“It’s never too late for changes” is the mantra of Norwegian Vibecke Haagensen, transplanted to Sweden, the land where with her family she built her fairy tale in perfect Scandinavian style.
Horse breeder, photographer, interior designer, recipe developer, theater actress, Vibecke is all this and much more. A reserved soul that loves to share part of her talent on her website and on her Instagram profile. A soul who loves to accept new challenges to live better and in relationship with Nature.
Vibecke is a true Northern European woman. For her, Scandinavian living (what for Italians is equivalent to the Dolce Vita) is a philosophy of life that she supports, lives and shares with her family. The latest adventure concerns the renovation of a new farm in the heart of Sweden. Let’s get to know Vibecke better, her world and some tips on Scandinavian Hygge in this interview.
One of my big passions is hunting for and collecting all sorts of intriguing items. This was always a big passion of mine as far back as I can remember. As a child I collected gloss images and napkins in all the patterns and color combinations you can imagine. Believe it or not, they are still in my possession. Delicately kept in neat boxes, stored somewhere I’m not sure I remember. Could I have thrown them out when we moved last time? I have the occasional desperate attempt to reduce the amount of stuff, but it’s not something I’m very good at.
Moving made me aware how much stuff we had accumulated. It was a never ending process of rediscovering old treasures. Furniture, porcelain, copper, vintage fabrics, old mirrors, and clothes. A combination of my 50 years and my separation anxiety from these types of belongings. Whatever amount you’re picturing, double it.
Have you always lived surrounded by nature or did your country life begin in adulthood?
I grew up surrounded by nature and animals. Not in the countryside, but in a peaceful Norwegian suburb, just outside Ålesund. It’s a beautiful little city on the west coast, stretching into the ocean between the fjords and the mountains.
I always had a fondness for domesticated animals, and growing up we had hamsters, a few cats, and some exotic aquarium fish. As a little girl I was especially fascinated by horses. There was an equestrian center for horses nearby that I would visit as much as I could. Unfortunately for my homework tasks, the centre was placed between my home and my school. My big dream was to have a horse of my own, but due to economic circumstances; your ordinary working class family, it was never really an option.
When I met my husband, and he owned a horse, an old passion was sparked. It did take many years before the passion kicked in and I got back on a horse, but when I did it soon triggered the idea of moving abroad and living on a horse farm. When we did, we acquired a few more horses, some chickens, ducks, a dog, two cats, and a few horses. Living this life in the south of Sweden I felt I had discovered “the good life”.
Your love for animals is also a job as a horse breeder. How did horses improve your life?
I was consumed by a quite self-obsessed lifestyle. The focus was achievement, good looks, success, material needs etc. I played high level handball in my youth, went on to art school, and ended up in show-biz. It was a good ride, but in the end it was unsustainable. By some coincidences my life took a u-turn. My youngest son bought a horse, and in the middle of a busy career in show-biz, I was captured by my fascination for these animals. It didn’t take long before I sought back to my childhood dream of working with horses. I was 39 at the time, and quickly determined that I had to learn everything there was to know about this special animal.
I honestly never thought I would leave my beautiful hometown, my loving family, my great colleagues, and my dearest friends, but the desire to explore new dreams was too great to resist. I packed my bags (and my husband’s bags), and set the course for Sweden. We were starting a new life!
One beautiful aspect of farm life is the opportunity to help bring forth new life. Since moving here we have raised five foals. This has given me a much bigger understanding and insight into the life of a horse. The whole process from choosing the right stallion, making the 11 months of pregnancy as comfortable as possible, and being there when she is giving birth. All aspects of this make a strong impression. Being close to animals gives you a sense of their individuality and intrinsic value. It nurtures an attitude of respect and compassion to all living creatures.
What does Scandinavian living mean to you?
It’s a privilege to grow up in peaceful and prosperous Scandinavia. The world is your oyster here – there is abundant land and a political structure that supports everyone that has a dream they want to achieve. It’s a sense of freedom to do what you want to do, regardless of economic background.
Utopia aside, modern stress is not something alien to us here in Scandinavia either. Something we practise as a national ritual in Norway is going out in nature. Going out in the woods or in the mountains on a Sunday gives you a sense of Norwegians going about a holy ritual. We are somehow inclined to trust nature more and culture less. I think it’s just part of who we are.
Animals do something similar for us I believe. They take us away from ourselves, and our daily stress. We need animals in our lives as a window out of our own human existence. They are content with the present. They teach us tranquility. I’m not deep into the science, but I’ve seen several studies cited explaining how the presence of animals helps lower blood pressure, lower stress hormone levels, and helps us be more physically active. As well with children it’s fascinating how they can assist in the child forming complex relationships with another being.
We have been in Sweden for 12 years now. We have always felt it was far away from friends and family, but then a long pandemic came along and made the distance that much greater. We feel more separated from the things we have been taken for granted. More than ever I miss my children, my parents, and my friends. Perhaps life in the south of Sweden is soon coming to an end. The longing for the most important things in life comes to the surface making the distance hard to ignore. In response to this we have started making preparations to perhaps move back home. This might be the end of an adventure, but it’s not the end of the journey. New adventures await us in Norway.
How can we make our everyday life at home more comfortable, following the style of Scandinavian living?
Life is not perfect. A home should not be perfect. It should reflect life itself. Memories and souvenirs from different parts of life make a home personal and cozy. I would say try not to be too concerned with trends and styles. Find your style, and use items that mean something to you personally. This might not be as easy as it sounds, but it’s a good one to aim for. Take chances developing your own style, grounded in your personality.
When I am decorating my table I always bring in something wild from nature. It gives the room a sense of a natural organic atmosphere. Something as simple as fallen leaves in beautiful autumn colors, or cones in different variations. Also soft balls of moss, or branches that have fallen off the tree works well.
Whatever you are serving, I remind myself it doesn’t need to be that advanced. I put out my finest porcelain and my favourite wine glasses. Perhaps a flower on the napkin rings. These are details that will give your guest a sense of being appreciated by you as a hostess. Flowers and candles are more important than dust free bookshelves. It’s around the table that the fun is going on anyway.
Renovating your farm is one of your last big challenges. How do you choose the objects for the furnishing of each room?
This renovation is the biggest project and the biggest challenge we have taken on thus far. It was an old and worn down horse farm with a beautiful location. We acquired it in November 2020. After one year of intense effort, it’s almost in the shape and form we want it, and that it deserves.
I have quite a big storage of vintage furniture and decoration items to pick from. These are things I have gathered throughout my whole life, and that one day will make up the stock of my furniture boutique.
When I decorate rooms I mostly think about the lightning, size of the room, and its shape. Lots of light means it will handle more details. If the room is small and dark, it helps to keep it more simple. I love mixing new and old. It’s an authentic reflection of lived life. Green plants on the floor and in the windows are essential as well, of course.
Any suggestions for creating “the right atmosphere” inside and outside the house (garden, terrace…)?
It helps me to think of the exterior as an extension of the interior. Try creating different rooms outside as well, with different variations of an atmosphere you enjoy. The house we are in now is smaller than our previous house. This makes it even more important with enjoyable spaces outside that helps you get the most out of a shorter Nordic summer. Walled terraces and winter gardens are good and practical solutions when the weather isn’t playing along.
Try creating different spaces in your garden. It gives your property an exciting and intimate quality. When constructing these spaces I use different materials. Tree is soft and easier to construct, but requires more maintenance. Rock is less amenable and more time consuming, but rather maintenance free when put together. Greens, flowers, and light strings add to the charm.
We have been lucky to find some highly skilled Afghan carpenters. They have created the most amazing stonewalls, and stone terraces all over the property. The goal has been to create a stone-based theme for the whole property. Wherever on the property you find yourself there will always be a place to sit down to listen to birds, watch the horses, or just appreciate the flowers. Something beautiful to rest your eyes on and a place to enjoy a cup of coffee.
A little vegetable garden is both useful and beautiful. Add some chickens wandering about and it’s all balm for the soul.