Lena Olin at Home – The New York Times


Lena Olin isn’t one for acting on impulse.

“I normally will say, ‘I have to think it over, I have to think it through,’” said the Swedish-born actor, 65, whose film credits include “The Reader,” “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” “Enemies, a Love Story” and the title role in “The Artist’s Wife,” due out this summer.

Still, in the late ’90s, when her husband and fellow Swede, the director Lasse Hallström, suggested that the two needed a break from their busy careers and that a year in Bedford, N.Y., would be just the tonic, Ms. Olin assented immediately.

“It was very uncharacteristic,” she said.

But really, it wasn’t a big leap of faith. Bedford was familiar territory. The couple had rented there for a few months in 1995 when Ms. Olin was shooting the drama “Night Falls on Manhattan.”

“It was such a peaceful place,” she said. “It seemed like another world in a way, and we really liked it.”

That second stint in Westchester was not in service to a movie project. It was simply meant to be a little adventure after which the family — including their daughter Tora and Ms. Olin’s son Auguste Rahmberg — would return to Sweden.

Occupation: Actor

Pillow talk: “I’m obsessed with pillows. Obsessed. There are too many.”


But “Bedford: The Sequel” was such a hit that Mr. Hallström and Ms. Olin decided to make the town their home base (they also have a rental in Greenwich Village). Twenty years ago, they bought a new colonial with a large terrace on five acres.

“One of the houses we rented was from the 19th century, and that’s what we’re drawn to,” Ms. Olin said. “We couldn’t find what we wanted, so we ended up with a boring just-built house. But you know how it is when you date someone and you think, ‘He’s not the guy, he’s not the guy. I know he’s not the guy.’ But then you grow into him, and then he is the guy. That’s how it was with this house. Now we’re completely in love with it.”

But just like certain boyfriends, the house had to change first. The couple added molding, replaced the woodwork around the doors, polished and stained the wood floors, and redid the kitchen, including a new gray stone floor from Sweden.

Ms. Olin and Mr. Hallström, who married in 1994, have worked together on a few movies, including “Chocolat” and “Casanova.” While in quarantine, they are devoting their energies to another film project: “Hilma af Klint,” an account of the early 20th-century Swedish abstract painter and mystic.

The outfitting of their house was one more successful collaboration.

“Lasse is a visual person, and I read Swedish decorating magazines,” Ms. Olin said. “We’re a good combo. I do listen to him — when he’s right.”

They have their discrete passions. For Mr. Hallström, it’s oil lamps. For Ms. Olin, pillows. Then more pillows. And perhaps just a few more.

The off-white sofas in the living room are a backdrop for the display. There are Swedish fabrics and English fabrics. There are solid colors (blues, greens and pinks), botanical prints and bird prints. “You don’t have to match anything,” Ms. Olin said with palpable enthusiasm. “You can just combine them, and it all works.”

It doesn’t totally work for Mr. Hallström. “Lasse complains that he can’t sit anywhere because of all the pillows,” she said.

Pillow fights aside, the two have amiably combined the sleek, comfortable furnishings they bought locally — the sofas and easy chairs — with pieces they acquired in Sweden: the small brass candleholders on a low table in the family room, the chandeliers, the Gustavian secretary hutch and the sideboard in the dining room.

But most precious to Ms. Olin are the things that belonged to her parents, the actors Britta Holmberg and Stig Olin.

“My mother and a lot of her friends were really into art and design, but I grew up not caring at all. I just wanted to be practical,” she said. “Then when I was in my 30s, I started to become interested in decorating houses, and I’ve have since become obsessed. And I think I’ve come around to loving a lot of stuff that my mom loved. Things of hers that didn’t mean anything to me then are so meaningful to me now.”

She added: “It’s weird how much it adds to an object when it comes from your family. It’s amazing how much it adds to your well-being having those things around.”

The desk in the library and the salmon-colored Victorian love seat in the entrance hall, legacies from Ms. Olin’s grandfather, are among “those things.” So are the porcelain dogs on the mantel in the living room.

“So many Swedish households had them in the ’50s,” Ms. Olin said. “These have been in storage so long, and now they’re here. Because of the coronavirus, our 24-year-old daughter was home, and she said, ‘I just love those dogs.’ It was so adorably great that she commented on them.”

Ms. Olin cast a particularly fond eye on a striped slipper chair. “This, I love,” she said. “It was in the hallway by the phone when I was growing up. So many times I saw my mom or dad having long conversations on the phone, and my siblings and I would gather around to listen. Their friends were actors, and when they spoke they were very clear, so we could hear them through the receiver, and we would sit there and laugh.”

When the sun sets, one or another of Mr. Hallström’s oil lamps is lit, and maybe a candle or two from the couple’s collection of Kosta Boda candlesticks. Here, day or night, everything is illuminated.

“There is so much light in this house,” Ms. Olin said. “When the sun is out, but really any time of the day, it’s just amazing. I wake up, think about everything that is going on in the world, and I am immediately comforted by the light.”

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