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Let There Be Light

Loving Swedish Charm for the Holidays



Photos by Wendy Carlson

Winters in Scandinavia are long, dark, and cold, which led Edie van Breems to observe there are two kinds of Swedes: the winter Swedes, those brooding, dark, existential Ingmar Bergman types; and the summer Swedes, those embracing light and warmth no matter the weather. Edie is decidedly the latter. Even on the harshest of winter days, her 1700s Swedish-style vintage farmhouse radiates love, life, and light.

The rustic home in pastoral Greenfield Hill becomes a gathering place for friends and family, especially with the arrival the winter solstice and St. Lucia Day. The aroma of Glögg, a mulled Swedish wine, and Aquavit, distilled liquor flavored often with fennel or cardamom, mingles with the scent of fresh-cut evergreens. Canapes of salmon topped with cream cheese and dill sprigs, and pickled herring served on rye or “ruis” bread are a prelude to a sumptuous smorgasbord. Vanilla, almond and cinnamon cookies; marzipan and honey cakes presented in the traditional Scandinavian Christmas heart-shape motifs are prepared by Rhonda Eleish, Edie’s partner in Eleish van Breems Ltd., an antique Scandinavian furniture and decor business.

The two women first forged a friendship in grade school when they both attended Green Farms Academy in Westport. But it wasn’t until decades later as adults when they delved into their Swedish heritage that they discovered they both shared a deep passion for Scandinavia. Rhonda had connections in the antique world through her Swedish aunt, a well-known dealer whose father was C.W. Gullers, a famous photographer on whom Stieg Larsson, author of the Millennium crime novels, based his main character. 

Before long Edie and Rhonda became the Swedish version of American Pickers, rumbling across the Nordic countryside in a beat-up old Volvo station wagon hunting for rare and wonderful vintage pieces, often logging in 12- and 15-hour days and plying those gruff winter Swedes with the occasional gift of a bottle of whiskey.

In 1998, the two opened an antiques gallery in Woodbury that showcased the Scandinavian lifestyle featuring Gustavian formal and country Swedish folk antiques. They eventually moved their storefront online and by appointment, using Edie’s house as a design studio. “We’ve had success with it because we’re both in love with Scandinavian culture, the food, the furniture, the design, and just their clean, refreshing way of life,” says Edie. 

Together, they have written three books on Scandinavian furniture and interiors, but their personal lives are also entwined. Edie is godmother to Rhonda’s eight-year-old daughter Kari, and Rhonda is godmother to Lars, 18, the eldest of Edie’s two sons. “The children have all grown up together, so we’re very much like family,” says Rhonda. Come December, Edie and Rhonda, who lives in Southport, draw from their favorite Swedish Christmas traditions for the holiday. 

“I had a Swedish nanny growing up in Fairfield who lived across the street, and I would spend the afternoons making Christmas cookies with her and that’s how I learned all about Swedish baking,” says Rhonda.

For Edie, the holiday season has a special meaning. She was born on December 13, which marks the celebration of St. Lucia. According to legend, on that day in 1764, a young gentleman was awakened from his sleep by a young woman in white, singing and dancing through his room. She had wings and carried a candle. St. Lucia brought light, food, and wine for comfort on what was in the Georgian calendar, the longest night of the year. But she also came to symbolize the Nordic struggle between light and dark.

Throughout the house though, in keeping with St. Lucia, Christmas decor is light and bright. The dining room features their line of reproduction Gustavian furniture, a style that dates back to the king of Sweden, Gustav III. After returning home to Sweden after staying at the court of Louis XVI at Versailles, he was influenced by the neoclassical style and sought to recreate it in Sweden. Gustavian furniture initially was reserved for royal palaces, but the style became popular in country homes where furniture was either white-washed or painted gray or soft cream. The light-painted finish provided a reflective quality during the long dark winters, and older pieces have the unique patina of the aged, painted wood. “I sort of have a fondness for things in decay,” concedes Edie. Indeed, it was raw authenticity that originally drew her and her former husband to buy the house, which was once owned by the Anatole Broyard, a literary critic and editor for the New York Times. 

But when she first saw the clapboard farmhouse nearly 18 years ago, it had been partially destroyed by a fire. She fell in love with the place despite its crumbling walls. “I just had to have the house, and then it turned out the current owner was a Swedish photographer so it was somewhat serendipity,” she says. 

No surprise, Edie’s home is filled with Swedish antiques. A beautifully hand-painted trunk from Lapland graces a corner next to the fieldstone fireplace where stockings are hung and elf cookies are left for the Nisse on Christmas Eve. According to Scandinavian lore, the Nisse is the Scandinavian version of Santa Claus, although he is somewhat naughty, opting to play tricks on people who don’t provide him with the requisite sweets. If he’s pleased, the Nisse will stuff your winter boots with presents. While he looks very much like Santa with his long, white beard, he is generally no taller than three feet. He doesn’t come down the chimney, or drive a sleigh pulled by reindeer. And, he is neither fat nor jolly. “A true winter Swede,” quips Edie. n

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Website »

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The Housatonic Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Drip Drop, Tick Tock” by regional artist, Joseph Fucigna. The show focuses on sculptures from the on-going Plastic Fencing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Housantonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT  06604
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Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

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Join us while we hunt for the East Coast's best Dance Crew. Watch as crews for all ethnic backgrounds and styles of dance come together to compete for title of The Best Dance Crew! Hip Hop,...

Cost: Pre Sale $25.00 Day of Show $30.00

Where:
Wall Street Theater
Wall Street
Norwalk, CT  06850
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Sponsor: Wall Street Theater
Telephone: 877-987-8764
Contact Name: Jeanne Moore
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On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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Open during regular Library hours Paradise [Lost] features a collection of color photographs by Árpád Krizsán, Best in Show winner of Pequot Library's 2017 Art Show....

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
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Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
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Nature is on display in “A Reverence For Nature” with pieces that reflect the artists’ admiration of nature or the environment in a multitude of ways. Exhibiting artists include...

Cost: Free

Where:
Maritime Garage Gallery
11 North Water Street
Norwalk, CT  06854
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Sponsor: Norwalk Parking Authority
Telephone: 203-831-9063
Contact Name: Nadia Martinez
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Francisco Fullana, Violin Soloist Join us for three masterpieces representing important moments in time for orchestral music.  Arvo...

Cost: $50; $37.50, $25, Students $10

Where:
Norwalk Concert Hall
125 East Avenue
NORWALK, CT  06855
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Sponsor: Norwalk Symphony Orchestra
Telephone: 203-956-6771
Contact Name: Sandra Miklave, Executive Director
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On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

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ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
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Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
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Laura from Olive My Skin will be joining us to talk about her lovely natural soaps, wood wick soy candles and skin care line, all proudly made in Connecticut. All Fair Trade, paraben free,...

Cost: free

Where:
The Smithy
10 Main Street
New Preston, CT  06777
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Sponsor: The Smithy
Telephone: (860)868-9003
Contact Name: susan
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A series of graphic novel-style panels designed by illustrator Kirk Manley tells the dramatic story of the spy ring that operated between New York City, Long Island, and Fairfield during the...

Cost: Members: Free; Adults: $5; Seniors & Students: $3; children 5 and under: Free.

Where:
Fairfield Museum
370 Beach Rd
Fairfield, CT  06824
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In this key moment in our national history and the struggle for women’s equality and freedom of expression, the Fairfield Museum’s exhibition “Flappers: Fashion and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Fairfield Museum and History Center
370 Beach Road
Fairfield, CT  06824
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Website »

More information

The Housatonic Museum of Art presents a new exhibition, “Drip Drop, Tick Tock” by regional artist, Joseph Fucigna. The show focuses on sculptures from the on-going Plastic Fencing...

Cost: Free

Where:
Housantonic Community College
900 Lafayette Blvd.
Bridgeport, CT  06604
View map »


Telephone: 120-333-25052
Contact Name: Robin Zella

More information

On June 23, the Bruce Museum in Greenwich opens Expressionism in Print: The Early Works of Richard Haas, 1957 - 64 in the Arcade Gallery. The exhibition will be on display through October 21, 2018....

Cost: Free for members; $10 for non-members; $8 for seniors and students with ID

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Drive
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

Formed in 1963 in Stamford, CT, The Fifth Estate was a central part of the garage rock movement. Remember NBC's 'Hullabaloo'? They performed their crackin' song 'I Just...

Cost: $28

Where:
Fairfield Theatre Company at StageOne
70 Sanford Street
Fairfield, CT  06824
View map »


Website »

More information

Open during regular Library hours Paradise [Lost] features a collection of color photographs by Árpád Krizsán, Best in Show winner of Pequot Library's 2017 Art Show....

Cost: Free and open to the public.

Where:
Pequot Library
720 Pequot Avenue
Southport, CT  06890
View map »


Sponsor: Pequot Library
Telephone: 203-259-0346
Contact Name: Pequot Library
Website »

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Evocation of light is ever present in the romantic and experiential landscapes of Ira Barkoff. His recent works convey the spontaneity and the maturity of the artist’s hand and dedication to...

Cost: Free

Where:
Canfin Gallery
39 Main Street
Tarrytown, NY  10591
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Sponsor: 1953
Telephone: 914-332-4554
Contact Name: Jean-Claude Canfin
Website »

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Francisco Fullana, Violin Soloist Join us for three masterpieces representing important moments in time for orchestral music.  Arvo...

Cost: $50; $37.50, $25, Students $10

Where:
Norwalk Concert Hall
125 East Avenue
NORWALK, CT  06855
View map »


Sponsor: Norwalk Symphony Orchestra
Telephone: 203-956-6771
Contact Name: Sandra Miklave, Executive Director
Website »

More information

On August 18, 2018, the Bruce Museum will open A Continuous Thread: Navajo Weaving Traditions. This exhibition will trace the history of the Navajo weaving tradition from the earliest...

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 203-413-6735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

ReTooled: Highlights from the Hechinger Collection, an engaging and thought-provoking look at the unexpected subject of tools, will be on view at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, from September...

Cost: Members and students with ID free. $10-$25

Where:
Bruce Museum
1 Museum Dr
Greenwich, CT  06830
View map »


Sponsor: Bruce Museum
Telephone: 2034136735
Contact Name: Scott Smith
Website »

More information

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