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Despite being one of the world's richest countries, awash in North Sea oil, Norway is a saver, not a spender. And the glittering, glamorous boutiques you'd expect from its capital—a city on financial par with such shopping meccas as Milan and New York—are nowhere in sight. In Oslo's center are just a few outposts of international chains and only two department stores, GlasMagasinet and Steen & Strøm. But there is plenty of style and individuality to be found; you just have to head west, where keen-eyed shop owners, young designers, and traditional craftsmen have opened businesses in the chic streets behind the Kongehus, the Norwegian royal palace.
This small antiques shop, in the Majorstua area close to Bogstadveien, specializes in Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Scandinavian objects, tableware, and furnishings. Look for gleaming stainless-steel cocktail shakers ($365 each), curvy vases in cobalt blue and celadon green ($60), black-and-chrome picture frames ($145-$220), and a ceiling full of stunning Jazz Age light fixtures. Crown Princess Mette-Marit has been spotted shopping here to furnish the palace she shares with Crown Prince Haakan. This is only fitting considering that Obelisque stocks pieces of china designed by Nora Guldbrandsen for Porsgrund porcelain (from $360), the company that for nearly 120 years has supplied the royal family with crockery (a 1929 vase is $1,365). At 7 Dronning Astridsgate; 47-22/601-934.
Perhaps the only store worth seeking out in the city center, "Norway Designs" is something of a misnomer. Most of the stock is Scandinavian—we especially like Tanja Sæter's glass sculptures ($215-$1,025)—but this supermarket of global design also carries Alessi housewares from Italy ($15-$150) and Tivoli Audio radios all the way from Boston. It's a huge place, divided by category (there are separate paper and fabric departments). Not everything here is exactly haute: There seems to be no end (especially ironic, these days) to the number of items embossed with the image of Edvard Munch's The Scream. Nonetheless, as a compendium of good design from around the world, the store is hard to beat. At 28 Stortingsgaten; 47-23/114-510; www.norwaydesigns.no.
After training at London's Guild Hall, jewelry designer Katrine Espeseth returned home to Norway, and in March she opened her exquisite little shop. In addition to her own delicate modern necklaces and rings ($75-$5,860), Espeseth sells a perfectly edited collection of modern Norwegian jewelry by such designers as Christine Bongard, who blends folklore motifs with materials like Perspex ($220-$2,925); Kristin Amdam, who works with gold, silver, and silk flowers ($600-$1,800); and Cecilie Juvodden, whose glamorous evening jewelry incorporates brightly colored feathers and fur ($70-$500). White gold features prominently at Akoya—Norwegians seem to love its cool luster—as do a few significant pieces by Danish, German, and British designers, the latter including Sean Leane, whose avant-garde work is a favorite of Alexander McQueen ($300-$2,200). At 35 Bygdøy Allé; 47-22/444-711; www.akoya.no.
Anyone prone to wanderlust should clear several hours to read his way through this traveler's bookshop. The thousands of volumes here—guides, phrase books, memoirs—are arranged by country and continent, with a separate well-stocked room devoted solely to maps. (Scandinavia is conspicuously underexplored: Books about Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden fit neatly on one shelf, while the volumes on France, Britain, and Italy take up nearly a whole wall.) The store is endlessly browsable; most volumes are in English (and cost about $30). There is also a selection of travel gear—such as good strong hammocks—and clothing by Patagonia. At 4 Uranienborgveien; 47-23/131-415; www.nomaden.no.
Citizen Kane would have loved this place. Cabinetmaker Thorleif Nordengren, who has been in business since the fifties, started crafting perfect Rosebud-style sleds in 1975. As Norway extends well into the Arctic Circle, it makes sense that a Norwegian would know what goes into a great sled—and the 72-year-old Nordengren's are extraordinary: sleek and minimal, entirely handcrafted, with runners made from 22 layers of birch and mahogany. Very popular with the Japanese, the sleds come in two sizes: The No. 2 (55 inches; $510) seats two adults and a child; the No. 3 (70 inches; $615) will hold an extra grown-up. Nordengren's workshop, in Grünerløkka, next to a neighborhood chess club, has no stylish showroom. You can see his work by appointment only, so call ahead if you'd like to visit. $ At 11 Seilduksgata; 47-22/352-683.
ROM FOR IDE
According to shop owner Tina Krohn-Nydal, most people forget entirely about Norway when they think of Scandinavian furniture. So she's on a mission to see that Norwegian designers are given their due, alongside their more famous Swedish and Danish counterparts. To further her cause, Krohn-Nydal has her interior-design store function also as a gallery, regularly staging exhibitions of new Norwegian furniture. All the pieces for sale are recent productions, some revivals of classics. Others, like Johan Verde's scarlet Loop chair ($2,775) and Roger Sveian's Ros1 coffee table ($1,825), are fast becoming icons of Norwegian design in their own right. At 54 Jacob Aallsgate; 47-22/598-117; www.romforide.no.
On a quiet residential street near the palace, this bakery and café is a little slice of Paris in Oslo. The baking staff of Åpent, which is owned by a Frenchman and a Norwegian, is mostly French. The result is the best bread in town, blending classic French techniques with a Scandinavian commitment to healthier, heartier loaves. "We are a hard-core bakery," explains co-owner Øyvind Lofthus, whose traditional Norwegian whole wheat-and-raisin buns, called bolles, tend to outsell the croissants and pain au chocolat. Åpent opens at 7:30 every weekday morning, and by lunchtime the line snakes out the door. The bakery's two rooms are decorated with drawings and photographs; the outdoor tables are surrounded by sunflowers. If waiting to sit on a summer day proves too tiresome, at least pick up a bag of petits fours ($5) to bring home. $ At 1 Inkognito Terrasse; 47-22/449-470.