There’s a light in every window, and other decorating challenges for non-Swedes

There's a light in every window, and other decorating challenges for non-Swedes
I've now started the process of stockpiling Advent lights for next Christmas, writes Victoria Martínez. Photo: Private
Victoria Martínez writes about some of the things you did not realize you would have to invest in when you first moved to Sweden.

In the days before we moved in to our new home in Sweden, my husband and I couldn’t help but notice that nearly every window we saw here was not only beautifully decorated, but also featured at least one charming and hospitable lamp. There was naturally much appreciative gushing over this, and I was personally quite filled with brilliant decorating ideas. Admittedly, our reaction on realizing that privacy blinds were either non-existent or rarely used in most windows, even at night, was one of respectful bemusement.

It’s all good, we said to ourselves from our hotel room. All part of the adventure!

And it really was. It was an adventure, up to and including the part where we walked into our new home and started counting windows, all with neither blinds nor lamps. Actually, there were few lights at all because, in Sweden, fixtures like lights don’t come with the property. My decorating dreams dissolved in an instant, replaced by the reality that the decision not to pack and ship too many breakables like lamps was a mistake.

I remember thinking how fortunate it was that it was still summer, with darkness lasting only from around 10 at night to 4 in the morning. Except that extended daylight was a double-edged sword. Sure, we weren’t living in the dark, but without blinds, my two preschool-age children naturally assumed they should be awake during ALL daylight hours.

As much as I love the principle of literal and figurative transparency behind the lack of blinds, parenthood has taught me that nothing shatters idealism faster than children, especially when both they and their parents are severely sleep-deprived.

One of the windows when we had just moved in, without blinds or curtains. Photo: Victoria Martínez

So, there we were, the whole family sleeping on air mattresses and eating picnic-style on the floor while my husband and I frantically assembled our new Ikea furniture and unpacked boxes, and all I could think about was whether to take my mother’s advice and line the windows with aluminium foil. Our windows went from being a culturally-inspired decorating opportunity to the first challenge on a very long list of things to do to get us settled in our new home. Risking looking like deviants, we nonetheless installed privacy blinds in all the bedrooms as soon as we could.

Normal sleep patterns restored, my attentions were turned toward the rest of our windows and, with fall approaching, buying and installing ceiling and wall lights. Particularly important was covering our front windows, through which we were blinded nightly by the lights of a bookstore across the street that resembled those on the spaceship in the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Unfortunately, in my rushed attempt to apply a decorative solution to the more public windows and thus appear somewhat less aberrant, I made a truly amateur mistake. I learned the hard way that even basic custom privacy curtains for a tricky window don’t come cheap in a country where home decorating is a national pastime. Coupled with the desperately-made purchase of quite a few ceiling and wall lights, I managed to spend a shocking amount of money while still raising eyebrows over my request for “closable” curtains.

After that, there wasn’t much money remaining for a charming and hospitable window lamp for every window, never mind beautiful decorations to accompany those lamps on the window sills. All my brilliant decorating ideas down the drain, I did what any self-respecting non-Swede would do, I closed the blinds and curtains. We had paid dearly for them, after all.

We've bought lamps for the windows. AND privacy blinds. Photo: Victoria Martínez

The arrival of the Christmas season brought with it the rude awakening that everyone in Sweden not only redecorates their windows for the holidays, they also replace their usual window lamps with Advent lights and stars. After I recovered from my shock, I decided that one Advent light placed in a bare window would suffice. In addition, placing the World’s tiniest Christmas tree in another window and moving our only existing window lamp to another bare window meant that we had lights of some kind in three whole windows!

After Christmas, returning to just one sad window lamp in the middle of darkest winter inspired me to take my slightly recovered decorating budget and go in search of illumination. As it turns out, it had been in the second-hand stores all along.

The result is that after eight months of living in Sweden, we have finally met the minimum acceptable standards for proper Swedish windows. Not only do we have a lamp for every window, we even have some decorations. Ever the planner, I have also started the process of stockpiling Advent lights and stars for Christmas.

Of course, now that spring is here and the days are getting longer, we won’t need the window lights as much. And since the bookstore across the street stopped turning on their spaceship lights, we technically don’t need the expensive front curtains anymore either.

It’s all good, I remind myself daily. All part of the adventure!

Victoria Martínez is an American historical researcher, writer and author of three historical non-fiction books. She lives in Småland county, Sweden, with her Spanish husband and their two children.

Read more from her family column on The Local here.