5 Places to Visit in Oslo

The Scandinavian city offers a talented but humble design scene that plays homage to the rugged Nordic climate.

Until the discovery of huge reserves of oil off its shores, Oslo was among Europe's most humble capitals. Even now, as the city grows glitzy with petrodollars, the wildness of the surrounding peaks seems to reach down into the heart of the city. Parks, for example, are refreshingly unkempt at the edges. Lawns and gardens are often left to grow shaggy. And once, while looking for a shortcut between two posh neighborhoods, I found myself on what could only be described as a weedy country lane lined with tiny wooden shacks. 

Kolleketed By

Jannicke Kråkvik and Alessandro D’Orazio are Oslo's leading interior stylists, their work regularly gracing the pages of Elle Decor. Now, in Kråkvik's words, they decided to create their own "playground"—a marvelous new shop that features classic Scandinavian designs, carefully curated vintage pieces, and works by young Norwegian designers like the marbled ceramics of Günzler Polmar.

Oslo's design and architecture scene retains a similarly rugged charm. Much of the world's attention has been focused on two other Scandinavian powerhouses: Denmark and Sweden. However, my recent trip to Oslo confirmed that the relative modesty of Norway's reputation results not from any dearth of talent but, more likely, Norwegians' own lack of pretension. The designers and architects I met seemed more interested in buckling down to their work than boasting about the products of their labor. 

Ekeberg Sculpture Park

On a verdant hillside just above Oslo's booming waterfront, the new Ekeberg Sculpture Park is a who's who of contemporary sculpture. Buried under a tiny hillside reservoir, you can find two stunning works by James Turrell. From a tree branch dangle two shining, mysteriously entwined human forms created by Louise Bourgeois.

And this lack of guile seems to be built into the designs themselves. No matter how sophisticated, they tend to preserve a bracing measure of the rough natural world. During my visit, I found some great new additions to the city's design landscape, each of which smuggles the rawness of the Nordic wilds into the city's most urbane precincts. 

The more formal upstairs dining room is another story. The wood that lines both walls and floors is at once rich and raw-looking. At the same time, green-leather seating brings a clubby elegance. Built on classic Italian recipes, the dishes reveal the excellence of fresh ingredients, from Norwegian dill and asparagus to pecorino flown in from the Italian countryside.

Other artists represented in the park include Lynn Chadwick, Tony Cragg, Sarah Sze, and Matt Johnson. But what makes this garden most compelling? The way the art practically disappears into the sprawling landscape of green meadows and Nordic pines.

Trattoria Popolare

On its downstairs level, Oslo's favorite new trattoria wraps you in a cozy, pastoral version of Scandinavian modernism, with its teak tables and creamily natural palette. Top Norwegian firm Anderssen & Voll combine traditional elements with subtly modern touches. "Change and elements of surprise stimulate thought and reflection—even for people who are not very interested in design and even if the change is not radical," the designers say of their concept.

DogA (Center for Norwegian Design and Architecture)

In the great tradition of Norwegian social democracy, the Center for Norwegian Design and Architecture exists not just to show off local designers, but also to investigate how it can create a better world. Housed in a power station repurposed by Norwegian firm Jensen og Skodvin Arkitekter, the center consists of a series of captivating, industrial-rustic spaces that spill down a hillside toward a riverside park. The current exhibit, "Under Construction: Our Common Architecture and Landscape" (through September 28, 2014) explores the ways government can help foster smarter, greener, and more beautiful design.


Fans of mid-century modern furniture shouldn't miss the recently expanded Fuglen, a popular vintage cafe by day and an even more popular cocktail lounge by night. Spread out across four snug rooms, the bar-cafe doubles as a furniture showroom, and virtually all of the low-slung furnishings, which date mostly from the 1950s and 60s, are for sale. Many reveal the influence of Japanese aethetics on Norwegian designers, many of whom explicitly sought a warmer version of classic Scandinavian modernism.


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