As the wintry weather sets in, it’s the season for Americans to revive the cherished annual institution of the snowball fight. As it happens, making snowballs is popular in Sweden, too—but the Nordic country has a decidedly less aggressive use for them. It’s called the snölykta, and it’s essentially a hollow pyramid made of snowballs with a light source on the inside. When lit up at night, it creates the unlikely and entrancing effect of ice that glows. In this way, the Swedes comfort their loved ones rather than pelting them.
But this is America, so why espouse the nonviolent virtues of the snölykta? Because the Swedish snow lantern is, among other things, the inspiration for the Kosta Boda Snowball—one of America’s most enduring (if little publicized) home accents of the last two generations. Made at the Kosta glassworks in southern Sweden, the snowball is a hefty (3.75-pound) chunk of lead crystal that resembles its namesake and holds a tealight in the center.
At a time when Americans drop $3.2 billion on candles annually, and 70 percent of homes use them, candles are, largely, a commodified item. But the stippled, craggy pattern of light created by the Kosta Boda Snowball is unique in the world of wax and wicks, which might explain how—with no advertising to speak of—the Kosta Boda Snowball has held its own for nearly half a century now.
“It’s become a classic without even trying,” said Diane Henkler, a retail designer turned blogger who runs InMyOwnStyle.com. Henkler, who’s amassed many Kosta Boda Snowballs over the years, observed that the snowball is unlike many other wintertime and holiday accessories in that it’s nondenominational, with a design that harmonizes with any color or decorating style. “The design is fascinating to look at,” she added. “It’s just a glass ball, but it transcends time. And it can go with anything.”
The snowball is, in fact, the best-selling item in Kosta Boda’s product line—a notable feat, considering that the company’s been around for 276 years.
The glassworks of Kosta—the name formed from those of the founders, Gens. Anders Koskull and Georg Bogislaus Staël von Holstein—first fired its ovens in 1742, creating everything from bottles to windowpanes to, eventually, home accents. In 1973, acclaimed Swedish painter and designer Ann Wärff created the snowball, inspired (it is said) by glowing snowballs of the snölykta. And indeed, the Kosta Boda Snowball is complete with a knobby, undulant surface that resembles that of a snowball packed tight by a pair of gloved hands.
Thanks to the appreciation of Scandinavian design that took root in America in the 1960s, the Kosta Boda Snowball found its way into thousands of American homes. Today, while Nordic modernism is again in vogue (if mostly through Ikea), there are additional reasons for its enduring popularity.
“It’s due, in part, to the fact that consumers have long been immersed in a digital world and are craving more textural experiences—a raw, natural or rustic aesthetic that reminds them of the great outdoors,” said Lenise Willis, editor in chief of Gifts & Decorative Accessories.
Whitney Robinson, editor in chief of Elle Décor, advances a slightly more sybaritic reason for displaying a snowball: displaying several snowballs. “I have a rule about collecting: Why have one when you can have 10?” Robinson said. “A table strewn with snowballs would make the ultimate holiday décor and look seriously chic and expensive—much more than the $20 price tag. For me, Scandinavian design has never not had a moment, but this votive is the very definition of hygge: cozy, warm and sweet.”