom-made from mahogany and elm root, is a painting titled “April Weather” in English that sets a cool tone for the room. Brismar Skoog talks about the piece with obvious affection, describing how it depicts a view very near Stockholm’s famed city hall on the banks of Riddarfjärden Bay. “It is a grey day, but you can see the glimmers of the spring sun in the background.”
Brismar Skoog’s private residence lies on the second floor, accessed via a magnificent marble staircase. Inside the wood-panelled living room is a space defined by immense, modern-style sofas and a wall of bookcases. Hanging is another piece by Frank from the ambassador’s own collection, purchased in Stockholm during a recent visit: A linen textile crafted by Josef Frank titled “Hawaii”. The piece, designed by the master in the 1940s, depicts an explosively coloured tropical scene set against black. Frank was said to have been inspired by images of Trees of Life from India seen during a visit to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“Hawaii”, however, reflects the ethos of its maker, and of its owner, Brismar Skoog: Cosmopolitan–and exquisitely–Swedish.