Paula Maso's Stockholm Home Offers a Fun Lesson in Color Play
The creative director’s apartment features some impressive IKEA hacks, too.
HYPEBAE Home Tour is a series that takes readers inside the homes of tastemakers and creators from around the world. Beyond showcasing the unique character and design of each abode, through conversations and interviews, the series also highlights the creative endeavors of the homeowners.
“Less is more, sometimes” has been a guiding principle for Paula Maso when it comes to designing and furnishing her home. A Venezuela-born creative living in Stockholm, Maso is an expert at utilizing vibrant, expressive colors not only in her work at Happy Socks, but also for adding personality to the 590-square-foot apartment that she shares with her partner.
Combining her natural affinity for rich colors and appreciation for Scandinavian minimalism, the designer has managed to give her home — constructed 140 years ago in the Södermalm district — a modern (and cost-saving) facelift. From a checkerboard-patterned kitchen floor that she painted with her boyfriend, to a worktop repurposed from an IKEA garage workbench, her space is filled with budget-friendly hacks that satisfy the need for both function and style. And while she enjoys saturated hues, Maso has deliberately kept the walls neutral, allowing her eclectic decor — made up of auction finds, family heirlooms and framed art prints — and good-looking furniture to shine.
Here, Maso shares how she draws on her heritage and background in design to elevate her interiors.
What led you to work in design?
I grew up doing all sorts of arts and crafts as a kid, and throughout my high school years, I would put all my effort into making pretty covers and layouts for my projects (and not so much on the actual content, oops!). There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to become a graphic designer — I earned my bachelor’s degree in graphic design in Venezuela. While studying, I got really into photography and went on to receive a master’s degree in fashion photography from the London College of Fashion, only to discover I didn’t want to be a photographer. But I loved the fashion industry. As I thought about how I could combine my graphic design skills and love for fashion, I started making textile prints, which eventually led me, years later, to work as a print designer at Happy Socks.
In my early 20s, it seemed like I was jumping from one craft to the other, but more than a decade later, I can see how those seemingly chaotic years were instrumental for me in gaining all the skills that have now made me a creative director. An understanding of product, branding, design, photography, art direction, entrepreneurship, and most importantly, the ability to change and adapt.
How did you develop an affinity for bright colors, shapes and patterns?
I really think I was born loving colors and design. I cannot say this is something I learned from anyone — I just have an innate curiosity and love for them. My family is very creative, but in the fields of marketing and advertising, so I can’t say we share the same visual taste or that this was something I learned from anyone or anything in particular.
You have also launched your own scarf shop, Quinta Maso. What’s the story behind the brand?
I’ve always known I wanted to have my own label and have been looking for an idea for years. Heavily inspired by Happy Socks, a brand that has created a universe around a single product (genius!), I’ve been on the lookout for something “similar.” One day, I started asking people if they knew any brand that only made scarves. And to this day, no one can answer. Well, now you can say you know Quinta Maso.
As a textile and graphic designer, I think scarves are the ultimate product to design. Nothing comes closer to a blank canvas than a scarf, so I thought it was the dream product to craft. I researched for nearly two years before launching the brand, and was really shocked to see how boring, conservative and gendered the category is. I felt there was a magical gap to be filled, for renewing this old accessory and see it through a contemporary, fun, sustainable and of course, very colorful lens.
How does being born in Venezuela and living in Stockholm influence your design sensibilities?
Growing up in Venezuela was the most lush visual experience you can imagine. The houses are painted in all the colors of the rainbow. Caracas is a city that is jammed within a tropical valley, with crazy trees, vegetation and flowers growing everywhere. Fashion is — for better or worse — heavily influenced by beauty pageants, which means that sequins, high heels and shiny fabrics are always welcomed. In Venezuela, and I would even dare say we share this with most of Latin America, the motto is more is more.
And then I moved to the land of minimalism, functionality and never standing out. A very stark change that I welcomed with open arms, as it was so foreign from what I knew. Stockholm is an incredible city with a very refined and sophisticated taste — all of the things that I am not, but I most definitely appreciate. After being here for over seven years, I think I’ve come to assimilate to that to some extent. And even though I will forever and ever be an advocate of color, I can see the appeal in the “less is more” mindset, although my personal take on it currently is that “less is more, sometimes.”
What other kinds of creative or design work do you see yourself exploring in the future?
I would love to explore doing home textiles, which is something I struggle finding. Most of what’s available is so earthy? Dusty? Pastel? I want crazy, vibrant, geometric.
And this is purely a fantasy because the reality would be a nightmare, but I would love to design and decorate a future restaurant for my boyfriend, who is a chef.
Let’s talk about your beautiful apartment. What did the space originally look like, and how have you revamped it?
When we came to see this apartment, which is 55 square meters, built in 1881 on the southern island of Södermalm in Stockholm, we fell absolutely in love with the super high ceilings and original details like the high skirting and double doors, but it looked very different compared to what it looks now. The kitchen was old, ugly and uncomfortably planned. The floors had a ’70s yellow patina and were badly scratched, and the walls had not been painted most likely since the ’70s too.
So our first order of business was to give the whole place a fresh coat of paint. One of the things that surprises people is that our space — other than the bedroom — is entirely white. I love color, but not all color, and in fact really dislike colored walls — maybe because in Venezuela, many would paint their living room in shades like acid green. I have always had a thing for art galleries with crisp white walls, that let objects do the talking.
Last summer, we took on the task of renovating the kitchen ourselves — from scratch. We had no running water in the kitchen for over a month. It nearly killed us but the satisfaction was immense, and so was the cost savings. We wanted something that felt modern but that also respected the historical, turn-of-the-century character of the apartment. Since the kitchen connects to the living room, we opted for oak IKEA cabinets so that they felt more like furniture. We painted the kitchen floor in a checkerboard pattern — initially to cover the mismatched floors done over a century of water damage and bad decisions, and now it’s one of my favorite features of the apartment. Our only splurge was the marble countertops, which is what brings classicism into the mix and makes the space feel premium.
Our budget was quite tight, so our place was put together with a lot of IKEA hacks, as well as vintage and secondhand items. I have a pretty liberal and eclectic taste, so if I find something that makes me happy and think it’s funny, I’ll get it without thinking about it too much. Once you have enough quirky things at home, what’s one more?
A lot of the objects we own are gifts or hand-me-downs from family members, art from our friends and enamel pieces my mom makes as a hobby. Having things that belonged to the people I love makes me feel a little closer to them.
What does “home” mean to you?
This is such a hard and emotional question for me. Coming from a family of immigrants and having become an immigrant myself, this is a topic we often talk about in our family and that I think about a lot. My entire family left Venezuela 10 years ago, essentially because the political situation was deteriorating rapidly, in addition to the lack of food, medicine and all the other basic human needs. And like many other Venezuelans, we didn’t feel safe living there. I haven’t lived with my parents since then, so when I say I’m “going back home” to visit my parents, it is in their new city in Spain, to which I have no connection other than them.
I’ve lived in three different cities since we left. I’ve now spent seven years in Sweden, and for the first time bought an apartment here. “Home” is a loaded word, because for me it is simultaneously that distant, nostalgic memory of Caracas; it is my family, regardless of where they are; and it is now my newfound family of friends in Stockholm and the apartment I own with my Swedish boyfriend — a little oasis of color in which I try to bring elements of both past and present.
Can you share with us any renovation or decoration tips that helped you put together your space?
Let the space tell you what it needs and resist the urge to buy or decorate too early in the process.
When we saw the apartment the first time, our thinking was that the kitchen was ugly but liveable, and that the bathroom was the most urgent thing [that needed attention]. We saved up to renovate the bathroom before moving. Then, COVID hit. And as we didn’t know if my boyfriend, who works in the restaurant business, would lose his job, we decided to hold on to the money and wait.
When we were actually living in the apartment, it became apparent that the kitchen was totally useless and the bathroom, even though it is old, was charming and functional.
When you see a floor plan you might know which sofa to get, but when you are in the space, it will tell you what it needs. You will move around and experience the areas in a different way than you originally thought.
What are some of your favorite items in your home?
Not to be too Marie Kondo, but pretty much everything we own truly brings me joy, and most things have a story behind that makes them special. But if I had to name a few …
The brass chandelier that hangs on top of our dining table: I found it at a vintage auction, and it’s an odd element that brings so much warmth and coziness to the table, which is quite narrow and wouldn’t be able to hold too much decor anyway. Keeping the chandelier above us makes it both functional and pretty.
IKEA-hack kitchen work station: This was originally a garage workbench, which we took to a car paint shop and had it painted in Vespa blue. We also added a marble countertop to it. I think it looks incredible, and I love having easy access to our plates and pans.
Our white and blue Sargadelos vase: Sargadelos is an old local ceramics brand from Galicia in northern Spain, where my grandparents are from. The vase is a gift from my grandmother. It’s such a design icon of that region and something that really reminds me of her.
What are some Swedish homeware stores and brands that you love?
Secondhand stores: Sweden is heaven for secondhand shopping — it’s a huge cultural movement here. There are a gazillion stores selling secondhand items, from big auction houses like Bukowskis or Stockholms Auktionsverk, to charity shops like Stadsmission or Myrorna, to online marketplaces like Tradera or Sellpy. The quality and craftsmanship of vintage items are fantastic. Vintage pieces are also usually much more affordable than new products.
Svenskt Tenn: One of my favorite stores, Svenskt Tenn sells everything from textiles to furniture, mostly with Josef Frank’s prints. The products are super pricey — hence the lack of them in my house — but they always make for such an amazing and inspiring store visit.
Skultuna: Another classic Swedish brand for all things brass — which I love and gets better with time — is Skultuna. The manufacturer makes objects like candleholders, bottle openers, flower pots and everything in between. I must have had another life in the ’30s or ’60s, because those are the design periods that really speak to me.
Paula Maso’s Wish List
Large Riso print by Timon Mattelaer: A fellow Venezuelan runs this super cool printing studio out of Belgium, collaborating with great artists. I’ve been missing having a big piece of artwork, as I’m not a fan of gallery walls. This print is exactly what I’ve been looking for.
New Tendency shelf in aluminum: I love New Tendency‘s work and already own a side table from the design studio. The simplicity speaks to me, and I love having lots of metal accents together with colorful details. It brings strength and takes out the “cute” from the mix.
Nuage vase in green: This has been on my wish list for a long time, but I can never justify buying it because I have more vases than anyone ever needs. But how fun is it?
Alessi Pulcina espresso coffee maker: The design is so unnecessary that I find it absolutely incredible. We own a pretty good Italian coffee maker already, but maybe someone who loves me will read this list and … Christmas is coming soon?