The Look

The Look: A Very Scandinavian Christmas

December 24, 2013 | Alex

It's Christmas Eve! A cherished part of the holiday season is the connection I feel to my cultural heritage. Like many Americans, I'm guilty of a fair amount of ignorance when it comes to the traditions of my ancestral homelands, Denmark and Poland. But around Christmas time, I do feel a real kinship to my maternal Danish roots.

If you visited our home around the holidays, you might think my mom and I were 1st and 2nd generation Americans. (In fact, we're 3rd and 4th, if I'm counting right.) My mom inherited a few beautiful Scandinavian Christmas decorations from her mother. Recently, she's adopted the tradition of trimming the tree with garlands of Danish flags. This year's mantle even has a distinctly Scandinavian quality in its rustic simplicity.

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Since I'm feeling a combination of nostalgia for my Danish ancestry and anticipation for my upcoming Swedish adventure, I thought I'd share a few of my favorite holiday traditions from Scandinavia.


+ Advent calendars, while certainly a presence in the US, are much more popular in Scandinavia. Advent calendars are a sweet way to build children's anticipation in the 24 days leading up to Christmas Day. (Although the days on a modern advent calendar always overlap with the Christian Advent, they don't always correspond.) I especially love this homemade advent calendar that Emma Reddington of the marion house book created for her family:

+ St. Lucia's Day is celebrated on December 13, and serves to officially kick off the Christmas season. A girl is selected to portray St. Lucia in the celebratory ceremony, and dons a white rob with a red sash and a wreath of candles. She is followed by a processional of girls carrying a single candle. In Sweden, a "St. Lucia" in each household wakes the family with coffee and saffron buns called lussekater. (Some of my American contemporaries probably might recognize all this from Swedish-American Girl Doll, Kirsten.) The date coincides with the ancient winter solstice and many of the traditions of St. Lucia's day pre-date christianity. It's a really fascinating example of how the now predominantly Lutheran nations integrated many pagan/folk practices into their religious observance, as well as how the theme of light vs. dark features so heavily in Scandinavian culture.

+ A true Scandinavian christmas tree sports real candles on clips and garlands of national flags. Drums are another popular motif, dating back to the World Wars. The top of the tree is typically decorated with a star (never an angel, which seems to be a popular tree-topper stateside.) While we've adopted the Danish flag tradition, we plan to stick with electric lights following a near-miss with a fire last Christmas eve. 

+ My mother grew up opening presents on Christmas Eve, as is the Danish fashion. Christmas morning was reserved for stockings and playing with ones' presents. In my childhood, we each opened one present on Christmas Eve and the rest on Christmas morning. This year however, we're doing things Danish-style! (Albeit for scheduling reasons, but let's just chalk it up to getting in touch with one's roots.)

To get you in the Christmas spirit (if not now, when?) here are a few lovely Scandinavian decorations I rounded up:



  1. Danish Christmas Tree Garland
  2. SNOMYS Decoration, Ikea - $9.99
  3. Birch Log Bundle, Terrain - temporarily out of stock
  4. Eucalyptus, Bay and Evergreen Crown, via DesignSponge
  5. Ivory + Scarlet Striped by Ana Candles, via FiveStripes - $24 and  Marble Candle Holder by Fort Standard, via Steven Alan - $44


If you like Scandinavian Christmas decor, just wait til you see what they've got to offer in terms of food and drink. I'd have to say that gløgg is my Christmas beverage of choice, but while I was in Iceland over Thanksgiving, I picked up a fondness for birch liqueur. Then of course, there's any cocktail made with Lingonberry. The Nordic nations sure know how to drink.

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During the holiday season, Danes whip up tiny round apple pancakes called æbleskiver, that are served with powdered sugar. It's a food I learned about at a young age when admiring my great grandmother's treasured cast iron aebleskiver pan. But interestingly, one I only tasted when my Danish friend Iben started hosting an annual aeblskiver party. It's Danish Christmas in Brooklyn! 

Growing up, my mom would always indulge in a pack of Anna's ginger thins around Christmas time. To me, that was the gold standard of Swedish cookies. That is until I discovered rosettes. Both tasty and beautiful to look at, they're a bit like a delicate waffle coated in powdered sugar. 

And in the Danish tradition (superstition?) of giving a treat to your animal friends, lest they speak ill of you when they're temporarily given the power of speech on Christmas Eve, I've even included a festive antler snack for Hektor.



  1. Swedish Rosette and Timbale Set, via World Market - $7.49
  2. The Double Fork Dog Toy, Smoky Mountain Studio via Etsy - $28
  3. Hafi Lingonberry Concentrate or SAFT LINGON via Ikea (pictured is Brunneby's Lingonberry Concentrate) - $4.99-5.99
  4. Bjork Liqueur via Foss Distillery + Birch Straws via Terrain
  5. NorPro Cast Iron Aebleskiver Pan, via Ebay - $8.91
  6. Anna's Ginger Thins (12-pack of boxes) - $26.99

Glaedelig Jul, God Jul, and Merry Christmas, everyone! 

Shop + The Look: Fjällräven Flagship Opens in SoHo (Plus, Fjällräven Polar!)

November 21, 2013 | Alex

Have you guys heard of Fjallraven, the Swedish outdoor apparel company? Often compared to North Face or Patagonia because of their product lines, their brand recognition and reach in their home country makes them more like Swedish Nike. If the name-- swedish for "arctic fox"-- doesn't ring a bell, you might recognize their signature Kanken backpack, long a favorite among hipsters and celebrity children. (Barneys started carrying the Kanken back as early as 2009.)

Well, the biggest apparel company in Scandinavia is now making a big push to establish their brand more widely in North America. Although not inexpensive, I was happy to discover that their women's wear is great-looking and flattering-- not always the case with cold-weather duds. I especially love their color ways. Their red is a true fire-engine red, which for me is the true test. Don't you find that reds, whether in clothing or cars, are so often anemic? Not at Fjallraven!

Here are a few of my favorite products, including the iconic Kanken (#4):



  1. Ovik Melange Beanie - $30 (I look terrible in most hats, but in this one, I look sort of cute! I think.)
  2. Numbers No.21 Rucksack - $150 
  3. Greenland Parka - $375
  4. Kanken - $75
  5. Nordic Heater - $65
  6. Greenland Wax - $3 (on sale)

The concept behind the wax is pretty neat. Any of their greenland line of products (like #3 above) can be treated with the wax to buff up wind and water resistance. You just rub the wax on and set it with an iron. Or if you'd rather leave it to the professionals, you can bring your greenland product into the "waxing station" at a Fjallraven store. I'm always heart broken when my cobbler or dry cleaner tells me that a beloved staple of my waredrobe is beyond repair, so I love the idea that a Fjallraven jacket could last decades with proper care.

I leave on Tuesday for a 4-day trip to Iceland, so I invested in an Ovik Beanie and a Nuuk Parka to keep me warm, plus a Kanken to hold my gear. I'll be sure to report back on how they fared.

If you find yourself in SoHo, their new flagship store on Greene St, is definitely worth checking out. Kitted out by NY's Anderson Architects, the design combines the original architecture of the SoHo loft space (soaring ceilings, hardwood floors and those ubiquitous cast iron columns) with the material palette of a Scandinavian forest. I think my favorite features are the European oak millwork (including oversized peg boards that allow merchandisers to customize the display) and a volume paneled in fern-filled wooly pockets.

Here's are a few ideas to bring the look of the flagship store into your home:




  1. Wally One, Wooly Pocket - $40
  2. Jeeves Coat Rack w/ Mirror, DWR - $206.25 (*on sale)
  3. Brass Gooseneck Desk Lamp, Urban Remains - $375
  4. Campaign Chair, Carmel Bay Company (via Remodelista) - $445 
  5. Nehrolepis (Boston Fern), Ikea - $16.99
  6. Marble Coffee Table, Jason Pickens for Steven Alan Home - price upon request

In addition their commitment to environmental stewardship, I love that one of the company's founding principles is to "spark and maintain an interest in nature in as many people as possible." They believe that if they can get people out and into nature, they'll help to create a larger population of individuals committed to preserving the environment.

Fjallraven Polar is one of their main initiatives to get people out in nature. Every year, the company holds a contest to select 20 people from around the world to participate in a "300km long winter adventure across the arctic tundra." Participants receive gear and training to dogsled for 4 days, beginning in Norway and ending in Sweden. Breathtaking, isn't it?


I really can't explain why, but I have always been fascinated by dog sledding. I know-- why would a born-and-raised New Yorker dream of dog sledding? Maybe it was watching the animated film Balto as a kid. Maybe it was growing up walking past the statue of Balto, which inexplicably stands in Central Park (shouldn't it be in Nome, Alaska?) But somehow, learning to dog sled is at the top of my bucket list. So naturally, when I saw the Fjallraven Polar video that the SoHo flagship store has playing on loop, I thought "Yep. I have to enter this."

To make the entry video, I collaborated with photographer/videographer Elizabeth T. Jones and my snaggle-toothed pup Hektor. Check it out!

If you have a Facebook account, I'd love your vote! Click here to access my entry page, click "Log In" to login to your Facebook account, then click the big red "vote" button. I wish there were a way to vote without a Facebook account, but the contest is managed through Facebook to ensure that each individual only votes once. So please vote! Tell your friends! My entry is currently 16 of 32 in terms of number of votes-- a long way to catch up.

Participating in Fjallraven Polar would be the opportunity of a lifetime. But it would also make for some pretty phenomenal blog content, don't you think? If I do win, you can expect a very detailed play-by-play and lots of photos here at Common Bond Design. Besides, what better way to prove Fjallraven Polar's mission statement that "anyone with the right equipment and knowledge can be part of and enjoy the beautiful wilderness of the Arctic Circle" than to send a consummate urban dweller like me?

Alright, enough electioneering. One final Fjallraven-related tip: If you're as smitten with arctic foxes as I am a) follow FjallravenUSA on Instagram for #foxfridays; and b) pick up one of Brooklyn-based Coral and Tusk's Arctic Fox Ornaments for the holidays.

PS I apologize profusely for the complete omission of umlaut's throughout this post. Fjallraven has two! Alas, our blogging platform and the keyboard shortcut for umlauts do not seem to get along.

The Look: Orange is the New Black

September 30, 2013 | Alex

Have you watched the Netflix original series Orange is the New Black I devoured the 13-episode season in a week. (And I think I may have watched 6 episodes in a single rainy day. Ah, the freelancing life.) 

Based on real life convict Piper Kerman's memoir, the pilot episode begins on the eve of Piper Chapman's self-surrender to a minimum security federal penitentiary in Litchfield, NY. The show depicts the everyday indignities and intense "fishbowl" drama of prison life, while slowly weaving in fragmented flashbacks that tell the story of how a well-heeled Smith alum landed herself a 13-month sentence. (Disclaimer: if you're considering checking out the show, be warned that it has some raunchy moments-- more graphic than network TV, less graphic than HBO/Showtime.)

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I'm not eager to experience life in a women's prison, but...I find the interiors strangely compelling? Yes, there is a dearth of color and yellow linoleum floors are bad. The industrial and utilitarian elements, though, are right up my alley. And I love the fiberglass shell chairs and Hellerware-inspired coffee mugs. Midcentury design abounds in American institutional settings. 

In the cell blocks, my heart skips a little every time the camera pans on the inmate's standard issue windowpane blankets. (Or any time C.O. John Bennett is on screen. Daya, you lucky girl, you.) I'm even a little envious of Piper's opportunity to learn electrical engineering-- something I've been meaning to master for years, albeit not in a work camp context. 

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Wanna know the strangest thing about my interest in prison decor? It started when I was 9. On a long car ride, I produced a series of drawings demonstrating to my parents how I would get creative with standard issue duds to decorate my cell. Orange is the New Black merely reawakened my interest.

Prison, as the series demonstrates, requires extreme resourcefulness. Whether it's budget, space constraints, or regulations designed to minimize inmate violence, working within a tight construct can be energizing. Environments of scarcity activate my creative right-brain.

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That said, opportunities for individuality and creative self-expression are truly rare at the Litchfield correctional facility. But crochet seems to be a prominent exception. (Why and under what circumstances inmates are allowed to use crochet hooks is never explained.) I've always found crochet to be a little 'loving hands at home' for my taste, but in researching this post, I was happy to stumble upon a few contemporary applications (see #8 below!). While posting photos to the wall above your bunk is technically against the rules, correctional officers turn a blind eye. And if the commissary is fresh out of washi tape, a little electrical tape aught to do the trick.



  1. Toulouse Blue Half-Throw Bed Roll, Hedgehouse - $150
  2. Vintage Kreuger Fiberglass Chairs, Department Chicago - no longer available  (similar here for $89 ea.)
  3. Lucent Sconce, Schoolhouse Electric - $205
  4. Pipe Bed, by Manhattan Clean Line via Apartment Therapy - $475
  5. Printstagram + Washi Tape (image via Pinterest) - prices vary
  6. Window Pane Blanket by Pendleton, via Lands End - $99-$119 (*on sale)
  7. Vintage Gooseneck Lamp, via Etsy - $125
  8. Contemporary Crochet Blanket, via Etsy - no longer available (similar products and patterns here)
  9. Stainless Steel Dinner Tray, via Amazon - $8.60 (this stoneware version is pretty cool too!) 


The Look: Over-sized Art in the Bedroom

April 4, 2013 | Alex

Isn't this bedroom inviting? It's spacious, dramatic, bohemian, lived-in, a little off-beat...

I like the over-sized art above the bed. Especially how the geometric theme contrasts with the patterned bedspread, but stays in the same color scheme (a great example of complement|contrast  in a real space.) I even like the velvet euro shams in the back-- in any other context, I think I might hate them, but here they really work by adding texture and stylistic contrast. And those charcoal floors! Yes, I could happily live here.

But since the family that actually occupies this bedroom (and their adorable mop-head kid) might object, here's an idea for how to achieve a similar look in your own space:


Sources  (clockwise from top left)

  1. Architectural System Organism Machine by Simis Gatenio (38.6 x 37 x 1 Acrylic on Wood Panel), via Saatchi Online
  2. System Organism Machine by Simis Gatenio (33.5 x 47.2 x 1 Acrylic on Wood Panel), via Saatchi Online
  3. Provence Sham King, Calypso St. Barth Home - $180
  4. Austin Velvet Euro Sham, via Black Forest Decor - $49.95 (*sale price)
  5. Provence Duvet King, Calypso St. Barth Home - $675
  6. Diamond Linen Quilt (King), Pottery Barn - $299 (try the quilt as a casually draped box spring cover)
  7. Travers Side Table, Anthropologie - $498
  8. Tizio Desk Lamp for Artemide, via DWR - $525
  9. Off-Black (No. 57), Farrow & Ball 

(If a pair of over-sized canvases aren't in your budget, try hanging a single piece of art work centered over the headboard or off to one side!)