“They’re such big people but their furniture is so tiny,” says an Italian design editor as journalists are ushered through the busy halls of Stockholmsmässan during one of the industry’s most important furniture fairs. It’s true, the designers at the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair are rather tall. But it’s also true that the wares on show aren’t really the type of pieces you’d want to deck out a lavish palazzo with, even though the price tags put them in that world.
Yet this furniture, a lot of which adheres to the “function informs form” values promoted in the golden age of Scandinavian modernism, is finding homes. And these are homes much further afield than a cosy Gotland cottage or a cool Copenhagen flat. Why? Well, Scandinavian furniture companies make products that last, they honour heritage (but also quietly try to move past it) and, interestingly, the frugality that has long existed in their culture is chiming with the industry’s buzzword – “sustainability”. monocle meets the most interesting guests to highlight why this small fair is globally significant.
Rugs and carpets are not the prettiest things to photograph and are rarely seen on the covers of Scandinavia’s many design magazines but Kasthall is a name everyone in the industry respects. Its wares have been carefully woven on old wooden looms in Kinna, west Sweden, since 1889.
Yet the company’s new CEO Alexander Lacik is looking to the future. “Weaving is something that has been with mankind for thousands of years so you might think, ‘You can’t develop this, you can’t innovate this.’ But we are really doing fascinating things to create new expressions and techniques in this form,” he says, showing off the shifting colour hues of the brand’s new Harvest range – rugs made up entirely of leftover spools of yarn from the factory floor.
Latzig believes that there’s much the rest of the world can learn from the development of premium Swedish brands: “Our brand story is quite silent; it’s very Swedish in a way,” he says. “Sustainability is our focus, not fashion and trends.”
He notes that environmental consciousness has long been prevalent in resource-scarce Sweden, giving brands such as Kasthall valuable cachet as sustainability grows in importance in the luxury sector. “Preserving resources is very natural to our society, we don’t have the most fertile land and our fishing lakes freeze over so we’ve always had a scarcity mentality,” he says. “Kasthall is just an expression of something that has been around for a very long time.”
Draped in a long flowing white shirt, Jannicke Kråkvik is an attractive force working her way around the stands of the smaller design companies at the fair. Her Oslo shop Kollekted By works with Danish furniture brand Frama and sells speciality products from the region.
“We try to stock as little as possible from the bigger brands and as much as possible from the smaller brands,” Kråkvik says, as we look around a stand she has helped design for Norway’s Fjordfiesta furniture. The buyer, who runs an interior-design company alongside her shop, has been recruited by a number of exhibitors here to dress up their stands. In this case she’s brought the new colour range of Fjordfiesta’s chairs to life in themed rooms.
“This is the most important fair for Scandinavia and this is where the news is created,” she says. “It’s actually as important as Milan. As it’s smaller you tend to bump into people and meetings happen in a serendipitous way.”
Her thoughts on the industry here are that while it was once divided between individual nations, “Scandinavian design” had eventually become a more unifying tag. “But it is evolving from what it was 50 years ago. Scandinavian design is more colourful and daring now,” she adds.
And what are the take-home trends of the fair? “They put a lot of effort into the colours here, this is where you can get a read of where things are going. Earthy tones, like this pinkish-reddish colour, are used absolutely everywhere – expect to see a lot more of that after this event.”
It may have a calm and quiet marketing approach but Frama is everywhere right now. Its lighting and furniture pieces are embued with tactile materiality and its sparsely furnished stand at Stockholm Furniture & Lighting Fair was garnering heavy foot traffic. There wasn’t much in the way of “new” to appreciate here however; Frama works with its permanent collection and avoids the churn-and-burn cycle of many larger furniture companies.
“The idea is not to launch a hefty load of new products but instead just go with what feels right and explore form,” says head designer Cassandra Bradfield. “This feels like the appropriate gesture from us,” she says of Frama’s low-key approach to the fair.
Visitors did get a glimpse of a fresh piece, however. The Ventus lamps by Danish duo Included Middle take inspiration from origami folds, working well as a single sculptural pendant and grouped together as an artful installation.“It depends on the context,” says Bradfield. “I would love to see this lighting big in a hotel lobby but you can also just put one where you might usually put a plant in the corner, creating volume without taking up a lot of space.”
The Danish brand will strengthen its Swedish connections later in the year. It will launch a lamp in collaboration with Stockholm architect Andreas Martin-Löf.
“The purpose of the trip was twofold: a work trip but also a nice excuse to check out a beautiful city that people seem to love,” says David Alhadeff, whose galleries in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles represent designers at the top end of the market.
While his penchant is for studio-crafted works and one-of-a-kind pieces, he’s impressed by outlier brands here, whose work has the potential to grow in collectability and value. We catch him admiring the wares of Nikari’s artfully crafted timber goods from Fiskars, Finland. He’s also impressed by Portugal’s De La Espada at its event at Stockholm Design Week, which takes place in conjunction with the fair.
“They’ve done a performative, interactive installation of their new collection and that’s a good opportunity for us. We as a company come to see the little guy doing something unique and interesting,” he says.
Alhadeff describes collectible design pieces as items of pervasive interest long-term, adding that democratically made Scandinavian furniture from yesteryear has found its way into this niche. While looking at the quality of the modern work on show at this year’s fair, he says that there’s no reason why this legacy can’t continue.“In the US there is an increasing appetite for this highly specialised, custom-created, craft-based work – it can be about usage but it is about beauty as well.”
String owners Peter Erlandsson and Pär Josefsson agree that this furniture fair is the most important one in the calendar, despite doing the circuit from Köln to Milan with their simple, functional shelving units.
“Milan is almost too big,” says Erlandsson. “We showed in Stockholm for the first time in 2006 and the fair has grown in popularity, it has become more international and it is very well curated.”
The new-look String was born in 2004 but its products have existed since 1949 when its slender, wire ladder-like form was forged by Swedish architect Nils Strinning. His shelves were created for the growing book collections of Swedes and this use hasn’t changed much in the intervening years. Today, under new ownership, String’s minimalistic designs have earned a cult following in markets as far away as Japan and the US.
“For the fair we’ve formed a mini-house, which shows the many applications of String in different rooms,” says Erlandsson, showcasing the String Pocket system, which addresses the needs of those living in increasingly smaller homes. And while the young designers at the event talk about sustainability and the circular economy, String’s owners have been quietly walking the walk for many years. “We are a few hours’ drive from all of our suppliers,” says Erlandsson. “The main thing with String, however, is that it will last, you’re going to keep it and if for some reason you get bored of it, you can sell it as it keeps its value.”
In contrast with the softly spoken Scandinavian designers who have gathered at the fair, Artemide’s flamboyant vice-president Carlotta de Bevilacqua is something of a breath of fresh air. De Bevilacqua and Ernesto Gismondi, Artemide’s president, established the presence of the Italian lighting brand in Copenhagen in the 1990s and the clean lines and sculptural forms of its products have fared well in the Nordic market ever since. They returned to the fair in 2018 after a 10-year break due to the growing strength of the event’s lighting component.
“The fair is super interesting and we saw an opportunity for our company, which is both humanistic and scientific, to fit in well here again,” says De Bevilacqua, showing off the elegant pendant form of the Foster and Partners-designed Orsa light. “Scandinavia is a land of innovation and technology but also of tradition, which are values that are linked with our own designs.”
Artemide, which rose to international prominence in the same era as many of Scandinavia’s design greats, creates products with typical Italian flair and passion. Yet its international success may come from a philosophy aligned with a production mantra from much further north. “The shape is always the consequence of the concept,” says De Bevilacqua.
After meeting a Swedish woman in Cuba, Cristiano Pigazzini moved to Stockholm in 2004. He went on to establish Note Design Studio alongside Johannes Carlström. Pigazzini says his business mindset and lack of formal training allow him to look at the studio’s challenges differently. This has clearly been a recipe for success and in 2018 his firm was omnipresent at the fair, debuting designs with companies Tarkett, Magis and Fogia.
“Sweden is in front of other countries when it comes to design because here it’s very much about all-around thinking,” he says. Pigazzini adds that the discussion among his firm and other Stockholm studios is focused on the circular economy, where disposability is eliminated from the design equation.
“It’s not just choosing the right materials, it’s about thinking about the life of the product. If we can succeed in applying this to the design industry then that is a big step,” he says, noting that this contradicts the purpose of design fairs, where companies debut their latest products with little focus on longevity.
Note is trying to prove its point here by introducing three products under the Fogia banner, including Pigazzini’s Grande Table, a sleek but sturdy oak piece, designed to outlive its buyer. “Yes, we are showing new products but these are products that will last at least one generation.”