Swedish Furniture & Design
What constitutes Swedish design in brief and in general is simple shapes, symmetry, pale colours, emphasis on adapting form to function, that is making useful things, furniture in light or "blonde" wood, and textiles with checks and stripes. Swedish design is rarely obviously decorative or pretty, tending rather to the serious, even austere, or cold side. In some ways it represents the triumph of neoclassicism in the modern world.
In the minds of many Swedish furniture, specifically, is most associated with suburban IKEA stores in innumerable locations through the America, Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere, selling a cheap version of Swedish style decor and home decorating, particularly bedroom furniture. However the design history of Swedish antique furniture holds some interest in the overall story of Scandinavian furniture.
Swedish Armchair, circa 1880, by Carl Svensson.
Veneered in rosewood, with engraved pewter inlay, the cross-banded fillets veneered in tulipwood, the carving in solid rosewood and walnut; removeable pad seat and back panel with modern upholstery in cotton damask.
X-shaped chairs like this one were often formal, even throne-like, and this example is certainly made more for show than use. The way that the back panel attaches to the seat is weak and would not stand up to regular wear, though markings under the seat make it clear that this was one of a set of at least eight chairs. Carl Svensson, who put his mark under the seat, described himself as "Upholsterer to the Royal court". The chair may have been designed and made in his workshops or he may have bought it in for supply to a client. Such a practice was well established by the 19th century. The engraved pewter inlay is an unusual and elegant decorative detail.
Like other Nordic countries, perhaps excepting Finland, Swedish style furniture followed the main currents of furniture styles elsewhere in Europe, with much French, German, and English influence, although tempered and modified according to the strong local crafts traditions, and by the heritage of the Vikings.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Swedish furniture is the country and painted furniture styles to be found. Originating in folk arts with their typical rose painting and floral motifs, and influenced by English Arts & Crafts furniture, Swedish country style uses wooden furniture painted in faded primary colours. Stencil designs in contrasting colours of hearts and roses are also common in furniture decoration.
In general the Swedish country look is best suited to simple rustic homes with light and bright whitewashed rooms with plaster walls, bare, bleached wood floors with wide planks, and unbusy window treatments using plain muslin instead of curtains.
Modern & Contemporary
1930 Stockholm Exhibition
In 1930 the Stockholm exhibition marked an important step in the development of Swedish design. The Exhibition saw radical changes in architecture and some areas of interior decoration, with large windows, clean surfaces, open spaces and spartan decor. The architects like Sigurd Lewerentz, Uno Åhrén, Gunnar Asplund and Sven Markelius were given free rein to create something completely new.
In the area of furniture, Bruno Mathsson, to become one of Sweden's most internationally acclaimed furniture designers, found much inspiration in the Stockholm exhibition and it helped him continue his experimental chairs designs, with curved wood, cane and tubular steel. Bruno Mathsson was a pioneer in the functionalist furniture school and was active in later years in the computer workspace furniture making. Karl Malmsten is another of note, specialising in a more arts and crafts approach, but combined with the functional aspect, Malmsten has done much to give modern homes of Sweden a pleasant, graceful style, rich in interest and decorative qualities.
The styles and models of furniture exhibited at the 1930 Exhibition were heavily influenced, above all, by events in Germany, especially the Bauhaus furniture movement, and also had a strong social-political element, almost feverish, based in a desire to create new art for a new world. Much of the innovative and ground-breaking furniture designs and modes of interior decoration which were later to have such a large impact on the world also had their debut at this time.
Forties & Fifties
In the 19 40s and 50s Swedish design becomes more industrially focused. The work of Josef Frank, an Austrian immigrant, has had the most impact on Swedish home furnishings from this period, and is a charming combination of craftmanship and industrial production.
Nils Strinning, in the nineteen fifties designed the String shelf system – an almost universal feature in fifties era home. Strinning's shelves were made of teak wood and had nylon-coated steel wire.
Sixties & Seventies
Furniture design in this era became less decorative, was simple and fairly lean. The company Ikea, founded in 1965, making down to earth chipboard furniture, came into its own in the seventies, and fairly rapidly became the world's largest chain of furniture stores. Aside from Ikea, the designers Lindvall & Lindekrantz, and Huldt & Dranger, fashioned modern, aggressive looking tubular steel chairs and tables.
The Contemporary Era
Swedish furniture and interiors design has remained quite dynamic up to modern times. The focus on function and usefulness continues, and many talented designers remain employed by large manufacturers as well as smaller boutique producers. Designs are almost always simple, practical solutions to the needs of modern living styles. Alder, pine and birch are commonly used woods.