Going Beyond IKEA

The Swedes’ obsession with design turns into a celebration of excellence during the Stockholm Design Week.

Written by Alaka Sahani | Updated: April 13, 2014 12:51:15 am
Dancers in The Contradiction of Silence. Dancers in The Contradiction of Silence.

Circular cloth lamps illuminate the tunnel-like entrance that leads to the  Färg & Blanche design studio in Södermalm, a district in central Stockholm that is home to prominent Swedish artists and the characters of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy. The basement-turned-studio is where Fredrik and Emma Blanche created their talked-about furniture line by sewing pieces of plywood. Some of them are on display, while others feature in the film Longing to Fly/Longing to Fall, by architect and musician Erika Janunger and choreographer Oskar Frisk, that plays on a screen. In the film, the dancers’ gravity-defying movements strikes a contrast with the static furniture. The exhibition of furniture and the film on loop, made for a striking installation during the Stockholm Design Week. Such blending of dance, music and design, may sound unusual, but it’s not far from the Swedish way of life. Design has always been seamlessly integrated into every facet of it.

One cannot escape the term ‘design’ in Stockholm. And during the annual design week in February, it becomes almost impossible when Stockholmsmässan — an international fairs and congress centre in the city’s southern suburb — plays host to the Stockholm Furniture Fair and the Northern Light Fair. Apart from the fairs, the number of design events happening across this island city crossed 60 this year.

According to author Susanne Helgeson, one of the four speakers at the introductory event hosted by Svensk Form, an organisation committed to promote Swedish form and design, Swedish design has a long legacy and tradition of honesty and quality, beginning from the materials to the production, and focussing on the needs of the user. “That combined with the ‘look’ — refined simplicity — makes it worthwhile and appealing,” says Helgeson, who points out that the Swedes were peasants for ages. “When industrialisation arrived, there was a strong political lobby for making things better for many people, by bringing artists into the industries to get more beautiful everyday products,” she adds.

Over the years, the sort of collaboration that Färg & Blanche’s installation demonstrated has become de rigueur in Scandinavia. Bolon, a company that produces woven vinyl products, too, follows this trend. Its latest collection, Silence, is inspired by the tranquillity of nature, and was launched with a short film called The Contradiction of Silence, directed by choreographer Alexander Ekman. Known internationally for his modern interpretation of classical dance forms, Ekman combined playful choreography and energy with Bolon’s method of weaving.

The most impressive collaborative work in Sweden has an ephemeral quality. Icehotel in north Sweden is built every year with the ice harvested from the Torne river, and artists are invited to design its luxury suites. The ice, harvested in March and April, is stored till November, when the construction begins. By December, guests check in and nearly four months later, the hotel melts away into the river. At the Icehotel chain’s Icebar in Stockholm, one could only get a cinematic experience of this impermanent wonder. Drinking vodka from the newest lot of ice glasses designed by Monica Forster, to some extent, compensated for not getting a first-hand experience of the hotel.

Icehotel’s chief creative director Arne Bergh has ambitious plans. After opening an Icebar in Cape Town, he wants to venture into China and India. This does not come as a surprise. After all, IKEA, the Swedish home décor retailer with an international presence, unveiled its plans to open 25 stores in India, and many in the Scandinavian country are viewing India as a market to explore. They are further encouraged by Swedish fashion retailer H&M’s move to open its first store in India by the end of the year. BAUX, a company which presented its collection of building material, that consists of sound absorbing wall panels, is looking eastward. “If we get suitable business partners, we would like to market it in India,” says Jonas Pettersson, co-founder, BAUX.

Though smaller in scale when compared to the Milan Design Week, for over 60 years, the Stockholm Furniture and Light Fair has attracted architects, designers, buyers and the media. This year, they were greeted by an installation by Danish-Italian designer duo Stine Gam and Enrico Fratesi, popularly known as GamFratesi, right in the heart of Stockholmsmässan’s enormous entrance hall. A series of petal-shaped textile panels suspended from the ceiling, effectively ending the monotony of muted-hued furniture laid out to create a cosy lounge.

While this was the 70,000 square-metre venue’s centrepiece, there were several other crowd-pullers. Greenhouse, a space for up-and-coming designers and design schools to showcase their work, was one of them. “We’re fascinated by the phenomenon of designers from all around the world coming and living design together for a few days,” says Johannes Carlström of Note Design Studio, which supported Greenhouse for the second consecutive year. The new section called ‘Twelve’ — where 12 established designers showed what was typical of their design language — generated much interest as well.

In winter, Stockholm can turn stark and monochromatic. During the event, the city is suffused with energy. Its staid nightlife witnesses a series of dinner parties, “after fair” meetings and vernissage cocktails that are planned at design schools, restaurants and studios. “The Design Week serves as a meeting place for promoting the furniture and lighting design industry that extends well beyond Stockholmsmässan’s walls,” says Cecilia Nyberg, event manager, Design Week.

She was right — the designer community that partied at the Offecct studio over champagne, charred orange marinated salmon and grilled reindeer with tartar till the wee hours on the eve of the Week’s opening was back at Berns, the city’s favourite boutique hotel, for Architonic Disco once the inaugural day’s demands were dealt with.

The writer was a guest of the Swedish Institute

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