Oliver Gustav was 17 years old when he celebrated his first Christmas. Growing up in a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he had seen other children at his school cutting out paper hearts to turn into festive garlands but had been taught that traditions such as these were wrong – dangerous even.
So, when sat around the Christmas tree with his boyfriend’s parents, the same year he’d confided his sexuality to his father and been expelled from the church and life as he knew it, the young Gustav found it hard to join in the frivolity.
‘Since then, I’ve gotten pretty good at it,’ says the now 40-year-old interior designer and creative consultant of Studio Oliver Gustav, whose decorations for his showroom in Copenhagen have become legendary. ‘I love Christmas now, but I have my own take on it.’
Today, he spends the festive season with his in-laws in North Jutland, where the days are especially long and dark. ‘To me, Christmas is a melancholy time where it’s blustery and wild outside and the trees are bare,’ he says.
‘My universe is minimalist and so is my Christmas.’ Not a fan of the tackier side of the season, Gustav wanted to create an aesthetic that would act as a balm to our hectic lives where, he says, ‘we always have a mobile phone in our hands’.
For him, December is a time, first and foremost, for contemplation. ‘There is no need for decorations to scream,’ he explains. ‘There’s so much else in life that does that.’
Call his aesthetic dark or gloomy, though, as many have, and you’d be wrong. ‘I have actually been a little sad about that description,’ he says. ‘That’s not how it feels when you sit in it. I have created a temple where people can recharge.’
‘I often hear stories about others who have grown up in extreme conditions and later need to be rebellious, jumping into something just as extreme. That’s not me,’ he says. ‘What I needed was a place to stand still. A place where there is peace.’ olivergustav.com
This article first appeared in ELLE Decoration December 2020
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