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Swedish design

Sustainability is a vital component of contemporary Swedish design. Growing internationalisation on the design scene also challenges traditional methods and materials, as well as aesthetics.

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BAUX Acoustic Pulp by Form Us With Love for BAUX (2019), 100 per cent bio-based panels.
Photo: Jonas Lindström/BAUX

Swedish design

Sustainability is a vital component of contemporary Swedish design. Growing internationalisation on the design scene also challenges traditional methods and materials, as well as aesthetics.

From modernism to contemporary design

There are certain characteristics that set Swedish design apart. One is environmentally friendly production, which has a long tradition in Sweden. Transparency is another, for products as well as production – it’s often easy to see how a product is made and of what material, and producers are open about the production process.

The classic Swedish emphasis on functionality and reduced form has undergone a change, and today sophisticated colour schemes, a broad range of sustainable materials and conceptual ideas form a new diversity. In recent years collaborations between design producers and small-scale crafts industries has also established itself as an important aspect of contemporary Swedish design.

10 pioneers in the Swedish design field:

1. Artur Lindqvist (1897–1983), furniture designer. His garden chair A2 from 1930 gained recognition for its unique spring steel construction, which lends it a peaceful swing.

Left, Grythyttans A2 chair. Right: the pattern Persons kryddskåp by Astrid Sampe.Artur Lindqvist’s A2 garden chair (left) and Astrid Sampe’s pattern Persons kryddskåp (right). Photo: Grythyttan (left), Almedahls (right)

2. Astrid Sampe (1909–2002), textile designer, introduced the printed towel in Sweden. Her pattern Persons kryddskåp from 1955 is a classic in the kitchen.

3. Bruno Mathsson (1907–1988), furniture designer and architect. His chair Pernilla from 1944 is an international icon.

Bruno Mathsson's Pernilla chair. Bruno Mathsson’s Pernilla chair. Photo: Bruno Mathsson International

4. Gillis Lundgren (1929–2016), furniture designer at IKEA, and the man behind the flat-pack and ready-to-assemble furniture. The Billy bookshelf from 1979 is a worldwide bestseller.

5. Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg (1955–2015), textile designer at Kasthall. In 1998 Moss, her contemporary interpretation of the traditional Swedish ‘rya’, brought the long-piled rug back into fashion.

Left: Moss rug by Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg. Right: Teheran pattern by Josef Frank. Moss rug by Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg (left) and Teheran pattern by Josef Frank (right). Photo: Kasthall (left), Svensk Tenn (right)

6. Josef Frank (1885–1967), designer at Svenskt Tenn from 1934. His colourful patterns often blend dream and reality, like Teheran, created in the 1940s.

7. Märta Måås-Fjetterström (1873–1941), textile artist, made the Swedish ‘röllakan’ flatweave technique world famous. Her rug Bruna Heden, with its graphic pattern, was created in 1931.

Märta Måås-Fjetterström's Bruna Heden rug, with Swedish ‘röllakan’ flatweave technique. Märta Måås-Fjetterström’s Bruna Heden rug. Photo: Märta Måås-Fjetterström

8. Nisse Strinning (1917–2006) and Kajsa Strinning (1922–2017), industrial designers. Their shelving system Stringhyllan has been popular ever since its launch in 1949.

9. Sixten Sason (1916–1967), industrial and product designer for Saab automobiles, Electrolux vacuum cleaners and many more. In 1943 he developed the Hasselblad camera 1600F.

Stig Lindberg's Berså pattern on porcelain coffee cups and small plates. Stig Lindberg’s Berså pattern. Photo: Gustavsbergs Porslinsfabrik

10. Stig Lindberg (1916–1982, link in Swedish), designer and illustrator. Berså from 1961 is one of his most beloved patterns.

10 contemporary Swedish designers

1. Björn Dahlström, industrial designer, working for clients like Articles Furniture, Iittala, Krups, Lammhults, Magis and Skeppshult. His award-winning Kaskad outdoor series for Nola is a Swedish bestseller.

Björn Dahlström's Kaskad outdoor chairs.Kaskad outdoor chairs by Björn Dahlström. Photo: Jann Lipka/Nola

2. Broberg & Ridderstråle, interior architects and designers. Their work combines minimalistic form and elegance with a conceptual twist. Patina for Klong is a stylish interpretation of the classic Swedish oil lamp.

Broberg & Ridderstråle's Patina oil lamps. Broberg & Ridderstråle’s Patina oil lamps. Photo: Klong

3. Carina Seth Andersson is known for her glass and ceramic work where the balance between simplicity and meaningful form results in pieces of timeless quality. Her design for brands like Marimekko and Skruf has gained international attention.

4. Form Us With Love is an international design studio based in Stockholm. They’re recognised for their skilled architecture, design and strategy work for a wide range of international clients.

5. Front design studio work with furniture, product and lighting design, as well as art installations, often for public spaces. Among their clients are Mooi, Nationalmuseum, Swedese, Vestre, Vitra and Zero.

6. Färg & Blanche, furniture designers and curators. Fredrik Färg and Emma Marga Blanche make up a designer duo based in Stockholm, but working worldwide. Their Emma chair family for Gärsnäs is an interpretation of a model from the 1840s, in new materials and using new methods.

Left: Färg & Blanche's Emma chairs. Right: Matti Klenell's rattan chair NM& 040. Färg & Blanche’s Elin and Lina chairs (left) and Matti Klenell’s rattan chair NM& 040 (right). Photo: Färg & Blanche (left), Matti Klenell (right)

7. Matti Klenell, furniture and object designer, also interior architect. Klenell is well known for his work for brands like Iittala and Offecct. He often collaborates with small-scale crafts industries. The rattan chair NM& 040 for Nationalmuseum is built by Larsson Korgmakare in the Old Town of Stockholm.

8. Monica Förster is one of Sweden’s most rewarded design studios working on an international level for companies such as Alessi, Cappellini, De Padova, Georg Jensen, Offecct, Poltrona Frau, Rörstrand, Swedese and Volvo.

9. Pia Wallén is inspired by traditional Swedish folk craft techniques and patterns. Her bold, minimalistic designs also have a strong contemporary edge. The combination of tradition and modernity has positioned the brand as one of Sweden’s most interesting and the Crux blanket has become a contemporary collector’s item.

Pia Wallén's Crux blanket. Pia Wallén’s Crux blanket. Photo: Pia Wallén

10. TAF design and architecture studio is run by Gabriella Gustafson and Mattias Ståhlbom. Their design is often conceptual with unexpected combinations of form and materials. Among their clients are Artek, Fogia, Gärsnäs, Muuto, Nationalmuseum, Offecct and String. In recent years their exhibition design for clients like ArkDes has gained international attention.

Diversity, woven vinyl flooring from Bolon. Dandy sofa by Massproductions. Styling by Saša Antić.
Photo: Pär Olofsson/Bolon

Sustainable Swedish design

Bolon makes innovative flooring solutions for public spaces. It is a third-generation family business run by sisters Annica and Marie Eklund. Under their leadership, Bolon has been transformed from a traditional weaving mill into an international design brand. With a strong commitment to sustainability, Bolon designs and manufactures all its products at a facility in Ulricehamn in southern Sweden. The company is recognised worldwide for its award-winning flooring and collaborations with some of the world’s most acclaimed innovators and creatives.

Sustainordic is a network initiated by the ArkDes museum in Stockholm and Form/Design Center Malmö. The platform aims to promote sustainable consumption and production. ‘The Nordic Report 01’, published in 2019, is the first report in a series of three.

Vita havet, exhibition hall at Konstfack. Photo: Konstfack

Design colleges

At the beginning of the 2000s, a shift could be noticed among Sweden’s design and art colleges and their recent graduates. Focus changed from a deep interest in technology, materials and function towards a new desire to tell a story with the things they made, to use these objects to comment on our times and their own activities. As part of this process, commercial culture and its various manifestations came to be placed on a par with more traditional aesthetics.

Some of Sweden’s design and art colleges are:

  • Konstfack – University College of Arts, Crafts and Design
    Konstfack, founded in 1844, is one of the oldest art and design colleges in Sweden. Located just south of central Stockholm, it offers courses at bachelor’s and master’s levels. It has around 900 students and 200 employees.
  • The Umeå Institute of Design
    The Umeå Institute of Design in northern Sweden provides four academic programmes focusing exclusively on industrial design and related specialisations. The college was founded in 1989.
  • Beckmans College of Design
    Beckmans College of Design in Stockholm was founded in 1939 by Anders Beckman, a pioneer in the young Swedish advertising industry (see above). The students at Beckmans learn to rely on their own imagination and creativity, and to develop their own personal styles in close cooperation with others, not only those in their own group but also students from other disciplines at the college.
  • The School of Design and Crafts
    The School of Design and Crafts is part of the University of Gothenburg. The craft courses at the school include jewellery, textiles and ceramics.
  • The Swedish School of Textiles
    The Swedish School of Textiles in Borås, east of Gothenburg, offers expertise in all textile fields from crafts and design to technology, production, finance and marketing.
  • The School of Industrial Design at Lund University
    The School of Industrial Design at Lund University in the south of Sweden offers teaching at bachelor’s and master’s levels, and also has a PhD programme.

In addition, there are now several schools that focus specifically on graphic design and communication, such as Berghs, Forsbergs and Hyper Island. Their programmes blend communication studies with courses in graphic design and creativity.

Find out more about studying in Sweden at studyinsweden.se.

Last updated: 18 July 2019

Cia Wedin & Sweden.se