Evolution, not revolution – Katrina Burroughs on Stockholm Design Week

‘Modernism Reimagined.’ I lifted that phrase from Menu, the Danish design label. But it’s not just the mission statement of the supplier of my favourite salt and pepper grinders. It describes the poser that currently faces all the Nordic brands. On the one hand, the world continues to love the functional elegance of the Scandinavian spin on modernism. And then again, certain familiar designs, disseminated beyond the point of ubiquity, feel ripe for reinvention. Sometimes I think I will scream if I see another Series 7 chair. Stockholm Design Week, 8-14 February 2016, showed how the best Scandi brands are rising to the challenge to create furnishings for contemporary ways of living.

There has been a Japanese thread running through the fabric of Nordic design since before Finn Juhl created his famous seat, based on a water gate near Hiroshima, in the fifties. A happy harmony exists between the two regions, based on shared passion for craft and materials. And Design Week saw a renewed emphasis on Japanese aesthetics, in some stellar ‘fusion’ collections. &Tradition’s Formakami paper lanterns, generously rounded glowing forms designed by Jaime Hayon, were a highlight of the furniture fair. At the Wetterling gallery, Finnish glass specialists, Iittala, collaborated with fashion label Issey Miyake to launch a harmonious range of tabletop and textiles. Miyake’s trademark folding and steam pleating techniques were used to create napkins, placemats and a ‘table flower’ that magically unfurls, like an origami blossom. 

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Iittala X Issey Miyake Home Collection

If we picture Scandi style, what do we imagine? White walls, natural timber furniture, and Josef Frank fabrics, correct? Well, in Stockholm, some of the brands showed a shift into deeper, darker shades, punctuated with metallic and marble surfaces. Nordic noir, perhaps. String exhibited its celebrated modular shelving in basic black. Normann Copenhagen’s new Krenit jugs, with deliciously sharp silhouettes, were black, too (albeit with coloured interiors). However, before we get carried away and laud NCs new tableware as representing an ingenious new direction, it’s worth remembering the Krenit collection is based on a design by Herbert Krenchel, first launched fifty years ago. The real story of Stockholm 2016 was one of the gentlest evolution, not revolution.

Normann Copenhagen Krenit Jugs

Normann Copenhagen Krenit Jugs

And quite rightly so. A visit to the exhibition ‘As if by Chance’ at Svenskt Tenn, the store that sells fabrics, cushions, lampshades and upholstered furniture in the irrepressible patterns of Josef Frank (1885-1967), shows precisely why the reinvention of Scandinavian design should always be combined with celebration of its heritage. Three interiors by Frank have been recreated in the shop, to demonstrate his philosophy of ‘Fortunate Coincidence.’ They look stylish but ‘undone’, relaxing and calm – everything we could wish for in a contemporary interior, to offset the perpetual bustle of modern life. No reimagination required.

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Josef Frank ‘As If By Chance’ at Svenskt Tenn

‘As if by Chance’ continues until March 29 at Svenskt Tenn, Strandvägen 5, 114 51 Stockholm, Sweden.

Katrina Burroughs is Interiors Editor of The Sunday Times, Home
@Kat_Burroughs