The enduring appeal of Swedish design
Swedish interior design is celebrated across the world. Though functionalist at heart, it’s a nuanced affair – an innovative minimalism with a twist.
Swedish design is often associated with clean functionality and modern, innovative stylings. Its aesthetic and values stem from the functionalism movement that first emerged in Berlin in the early 20th century. In the hands of Swedish designers and artisans, a unique spin was added – infusing the country’s crafts heritage, love of nature and appreciation of light – to create a distinctive design language that still resonates today. The country’s democratic values come to the fore in fuss-free, ergonomic furniture and design pieces created to be universally user-friendly.
The beauty of less is more is a central concept. Every line has to be considered and quality of material and craftsmanship has to be beyond reproach.
Swedish designers tend to draw inspiration from the nature that surrounds them, not only in terms of the materials they use but as muse for their creations. Glasswork design company Orrefors Kosta Boda’s classic candleholders shaped like snowballs, ice crystal formations, flowers and berries are a prime example.
The rise of functionalism and the influence of Gregor Paulsson
No account of Swedish design history is complete without mention of Gregor Paulsson, the respected art historian who in 1919 wrote 'Vackrare Vardagsvara' (roughly translating to “more beautiful everyday objects”). The book’s thesis became something of an ideological bible, encouraging designers to work directly with manufacturers to produce high-quality everyday objects, made available for everyone.
In 1927, Paulsson visited the Deutscher Werkbund exhibition in Stuttgart, Germany, which showcased the iconic modernist Weissenhof Estate – 21 buildings created by 17 architects from around the continent. The event inspired him to organize 'The Stockholm Exhibition' (Stockholmsutställningen) in 1930 featuring local talent, an initiative that proved instrumental in establishing the very heart of what we define as Swedish design today.
Sweden’s design icons
Many influential designers originate from Sweden and continue to make a mark internationally. Architect and designer Bruno Mathsson’s work seamlessly bridges the gap between functionalism and modernism, with elements of the Swedish crafts tradition mixed in. He created all manner of furniture but is perhaps best known for his curve-linear easy chairs – treasured possessions in many Swedish homes.
Austrian-born architect Josef Frank created a wide range of products for iconic store Svenskt Tenn after impressing founder Estrid Ericson with his innovative patterns and furniture sketches. To this day, he is still considered one of Sweden’s most important designers. Frank’s signature textiles and wallpapers are as far from minimalist as one can get. Ornate and colourful, they feature flowers, climbing greenery and birds rendered so vividly, they almost seem alive.
Interior design at Svenskt Tenn. The colourful curtain Hawai designed by Josef Frank and cushions designed by Luke Edward Hall. Photo: Svenskt Tenn
Carl Malmsten also has a place in the Swedish interior design hall of fame. Just like Josef Frank, Malmsten distanced himself somewhat from functionalism, favouring a softer, more decorative style. His elegant midcentury pieces – defined by their organic yet clean shapes – are forever treasured.
Ingegerd Råman, meanwhile, is a highly regarded name specialising in ceramic and glass. Having enjoyed a long career, she still lends her creativity to brands as diverse as Orrefors Kosta Boda and IKEA. And, Stockholm-born Jonas Bohlin is one of Sweden’s most important contemporary designers, best known for his angularly sculptural “Concrete” chair, designed in 1981.
The new wave of Swedish designers and their causes
Modern Swedish interior designers remain largely true to its roots, but increasingly take advantage of new technologies to help establish more sustainable and forward-thinking solutions.
Norrgavel in Stockholm produces all their furniture using natural and eco-friendly material. The price point is on the higher side, but the styles are timeless, and the pieces are built to last.
Greenworks, another Stockholm-based operation, specialises in “living” walls and furniture that aim to deepen the connection between people and the environment by incorporating the natural world into built spaces.
Bridging classic Swedish style with an endless curiosity for new materials and aesthetics, Monica Förster is currently one of the country’s biggest design stars. She works in a cross-disciplinary way to create future classics, lending her creativity to a wide range of global companies including Swedese, Rörstrand, Alessi and Cappellini.
While Swedish design continues to evolve, it stays true to its foundation: respect for nature, appreciation of craftsmanship and emphasis on functionality.