When many Americans, myself included, think of modern Scandinavian design, we envision elegant simplicity. Maybe a homage to geometry and linear edges. The eleven artists that we gathered for a collection that ranges from art, sculpture, and furniture defied our expectations. Their work is playful, explorational, and experimental. While you can see shadows of the Scandinavian design we are familiar with, their style is unique and distinct. When they speak of their work, their process and methods add depth that creates an intimate connection to each item.
From their personal or shared studios in Stockholm, a young group of designers are breaking away from that mold of sleek and minimalist ideals to redefine Scandinavian interior design styles.
When I think of Swedish design, a familiar image of a brilliant blue building accented with bold yellow springs to my mind. I can imagine myself clutching a sheet of paper and aimlessly wandering around a bustling showroom. I see myself standing beneath towering stacks of numbered cardboard boxes, each containing the unbuilt furniture that I’ve seen in countless other homes. I’m lost in the anonymity of my local Ikea, so I’m excited for the personal history in the work I’ve seen in the past weeks.
Functionally can’t be the only facet of what we envision when it comes to Scandinavian interior style. Artists such as Anna Nordström, Anna Tascha, Aron Kullander Östling, and Stina Löfgren specialize in art and interior design that range from graphic design, delicate metalwork, and extricate needlework.
Anna Nordstrom specializes in embroidery, patchwork, and quilting. While she initially worked with drawings, she began to experiment with embroidery in 2005 and eventually graduated from Konstfack, College University of Art, Design, Craft with a MFA from the Textile in the Expanded Field program. Her work revolves around themes of labor and work, economic, purpose, and feminism. Her powerful pieces I’m Here I’m There and I’m Here I’m There 2 showcase her interests in workers and their labor. Her work and inspiration leads to her collaborative work with the group DNK-Den Nya Kvinnogruppen, or The New Women’s Group, in order to host exhibitions and seminars on both craft and feminism.
In sharp contrast with Nordstrom’s work with fabrics is metalworker and jewelry designer Anna Tascha. Her works are delicate and intricate; they revolve around a diverse range of themes and inspiration. Her work ranges from necklaces inspired by trigonometry and the Bermuda Triangle to alchemy and mysticism. But among my favorites of her work is her interpretation of hispanic milagros. Her Milagros Mobiles are silver-wrought sculptures capable of dangling in mid-air or free to hang against a wall. They are body part shaped votives meant to protect an individual from injury and illness; Tascha adds a playful twist to her interpretations by paying tribute to her life long passion for soccer through sincere creations to friends, clients, and injured soccer players.
Aron Kullander Östling’s main medium is visual graphic design. As with many of the artists listed in our collection, Östling is a graduate from Konstfack, University of Art, Craft, and Design and has since made a living off of solo commissions and collaborative work. His work focuses mostly on good book design, catalogues, magazines, posters, installation work, and spatial design. He’s all over the map! He produces most of his work through the Centre of Nowhere, a cultural center and publishing house that he runs himself. What’s the reasoning behind running his own publishing house? Östling chooses not be constrained by how graphic design is currently defined and understood and would rather come up with new and inspiring processes.
Östling collaborates frequently with our next designer, Stina Löfgren. She studied illustration at Konstfack and currently works regularly with both illustration and the application of patterns of 3D objects. Her work with her hands began at an early age, as she was raised in a creative household and was exposed to eccentric 60’s colors and patterns through her grandmother. Löfgren’s collaborations with fellow artists such as Östling and Kristoffer Sundin have produced a wide range of products that range from the book Time Geos By So Slowly, a collection of poetry and images themed after silurian fossils, and the Delta Stool, which features linear illustrations applied to a minimal seat.
Now to embrace the eccentricities of well-developed furniture. But if you look at the methodology behind each item that Pål Rodenius, Fredrik Paulsen, and Tove Greitz construct, a reassuring concept emerges. These items were not always made with a practical function in mind. Rather, they were often built to communicate the idea of form; the final product happens to emerge as a fully-formed functional item.
Take Pål Rodenius and his Eternity Bench or his Palm Chair. Yes, they serve as perfectly adequate places to sit. But Rodenius, with his interest in motion, light, and flow, constructed these pieces as places of contemplation. I tend to let my mind wander when I sit in a place for too long, but these seats were built specifically for folks to just think and muse. There is an elegant beauty to the fluidity of that idea. Of course, Rodenius sends my mind on a whirl with some of his items. The Palm Chair sprouts a living plant from a familiar sleek, white frame. His sculpture Alone in Babylon , though, comes at me as a completely foreign concept when it comes to interior design wall art. His humor is still there, but the bold colors and rounded edges seem like a new beast. This work is wholly new, exciting, and playful.
Although a native of Sweden, artist Fredrik Paulsen chose to study at the Royal College of Art in London. Already proficient with woodwork, Paulsen made the interesting choice to hone a theoretical approach to Scandinavian design and perfected methods of dying the material that composes his work. His final process results in a creative, colorful, tie-dye effect can be found throughout his entire Prism collection. The speckled black and white effect against the gentle watercoloring makes for an dazzling introduction to modern pop art interior design.
In an interesting twist on construction and experimentation, Tove Greitz developed a conceptual approach to design while she was studying for her BA in Product Design and Fine Arts and Beckmans College of Design. Greitz chooses to focus on the concept and process rather than the final product, with her projects communicating the final result of this rather than serving a practical function. Although the items are often “functional” pieces, they are meant to be seen as interior design art rather than simply as Scandinavian furniture. Her Corpus Callosum sculpture works as the perfect physical manifestation of her thought process. Made from two separate pieces, Greitz worked on her portion of the blueprints while she sent her collaborator, Jomi Evers Solheim, written descriptions, which he then developed independently of her. The final product shows how the cerebellum can still function even when the right and left hemispheres are severed.
Lotta Lampa, Andreas Frienholt, Amanda Karsberg, and Dennis Graben all are members of the Cray Collective, based in Sweden. Like the independent designers mentioned before, each individual finds inspiration from the world around them, rather than from design publications. The collective originally met as students at Beckmans College of Design, Stockholm and – while they work on independent projects – continue to collaborate from their shared studio space with other members of their collective. And despite their collaborations, each one has a unique stylistic approach that can easily be seen in each of their pieces.
Lotta Lampa has a distinct style that can most closely be defined as a manifestation of pop art interior design, though that still fails to capture her aesthetic. Her work is loud and colorful, each piece imbued with her sense of humor and her attraction to unassuming or unappealing subjects. Inspired by the daily activities of her native northern town of Kalix, Lampa divides her time between working alongside her family in her brother’s garage and her collective’s Stockholm studio. Each individual piece is made from handworked metal and natural materials.
Compare her materials to the more unusual choices made by Andreas Frienholt. His work with plastic steps away from the industrialized notion of the material. Instead, Frienholt experiments with creating an organic material from the synthetic for his An Authentic Fake! Plastic was layered in the form of a growing tree in order to create a lifelike log to carve from. His experiments with exotic materials and set designs have been featured in magazines like Elle.
Always down for a playful back-and-forth collaboration, Dennis Graben and Amanda Karsberg work together to make expresive manifestation of their styles. Their work, from the Konfetti table to the multi-purpose Bookends, are designed to serve more than one function. Despite their collaboration, both artist have distinct styles that stand our vividly in their solo creations. Karsberg’s work tends to have heavy influences on overlapping geometric shapes and can transform from one functionality to another with a simple twist, as seen in her EVERYDAY SURREAL structure. Graben, by contrast, seems to favor a softer organic growth seen in his Deluxe Chair and his shelf.
Whatever their inspiration, each of these eleven artists are working towards a new interpretation of Scandinavian design. Their work rebels against my preconceived image of Scandinavian furniture. It introduces personalized influences of various modern design movements, including the Bauhaus school of the 1930’s and the Post-modernists of the 1980’s. Their fresh approach embraces boldness and color. They perceive their work as an artistic rejection of the conventional and focused instead on the process, the execution, and the themes that result in their completed projects.
If you like this type of art, check out our collection!
You’ll also love: