"Nordic modern of the Midwest" : Pipsan Saarinen Swanson's 1955 model home for LIFE magazine

Kowalski, Alison (2018) "Nordic modern of the Midwest" : Pipsan Saarinen Swanson's 1955 model home for LIFE magazine. In: Design and Displacement : Design History Society Annual Conference; 06 - 08 Sep 2018, New York, U.S.. (Unpublished)


In 1955, LIFE magazine, in collaboration with the Chicago Merchandise Mart, invited interior designers from around the United States to design homes suited to the climate, customs, and natural materials of their respective regions. The “Nordic Modern” Midwest house was designed by Pipsan Saarinen Swanson, a Finnish émigré in Michigan. Pipsan decorated the home with a number of her own designs, many of which had previously been featured in an array of design outlets ranging from mainstream magazines like Good Housekeeping to arenas of modern design such as a MoMA Good Design exhibition. In these varying contexts, Pipsan’s designs were coded in different ways. Yet in the LIFE house, the interior as a whole was framed—through concept and style—as Nordic Modern. Pipsan stated that LIFE had asked her to design a home with a “Scandinavian background”; she also took the opportunity to demonstrate the suitability of modern design in the Midwest. Pipsan’s house represents the broader trend of regional modernisms in post-war America, which in this case, involved an émigré designer who had maintained her Finnish identity while her work was often marketed as American design. By considering Pipsan’s relationship with the concept of Nordic design, I probe how certain designs became identified with Nordic identity, which was, in a geographic sense, out of place in Michigan. I ask, at what point in the life of the object (conception, manufacturing, marketing, consumption) did Nordic-ness become attached to Pipsan’s designs and how did this association function for the LIFE house? I investigate the concept that Nordic Modern was at home in Midwest America, and I argue that “Nordic” and “Modern” worked together to fulfill Pipsan’s and LIFE’s purposes.

Actions (Repository Editors)

Item Control Page Item Control Page