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Living room at Svenskt Tenn
A living room at the interior design store Svenskt Tenn. Cabinet 881, designed by Josef Frank in 1938, can be seen next to the window.
Photo credit: Svenskt Tenn

Swedish furniture – a modernist story of enduring style

The timeless appeal of Swedish furniture was set in the past, by a cluster of iconic designers, but it continues to progress and fascinate.

There’s something universally appealing about Swedish furniture. Its simplicity is often copied but the vibe is difficult – if not impossible – to emulate. If you’re looking to recreate the stylish functionality typical of many Swedish homes, you’ll have a varied assortment at your disposal – from iconic classics to recent additions created by contemporary designers.

The modernity of Swedish design is rooted in the German functionalism movement that arose in Berlin in the early 20th century. Over the following couple of decades, the influence of Swedish art historian Gregor Paulsson was key. His book, “Vackrare Vardagsvara” (“More Beautiful Everyday Goods”), published in 1919, had significant influence. It advocated local production and the making of beautiful, functional furniture and design pieces available for all. In 1930, Paulsson organised “The Stockholm Exhibition” (Stockholmsutställningen). Highlighting the work of local talent, it helped to establish the very definition of what is today universally known as Swedish functionalism.

The Swedish design blueprint set during the first few decades of the 1900s is brought forward by a new wave of designers via modern technologies and processes, often with sustainability at the forefront.

Swedish design

Design objects from Svenskt Tenn in the Swedish adjustable and flexible bookshelf String.

Photo: Amanda Westerbom/imagebank.sweden.se

Swedish furniture classics to treasure

Swedish quality furniture is built to last, and pieces are often passed on from generation to generation. The handcrafted wares you’ll find in Swedish homes are often decades old but look as modern today as they did when conceived. A number of notable Swedish furniture designers have reached icon status and international recognition. Bruno Mathsson is part of this cluster. His elegant easy chairs are particularly sought-after. The beautifully curve-linear models ‘Pernilla’ and ‘Eva’ were both designed in the early 1940s, while ‘Mina’ arrived in 1978. The range is available at key retailers such as Svenssons i Lammhult, which operates an e-shop and a string of physical stores across Sweden.

Carl Malmsten (1888-1972) is another globally celebrated name. In 1916, at the age of 28, he won both the first and second prizes in a competition to design the interiors for Stockholm City Hall. The furniture he created for the City Council is still in use today. Favouring the elegant lines of Swedish classicism of the 1920s the typical Malmsten silhouette is gracefully rounded. As the man himself put it: “There are no sharp edges in nature”. Key pieces in the Carl Malmsten archive include the beautiful ‘Samsas’ sofa, ‘Farmor’ armchair and ‘Lilla Åland’ chair. You’ll be able to discover these pieces, and many more, at Malmstenbutiken – a centrally located Stockholm store cherished by lovers of Swedish design.

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The Malmsten room at Hotel Åregården

The living room at Hotel Åregården is named after interior designer Carl Malmsten.

Photo: Mats Lind

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The Malmsten room at Hotel Åregården

Photo: Mats Lind

Malmstenbutiken, Stockholm

Photo: Agence les Conteurs

Next door to Malmstenbutiken you’ll find another must-visit interior design emporium – Svenskt Tenn. Most of what you’ll see here was designed by the late Josef Frank, who joined the company in the early 1930s, working alongside Svenskt Tenn founder Estrid Ericson to produce some of the Scandinavian design scene’s most in-demand pieces – from the supremely elegant ‘Cabinet 881’ to ‘Armchair 336’ and ‘Sofa 968’. The latter pair, designed in the 1930s, feature slightly rounded silhouettes designed with comfort in mind. The majority of pieces are upholstered in the distinctive textile prints Frank and Ericson came up with – and you can choose between a wide range when placing your order at Svenskt Tenn.

The modular shelving system String also forms part of the Swedish design hall of fame. Created in 1949 by married couple Kajsa and Nisse Strinning, this versatile design solution will add stylish functionality to any home. The range, which also encompasses pieces such as cabinets, is available via retailers including Rum 21, which trades online and via its Stockholm shop.

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Svenskt Tenn

Hand painted items by designer Luke Edward Hall at Svenskt Tenn, seen in front of textile Hawai designed by Josef Frank.

Photo: Svenskt Tenn

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Svenskt Tenn

Photo: Svenskt Tenn

Svenskt Tenn

Photo: Svenskt Tenn

String shelves

Photo: Therese Winberg/Johnér Bildbyrå

String furniture

Photo: Christoffer Lomfors

The new wave of Swedish design talent

The design landscape is under constant development, with new talents joining the ranks of established names. Heritage company Swedese continues to build on co-founder Yngve Ekström’s rich archive, which includes the famous ‘Lamino’ chair of 1956. Each year, a designer is invited to create pieces from production waste found in the Vaggeryd-based factory. In 2020, the design practice Front – co-founded by the innovative duo Anna Lindgren and Sofia Lagerkvist – went about designing a mirror from scrap wood – or the ‘Lamino’ chair cut-offs to be precise. Swedese’s furniture is available to buy via the company website and select stockists, including Nordiska Galleriet, which has stores in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Founded in 1995 as an architectural practice, Claesson Koivisto Rune has since evolved into one of Sweden’s most loved multidisciplinary companies, creating everything from hotels to furniture and textiles. Co-founders Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune are known for bridging the gap between functionality, playfulness and sustainability. The ‘Amazonas’ table series created for Swedish furniture company Offecct sums up the style well. Inspired by a rainforest treetop aerial shot, the mono-material piece is crafted from 100% recyclable steel. A portion of the sale proceeds is donated to a rainforest conservation project.

Another notable designer to consider is Jonas Bohlin – known for his angular ‘Concrete’ chair, designed in 1981 and the ‘Snö’ (Snow) series of cabinets, created in partnership with Thomas Sandell for Asplund – where you’ll find these pieces stocked. The cross-disciplinary talent Monica Förster is also key. She lends her creativity to an impressive roster of companies, including Cappellini and Swedese. The charming ‘Panda’ seating range is among her most recent offerings. The silhouette of these designs is defined by its compact, organic curves.

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Interior design from Swedese

Swedese is a classic Swedish furniture producer founded in 1945. Co-founder Yngve Ekström designed their famous Lamino chair in 1956.

Photo: Swedese

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Interior design from Swedese

Photo: Swedese

Design from Swedese

Photo: Swedese

Interior design from Swedstyle

Photo: Mike Karlsson Lundgren/Swedstyle

Brought out with the home office in mind, ‘High-End’ is a new, design-led range of height-adjustable tables and desks, developed by Småland-based Swedstyle. Created by Julia Alfelt, the aesthetic is defined by a clean, industrial elegance. Each piece is crafted from a combination of wood and Swedish steel – 25% of which is recycled – and all manufacturing takes place in Swedstyle’s own factories. Products can be ordered via Swedstyle’s website.

With these functional and stylish furniture pieces, you’re one step closer to re-creating that covetable identity of Swedish homes.