Wednesday 7 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 7/2/2024

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Felix Odell

Trade secrets

This week we look to the future with the creative director of Finnish design brand Marimekko, take a perch on a modernist classic from London, embrace the elements with Helsinki-based brand Vaarnii’s outdoor furniture and reimagine the modern office with the help of a few Swedish design studios. But first, Grace Charlton ponders fair fatigue as she explores Stockholm’s design week.

Opinion / Grace Charlton

Fair game

It happens to everybody. There are times when you just have to stop and ask yourself: do you give up and cut your losses? Or is it all worth the effort? When it comes to Stockholm’s annual furniture fair and a citywide design week, some design studios and furniture companies have chosen the former option. Among the brands that have decided not to participate in the fair at Stockholmsmässen this year are Källemo and Carl Hansen & Søn. Many cite a lack of financial incentives as a factor, as well as the rise of Copenhagen’s rival event 3 Days of Design, a citywide design showcase with no trade-fair component.

Fair fatigue is nothing new. Many firms are now skipping Salone del Mobile in Milan and Maison & Objet in Paris, and focusing instead on city-based design gatherings. But creating that kind of buzz across the frosty Swedish capital isn’t easy. “This is Stockholm in February and we’re competing with Copenhagen in June,” Adam Kubar, sales manager at Källemo, tells me at the brand’s showroom in Södermalmsallén. Many of the brands participating in Stockholm Design Week, which runs until Sunday, seemed to be limiting their efforts to hosting a drink on Thursday evening.

Thankfully, there have been some exceptions. Earlier this week, Finnish stalwart Iittala, under the creative direction of Janni Vepsäläinen, put on an evening showcase deep underground in the former nuclear reactor hall KTH R1. In the cavernous space, guests gathered around a bag of sand slowly emptying out into the concrete depths below. In sculptural black outfits, sipping champagne from Iittala glasses, the crowd wouldn’t have looked out of place at a Rick Owens fashion show. There were moments of pretension (including a 20-minute experimental cello and glass-horn set) but at least the evening was memorable and provoked discussion. After all, isn’t that what these gatherings are about?

The fair itself has proved to be a rewarding visit too. Italian design studio (and guest of honour) Formafantasma has installed a reading room with Artek stools, pink drapes and a selection of books on ecology. Swedish bookseller Konst/ig Books and Copenhagen-based New Mags have set up shop with desirable reading materials for your home. A new section of the fair, New Ventures, gives young designers from around the world a platform to exhibit their work, providing visitors the chance to unearth a host of emerging talent. And, of course, the Scandinavian penchant for raw, wood-heavy design and sturdy steel is on show in the fair booths. Despite all of those understandable reasons against participating in trade fairs, Stockholm’s event proves that it can still be worth the effort.

Grace Charlton is a Monocle writer. For more from Stockholm Furniture Fair and design week, tune in to ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

The exhibition / ‘Testing Grounds’, Sweden

Flex time

To what extent does good design shape your workplace? Can desk chairs look as good as they feel? These are the kinds of questions that Form Us With Love (FUWL) asked four Swedish design studios for this year’s Stockholm Design Week. The Stockholm-based furniture-maker’s new wares, created in collaboration with Savo, Stolab, Forming Function and Ateljé Lyktan, include a range of task chairs and lights. The collection is on show at FUWL’s waterfront studio in Stockholm as part of its Testing Grounds exhibition, which runs until tomorrow.

Image: Felix Odell
Image: Felix Odell

“Modern offices need to be flexible in their design,” says John Löfgren, co-founder of FUWL (pictured left). “This idea has never been more relevant than it is now. Teamwork is central to what we do but the space where it all happens can be as important as human resources.” For the new collection, Forming Function reimagined charging stations, which can sometimes be unsightly, with aluminium power outlets that come with plug-in lights and can be mounted on walls or tables. Meanwhile, Stolab riffed on classic wooden chairs, introducing components such as swivel bases and seat padding. “Testing Grounds reflects the conversations that we hope to have throughout the week,” says FUWL’s co-founder Jonas Pettersson (pictured right). “All of these products are made with parts and systems that can be combined in different ways according to the user’s need.”

Visit Form Us With Love at Norr Mälarstrand 58 during Stockholm Design Week.

Design news / Faye Toogood x Vaarnii, Finland

Wood intentions

“There’s a toughness to these products,” says UK artist and designer Faye Toogood, gesturing towards the 015 Peace outdoor lounge chair and footstool – a collaboration with Helsinki-based company Vaarnii, which is known for its sturdy creations made from Finnish pine. “It’s fitting, given that they were created by a Brit for a northern-European furniture manufacturer. Our relationship with the outdoors is different to that of our southern European friends.” With temperatures hovering at about -4C at the Stockholm Furniture Fair, where the chair and footstool debuted this week, it’s hard to disagree with this statement.

Image: Faye Toogood

The pieces are the latest additions to Vaarnii’s growing range of outdoor furniture, which features heat-treated pinewood that can withstand all weather types, from the scorching summer sun to sub-zero conditions. “Outdoor furniture can make or destroy a landscape,” says Toogood. “We have been conscious of this in our design and hope that we have made something that blends in with the natural.”;

Visit Vaarnii at stand A07:12 at the Stockholm Furniture Fair until Saturday 10 February.

Image: Mathias Eis

Words with... / Rebekka Bay, Finland

Both sides now

Rebekka Bay has been the creative director of Finnish design brand Marimekko since 2020. Under her leadership, the heritage company has shored up its reputation as a leading producer of home décor, accessories, textiles and clothing. Bay stopped by Monocle Radio’s pop-up studio at the recent Copenhagen International Fashion Fair (CIFF) to tell us about Marimekko’s legacy and future, the interplay of its commercial and artistic sides and the importance of putting on a good show.

How do you build on a 73-year legacy like Marimekko’s?
The danger of having an important legacy or heritage is that you can easily just become its custodian. That’s not the intent of Marimekko. It’s very important to honour and celebrate our past but, at the same time, we need to focus on being present and building a legacy for the future. We have an amazing archive of some 4,000 prints that informs our thinking but since I joined Marimekko my ambition has been to create our future archive.

What does the future look like for your brand?
It’s about understanding where the customer is and how they live their lives. When Marimekko began in 1951, it focused on the domestic market and bringing joy to Finns. Our early products reflect this: they’re for people who have vast gardens and access to nature and forests. Now, we have customers in Tokyo and other cities across the globe who live in smaller apartments, spaces that are very different to those of our early customers. That’s why we have to sharpen what we offer and ensure that we are serving this broader range of customers.

How do you balance Marimekko’s commercial ambitions with its artistic vision?
We are inherently an artistic company and that doesn’t have to be in conflict with our commercial aims. Since the beginning, we have celebrated artistic communities and embraced the idea of working with a lot of different people. That isn’t necessarily the most commercial way of working. What we needed to learn – and have done so now – is that we can both honour our artistic values and strengthen our commercial appeal.

For more from Monocle Radio at CIFF, tune in to this week’s episode of ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle Radio.

Illustration: Anje Jaeger

From the archive / Isokon Stool, UK

It’s a living thing

This plywood stool made its debut at the bar and restaurant of the modernist Isokon building in north London about 90 years ago. Officially called Lawn Road Flats, the apartment block was an experiment in new ways of living by furniture entrepreneurs Jack and Molly Pritchard, and architect Wells Coates. It became a hub for the era’s avant-garde and counted as tenants luminaries such as architect Walter Gropius and novelist Agatha Christie. With many of the flats measuring just 25 sq m, it was the so-called Isobar, a space that hosted everything from drinks to supper clubs, that became the heart of the action.

Created by an unknown designer, the Isokon stool reflects the architecture of the building. It’s made entirely from bent plywood – the Pritchards were specialists in the material – and can be turned into a side table with the addition of a tray. The stool was put into production and is still manufactured in London by Isokon Plus – proof, if any were needed, of its enduring appeal.

From the fair / Relief by String Furniture, Sweden

Infinite combinations

Stockholm-based architecture studio TAF’s new storage system for String Furniture is named Relief not just because it evokes the feeling that comes with a tidy home. It’s also a reference to the modular system’s light edging, which creates a relief for textural effect. With chests of drawers and rails in different sizes that can be mixed and matched according to taste, colour and size, it can be endlessly adapted to meet the requirements of different environments.

Image: Felix Odell
Image: Felix Odell

Every part of the system – even the back – has been carefully designed, allowing you to place it in the middle of a room as a divider. As well as dark grey, beige, white and stained ash, a vibrant orange is available for those who want to liven up their homes with a splash of colour. As befits a collaboration between two Swedish design companies, Relief is made entirely in the country from locally sourced materials and using only renewable energy. “The products in this series radiate honest, genuine materials,” says Mattias Ståhlbom, designer and co-founder of TAF. Now that’s a relief.;

Visit String Furniture at stand A05:19 at the Stockholm Furniture Fair until Saturday 10 February.

Novel graphics / ‘Gianfranco Frattini’, Italy

Part of the furniture

Italian architect and designer Gianfranco Frattini might not be a household name like his mentor, Gio Ponti, but he had a sharp eye and a passion for craftsmanship, especially woodworking. While based in Ponti’s studio in the 1950s, Frattini met industrialist Cesare Cassina, whose namesake furniture company later produced some of his most memorable pieces. Now a monograph from Silvana Editoriale, Gianfranco Frattini: Design 1955/2003, showcases his body of work for a new generation of design enthusiasts to discover.

Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay
Image: Tony Hay

Edited by Frattini’s daughter, architect Emanuela Frattini Magnusson, the publication explores the designer’s work in everything from flatware to furniture. Alongside product shots are images of his works taken from a retrospective exhibition at last year’s Milan Design Week, which took place in the frescoed rooms of the 17th-century Palazzo Arese Borromeo. Frattini’s furniture reflects his sense of moderation and eagerness to experiment, as well as his ability to create deceptively simple pieces, such as the Maestro table for Acerbis.


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