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Where have the Scandinavian moderns gone? On a joy ride.
Feb 20, 2013

It’s been 80 years since the great Scandinavian “moderns” such as Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, Arne Jacobsen and Poul Kjaerholm began teaching the virtues of clean-lined design. No movement since has done more to improve everyday surroundings. The old masters worked wonders in pale wood, honest textiles and sparkling glass. So does the new generation. But that’s just a starting point for them.
At Stockholm Design Week in early February, the new generation of Nordic designers offered a fresh take on Scandinavian design. The materials are still natural, the designs beautiful. But there’s nothing restrained about it. Like the aurora borealis, these furniture designers are ready to light up a room. 
The Swedish Institute opened doors to studios and showrooms, while the Stockholm Furniture Fair, which calls itself the “world’s largest meeting place for Scandinavian furniture and lighting” provided a survey of the best in Scandinavian modern today.
 
Down a spiraling carriage track, in the rough-and-ready subterranean studio of Farg & Blanche, Shaker-esque chairs had been dressed up with couture slipcovers. One was as glamorous as a Fifties cocktail sheath, another like gaucho pants, still another in punk-ish black leather paillettes.

The duo, Fredrik Farg and Emma Marga Blanche, sprang to fame two years ago after creating poufs for Commes des Garcons which clustered around the new chairs like a flock of silky black sheep. Farg and Blanche make their chair garments one at a time, using a microwave, an industrial sewing machine, scissors, glue and grit. The result is fabulous. It’s also labor-intensive, so the couple has launched a ready-to-wear armchair upholstered in quilted gray wool. Who wouldn’t want to curl up in a venture capitalist’s suit?

Onward through the slush to the fifth-floor walkup of Per Soderberg, the gutsy architect behind No Early Birds, a spare, slightly eccentric collection of essentials in wood, leather and brass (stool, console, bureau desk, table, shelving and candelabra). All but the chair rely on crossed legs fastened with custom-covered screws. Soderberg, who earned a master of design at the Domus Academy in Milan, uses the structure alone or in combination. His elegant pieces are edgy enough for a rock band.

At the International Press Centre of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, a two-foot-tall sculpture in sensuous red and black glass turned heads. Was it a hyper realistic nail polish bottle or something more? The artist, Asa Jungnelius, is infamous for gender-inspired sculptures. Her collaboration with Kosta Boda has put Swedish glass on overdrive.

Swedese has pioneered furniture since 1945 (founder Yngve Ekström created Sweden’s all-time great Lamino armchair in 1956). Today’s collection was perfectly calibrated for the digital age: tables, chairs and sofas exuded the “lighter, thinner, faster” and definitely more casual zeitgeist.
The Swedese Möbler showroom distilled the new effusiveness at the high end, with a splashy yellow and chrome sofa by the architecture studio Claesson Koivisto Rune (CKR).

Superstar Monica Förster’s Breeze table (wind appears to have rippled the tabletop) has been upgraded to ultra-luxury with a copper top. Pair it with the sturdy oak Rohsska chair by CKR, and get to work.

For a softer statement, the Danish designer Christine Schwarzer’s Flower table series offers an homage to Aalto’s wavy glass vase. A nifty Spin stool by Staffan Holm echoes Aalto as well, but a distinctive twist to the legs (and a sheepskin seat) spins the model into a new orbit. (The stool was said to be headed for the members’ lounge at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.)
 
Swedese was the first company to bank on Oki Sato, one of the decade’s emerging global design stars and the Stockholm Fair’s Guest of Honor. From his prolific Nendo studios in Tokyo and Milan, Sato upended a trio of ski poles to make a wood coat stand dubbed Ski. It doesn’t need to become a classic. Swedese already has a coat stand shaped like the silhouette of a tree, which could serve as the emblem of Swedish furniture design.

Offecct has done as much as any Swedish company to propel the image of Scandinavian design into the 21st century. The company’s high-end production line is energized by a roster of international designers including Förster, CKR, Sato, Jean Marie Massaud, Richard Hutten and Luca Nichetto. Likable options for flexible workspaces and corporate lobbies include upholstered stools, called Carry On, which sport handles like baskets.

Some of the same designers produced outdoor furniture for Berga Form. CKR’s low woven daybed in bright orange and Nichetto’s modular planter system won’t become clichés. Sato spent the first day of the fair giving interviews while seated on one of his new steel chairs, which would benefit from a cushion.

At the fair, pastels were breaking through like spring in the arctic. At Muuto of Denmark, the star was a rose pink wood chair. A color forecaster warned that trends in Scandinavia were ruled by the northern light, but the soft palette offered a welcome antidote to gray.
 
Dampening sound was a fixation. Multicolor acoustic clouds floated over one stand. Offecct’s movable acoustic screens promised instant quiet corners. The company’s extensive Soundwave system already can wrap a room. The Botanic pattern is inscribed with tree branches.

For a space-changer, no design was more imaginative than Finnish designer Ilkka Suppanen’s floating ceiling fixture for Vivero Oy, called Tollo. To create intimacy in open offices or cavernous lofts, he crumpled a sheet of special flame-proof paper some 10 feet across and dangled it from a rafter (or a portable arched frame). The paper comes in 14 colors, arrives flat and is shaped by pulling a couple of strings. A light fixture turns Tollo into a new Nordic chandelier.

The week’s most provocative design, the Dent stacking chair, boasts a molded plywood seat with intentional bumps and wrinkles. Designers Jon Lindstrom and Henrik Kjellberg delved deeply into process to turn a typical curved wood seat into a 3D surface, while still making a good looking chair with a comfortable seat. The company explains the experiment as “a challenge to the sleek and beautiful…the antithesis of perfect. It is a chair never seen before and, we dare to say, won’t leave anyone indifferent.”

Aalto’s pristine furnishings have been produced by Artek since the 1930s. This year, the company celebrates the 80th anniversary of Aalto’s Stool 60 with two variations. Choose from colored tops like M&Ms on natural birch legs or colored tops with multi-color legs. “You have to be very careful not to do too much,” agreed Jorma Keurulainen, sales manager for Scandinavia. “But why not play a little bit.” 
Stockholm Design Week is the third event of the 2013 design calendar, following Maison et Objet in Paris and imm Cologne. One hopes to find a vintage modern textile revival such as Artek’s kitchen mitts, aprons and pillow covers in the crisp black and white H55 pattern designed by Elissa Aalto in 1955. Less expected was the creative vortex that nurtured three ingenious exhibitions.
In the caverns under the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, the Glass Elephant exhibition pitted swinging robot arms from heavy industry giant ABB against fragile glass from artists including Jungnelius. Computers kept the robots in line.

Inside the fair hall, a sustainable paper cathedral was erected by Swedish architect Gert Wingardh and Finnish illustrator Kustaa Saksi using nothing more than 11,000 sheets of copier paper and string.  
 
The third extravaganza was a visitor lounge devised by Sato, who got his start in 2004 at the Stockholm Fair’s “Greenhouse” of emerging talent. For a heroic return as Guest of Honor, he created a stage set suggesting snow-capped mountains. This landscape was laser cut from 80 sheets of foam board, trucked flat to the site and unfolded like paper dolls. Sato is not Scandinavian, but he perfectly married the old spirit with the new. The design was clean-lined, respectful of nature and nearly as transparent as Swedish glass. It was also rooted in a philosophy that could have been carved in birch bark by the Scandinavian design legends: “Start from a very small idea and let it grow.” And how.
Written by Linda Hales

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