The Importance of being Ernst

Ernst Kirchsteiger’s the smooth-talking, suntanned, barefoot embodiment of the Swedish new man. But while he’s famously in touch with his feminine side, the presenter of TV home makeover shows Nya Rum and Sommartorpet is equally at home with a power saw as he is with a sewing machine.

“It’s provocative to sew,” the 48-year old tells The Local as the last episode of Nya Rum hits Sweden’s screens.

“It’s provocative to talk about softer values when you’re a man who is two metres tall and greying round the temples. But it’s quite exciting that I’ve started a debate,” he says.

Indeed, while other home improvement shows will feature a butch figure in overalls wielding a toolbox together with a velvet-jacketed diva with impractically ambitious design ideas, Ernst combines the two sides with typical Swedish understatement.

And Sommartorpet and Nya Rum are about as typically Swedish as it gets, reflecting as they do the long-standing national obsession with sawing, sewing, painting and fixing. Ernst – himself the son of an Austrian father and Polish mother, who was brought up in Degerfors in the rural county of Värmland – thinks the Swedish love of doing-it-yourself runs deep.

“We are confused farmers,” he says. “It’s only 150 years since most of us left the land, and I think there’s still a real desire to do something real, like baking a cake – the desire for that feeling that we have done something ourselves and that we like ourselves.”

If home improvement has long been a tradition, Ernst has helped make it sexy. Both Aftonbladet and Tara magazine have listed him as one of Sweden’s sexiest TV-stars. But Ernst is having none of it.

“God forbid that I should ever see myself as a sex-symbol,” he says with a hearty laugh.

“I don’t place that much importance on looks.”

But surely his fans are at least as attracted by his new man image as by his good looks?

“Maybe there’s some truth in that, but my wife will never let me think of myself as a sex symbol, and my two sons have a jolly good laugh about the whole thing,” he says.

Strangely, for a softly-spoken TV home renovator, Ernst has faced more than his fair share of criticism. When last year he renovated a modern summer house on Sommartorpet he faced a tabloid outcry.

“They said that I had become a ‘luxury Ernst’. That was quite a stressful situation,” he says.

But is there anything wrong with a bit of luxury?

“No, I think that everyone should treat themselves in their daily lives.”

Luxury for Ernst is “taking a tray with dark chocolate and some port out to the outside toilet.”

“We’re only here for a short time – we should allow ourselves some luxury while we can.”

His unique style and his position as something approaching a national treasure have led to a fair amount of ribbing, not least on popular impersonation show Hej Baberiba. But Ernst doesn’t mind.

“It’s all part of being someone that people identify with,” he says.

“It’s an honour in a way, at least if you are used to laughing at yourself. And there’s always warmth in it,” he says.

The onset of winter means less Ernst on our screens, but he won’t be going into complete hibernation, with appearances on children’s wildlife programme Wild Kids, and so-far secret plans to be involved in a comedy programme. But it’s still home improvement that gets Ernst going. His ambition is to turn an old industrial building into a home.

“They’re often beautiful buildings, and you can use that aesthetic to create a beautiful home. That could be a future project, if I were able to choose freely” he says.

But it would be hard for him to beat the experience of doing up a summerhouse by a lake in Karlskoga, in Ernst’s own home area, in the 2004 series of Sommartorpet. That ranks for him as the project he’s most satisfied with:

“We had a real harmony there – the house, the lake and the people.”