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Daniel and Laney

Scandinavian Spring in the South

Zigzag Black

A quietness floated over Chattanooga, TN that morning like a still fog. The seasons were in the midst of transition. The icy cold winter slowly gave way to the incoming of Spring. All of Spring’s expectations came forth like a new promise: finally inviting the momentarily chilled South to greet the warmth again. Amidst this transition, we stepped inside the home of Daniel & Laney Nelson to experience a morning full of laughter, quiet lighting, and Scandinavian delights.

Just outside of downtown in Highland Park, a neighborhood on its way to a brighter future, is the apartment Daniel and Laney share as newlyweds. Their home carries a Swedish aesthetic and echoes the atmosphere of monastic living: it is quiet, reflective, and ultimately breathable. It provides space for thought. However, do not confuse reflective with a lack of activity.

We arrive at the break of dawn, perhaps a time that should be reserved only for movement on the forest floor. Laney has already set to work preparing a delectable breakfast while Daniel instinctively produces the morning dose of coffee. The morning light quietly bounces through their home inviting us to investigate undiscovered areas. Daniel signals me to come and witness a professional pour over on his new coffee bar, hand built might I add. I harken back to a time when most household items were built by the people dwelling in them – a time, ironically, that I never knew. I imagine wood working, carpentry, and simply the ability to make and create being a natural part of their DNA.

I took a course in anthropology back in college. While most of it surpassed my comprehension at the time, I remember taking a particular interest in ethnography, or “ the systematic study of peoples and cultures.” Albeit an 8 o’clock class, I perked up at the mention of individual tools, pottery, chairs, or kitchenware used throughout the ages. These items embodied a set of ideals within these cultures. They showcased what these people valued and why. These artifacts also uncovered a deeper human trait. Functionality, while the primary role, was not the only role. People often adorned their possessions with intricate carvings which sought to tell stories. The Greeks painted silhouetted figures of warriors, battles, and tragic love affairs on their pottery. Beauty gave their handiwork value and elevated their purpose. I wondered if the western addiction to shopping somehow stripped us of our innate desire to create and connect with the things we own.

I drifted back to the coffee bar as Daniel dripped the last bit of coffee in to his Chemex. We exchanged a smile, which supported the notion that coffee is indeed the elixir of a good morning. It was time to wake up. As we sipped coffee, we joined Laney in the kitchen and conversed about the mixture of ingredients she had chosen for this meal. The smell of fresh cut vegetables and greenery mingled with the aroma of baking biscuits. One of the dishes she made took on the identity of a frittata but there was no official name for it. We doted over the rustic swirl of aromas while Laney began to tell us one of those much desired stories of how these recipes came to be. She discussed the delicate journey and migration of this recipe from Belarus, a small country landlocked by Russia and Ukraine.

“This frittata draws it’s inspiration from Belarus. My eldest brother Tim, not biological or adopted but nonetheless a part of the family, came from Belarus. He would make breakfast once in a blue moon. He’d scramble a few eggs, let it sit, and then methodically add the ingredients I have here to it.” I imagined recipes taking on human characteristics, packing their belongings, wishing their country farewell, and greeting their new land with anticipation. Hoping to make a difference in a home somewhere. I thought of towns in Belarus where perhaps people used this same recipe. In some odd, yet connected way, I felt a certain kinship because I was sharing in the same sustenance that provided life.

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Laney proceeded to add the vegetables to the skillet, while I joined Daniel in his living room. Daniel revealed a book simply entitled, “ Scandinavian Design.” I would soon learn that this book produced the heartbeat for their home. Much like Laney’s recipe, it held the ingredients for their aesthetic and lifestyle choices. I conversed with Daniel about his love of Scandinavian design and why he felt a close tie to this tradition. “My Great, Great Grandfather, Arvid Nelson, came over from Sweden.

My grandfather, Jack, owned a Swedish restaurant in upper Michigan that my dad worked at.  I feel like a trend in the past has been to say that cultural ties where you derived self-worth were bad. You can’t be too proud of being German or American, etc. It’s a weird thing where we’ve kind of rejected those traditional things that generally for years we have embraced. I’ve been learning about my Swedish heritage and I enjoy saying that I’m Swedish.” I knew the exact sentiment Daniel expressed.

Nationalism can be a scary thing. It can divide, create hostility, or dehumanize other ethnic groups. However, we might have thrown the baby out with the bath water on this one. Pride in one’s heritage and ethnicity also creates identity, a sense of place. Daniel went on: “I like Scandinavian design because it combines functionality, aesthetics, and comfort. I don’t like decorations for the sake of decorations. I don’t like things that aren’t comfortable but do look good. And I don’t like things that are comfortable, look good, but don’t work good. The idea is to find a perfect fusion of those things without sacrificing any one part of it.” Daniel explained his heritage and design convictions with a delightful seriousness. The subtle noise of the table being set permeated the background. The table slowly filled up with biscuits, fruit, fresh coffee, and Laney’s Belarusian frittata. It beckoned us forward for one of humanity’s oldest traditions: the breaking of bread.

As we sat down, Laney picked up where Daniel left off: “For me, I’m a minimalist; I don’t like having a ton of stuff. If clothing sits in the closet for 2 or 3 months, I bid adieu to it. Possessions must be practical but meaningful.” By now, both of their eyes lit up and Daniel followed, “Our white walls and ceilings allow natural light to permeate the room. Function wise, when I’m reading a book I’ll be straining my eyes, and then I turn a lamp on and it lights the entire room. White walls may be a trend, but it’s actually functional and timeless.” I clean my plate of any remnants while Laney describes how the objects in their house came to be: “We both like slowly doing things and collecting. When we first moved in we tried to get the place in a livable condition quickly. But with furniture, it was just a couch. Daniel made our table, and we’ve slowly acquired a few things over the past few months. There’s more value in slowly finding something we really like.” In a culture where instant gratification is an easy sell, Daniel & Laney crave the appropriate fixture with a steady patience.

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We finish the meal. By this time, the birds and the sun have made their presence fully known. With our bellies full and our skin slowly receiving the warmth of the sun, Laney and Daniel reminisce over their time in Quebec. They speak of community, food, culture and how their home there provided a sense of belonging for foreign college students.  They describe their home in Quebec: “ Imagine a barn shaped, big roomed, loft apartment in the middle of a remote village overlooking a lake in the mountains. Whenever we brought our friends from the university we would load them up in the car and take them in trips to our house. They would be in tears saying, ‘we feel like we are at home again.’ These friendships and series of interactions influenced how we feel about our home. Sometimes people are in a transitional stage and they are in a place where they can only be there for six months so they just don’t put time and care into it. It creates a need for them to have a place that feels like home. We have to fight this short term mindset.  We might not be here forever but we have to act like we’re going to be here forever, or we just won’t invest.” I am taken on a visual journey through their past year of residence. I move through the mountains, the snow flakes as they adorn their barn bungalow, and the foreign smiles that light the room. I connect with the disease of the short term mindset that plagues our generation. We are sojourners looking for a home but we fear the investment it takes. We may gain the freedom of mobility but we lose the security of home. We sacrifice stability for the perceived notion it will tame us. I am reminded that home provides the most value when we share it with others.

As Christi and I close in our time with the Nelsons, we take one last sweep of the house. Daniel explains one of his newest projects in the making: a fold up bed that will retract into the wall by their couch. By now, we are all laughing thinking of the ridiculous stunts we can pull with faux Woven series. We invent the Woven Sleep Over: consisting of Power Ranger sleeping bags and ghost stories. I run my hand over the smooth surface of their table, wondering what stories this table will witness and which ones it will aid in. I look around and breath in this monastic, friendly environment once more. We pack our equipment and bid our farewells. The Nelsons wave their hands, we exchange our gratitude, and head on our way.

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