That has to be a good sign: sun and blue sky flying into Stockholm. Patches of forest alternate with snowy fields and meadows: an idyllic image. The airport welcomes us with a warm atmosphere, dark wooden floorboards and inviting lounge seats replace the usual hard plastic seats and PVC flooring. The cozy feeling continues uninterrupted on the Arlanda Express, which scores points with its pleasant interior and clear passenger information. It seems in Sweden design quality reaches far beyond the Stockholm Furniture Fair.
Yet before visiting the fair our itinerary includes a tour of Stockholm's city center. With its new showroom at Sven-Harrys Konstmuseum, Gärnäs has definitely chosen a good location. The traditional Swedish company specializes in high-quality wooden products and this year's presentations are no exception. For instance, "My Granddaughter's Cabinet", designed by Lisa Hilland, a storage unit that looks like a set of stacked boxes and, carefully arranged, can certainly hold a secret or two.
In cooperation with the Swedish Museum of Architecture, design studio "Form us with love" is showing five newly developed products on the island of Skeppsholmen. Particularly noteworthy is "Bento" made for One Nordic Furniture Company from Finland. The chair and table follow the same design principle. The components are made of painted bent plywood and are fixed together by a single central retaining screw. And for the Silestone "Slab Vases", rings of quartz-crystal varying in thickness and diameter are layered over a metal bucket.
A few hundred meters further into the "Skating Pavilion" Magnus Wästberg put on a special show with a large number of models and designs by Inga Sempé. Not just for fans of the French designer's work but for all design enthusiasts, the inclusion of sketches and numerous models offered a fascinating insight into the creative processes behind her works.
This collaboration between lighting manufacturer Wästberg and Inga Sempé can certainly be deemed a success. This year's Guest of Honor at the Stockholm Furniture Fair, Inga Sempé designed the luminaire "Sempé w103" for the Swedish manufacturer, which can be hung individually or combined with others. As well as its clear form, dimmable LEDs enhance the luminaire's technical specification, intended to provide more precise and adaptable lighting.
But now to the trade fair itself. Let's start at the back of the hall. Two white walls, one company, one product. White was a good choice of background color by the Norwegian startup "By Corporation": the shelf system "Imeuble" by Bjørn Jørund Blikstad, with its compartments in black and the primary colors, looks as though it were printed on the wall and yet maintains it three-dimensionality. 13 different miter cuts are required to lend these individual elements, which protrude into the space at an angle, such a visually effective form. A fascinating interplay of edges, perspective and our power of imagination.
Swedese, in contrast, went for rounded forms. The stool "Spin" by Staffan Holm cannot deny its roots. The DNA comes from Alvar Aalto's 1933 "Stool 60", but unlike Aalto's design the legs are on the sides of the seat. This is a successful interpretation, whose dynamism is still tangible even when stacked.
We increasingly encountered elements that serve to visually structure the space in different ways or are intended to influence the acoustic situation in working environments. Simply talking about partitions or acoustic materials would not do justice to the great efforts made here to find new design approaches. That said, so far the results have been somewhat decorative in nature; the breakthrough is yet to come. In its experiments to improve acoustics, Abstracta has come up with two new protagonists, namely "Bits Wall" by Anya Sebton and "Aircone" by Stefan Borselius. Thanks to their strict geometric form they are less subject to visual wear. "Airwave", consisting of organic-looking foam elements suspended from the ceiling that can be hooked together as necessary, tries a little too hard. Here the range of bold colors does not even help the partition out of its design dilemma.
At BuzziSpace the seating elements with high backs and armrests were red, the bright color forming a contrast to the cushioned acoustics when talking in these hubs. Here privacy is guaranteed and when several seats are pushed together you feel almost as safe as in a cocoon.
With "Tati" by Broberg and Ridderstråle, Asplund stayed true to its minimalist line even in terms of the presentation. The coat stand with a base plate is virtually unsurpassed when it comes to simplicity, which, however, at the same time poses the question as to the design's succinctness. Next to it, even the smoky colors of "Light Tray" by designers Andreas Engesvik and Daniel Rybakken look like design fireworks.
If we were to list the typical characteristics of Scandinavian design, we would no doubt name the use of wood and natural materials, but also the search for clear forms. With "Taylor", the South-Swedish manufacturer Blå Station presented a simple armchair made of clearly shaped components. By including leather panels and highly contrasting stitching, designer Mia Gammelgaard has added appealing details to the straight side elements and backrest. The base of the armchair is made of lacquered steel tubing.
In the Nordic-style surroundings with the combination of wood, fabric and soft forms, Wilkhahn's stand seemed almost cool. Yet the conference chair "Graph" has the potential to warm the heart of its user. By cutting through the seat shell Jehs and Laub have defined the formal idea, and now, after intensive development, the seat and backrest have been united once again with an attractively-shaped aluminum die-cast element. The special upholstery and an unusual non-mechanized spring system add to the seating comfort. Wilkhahn is aiming high with "Graph", actively seeking to counter the perceived monoculture at international conference tables.
Also surprising was how "&tradition" broke with old patterns, with designer Samuel Wilkinson cheekily tapering the legs of the "Hoof Lounge Table" he designed for the young label as though roughly sharpening a pencil. More conventional but no less interesting was "Mass Light", a luminaire made of a combination of marble and opal glass that produces a very mild light and is particularly appealing in numbers. Tom Rossau's luminaires also produce very cozy light, whereby the focus is on the mood rather than the illumination of the space. The Danish designer uses thin strips of veneer to create his lampshades, which maintain their sculptural character even when the lights are off.
Having wandered around the Stockholm Furniture Fair there can be no doubt that Scandinavian producers are serious about their combination of design, workmanship and material. Even if the organizers boast about the size of the event – "the biggest furniture trade fair for Scandinavian design" – the products that fill its halls are high quality and well presented. Some manufacturers choose to focus first on the local marketplace in the annual trade-fair hullaballoo and seem to do well with this approach. The time and money they save probably go into product development. Not a bad way to avoid design monotony.