Shop: What to Buy in Stockholm

August 29, 2014 | Alex

I'm recently returned from my second trip to Sweden this year. Although I only spent 2.5 jam-packed days in Stockholm on my latest trip, I've been hoarding a few shopping tips since April. As you would expect from a major Scandinavian city, particularly one with a well-established reputation for style, the housewares shopping doesn't disappoint. But with Danish design dominating, as it does here, many of the items you encounter in Stockholm's design shops are in fact designed and produced by Sweden's neighbor to the Southwest. So in the spirit of localism, I've tried to constrain my recommendations to truly Swedish goods. When you peer past the deluge of Normann Copenhagen wares on Stockholm shelves, there are quite a few local icons worth the allocation of space in your suitcase!


1. Celotocaulis Green Pillow by Josef Frank, Svenskt Tenn | A prominent and prolific member of the Swedish design pantheon, Josef Frank dared to embrace color and nature-inspired works at a time when his peers were defining modernism in monochrome and forms inspired by industrialism. Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm is a must-visit shop for design enthusiasts for a range of reasons, not least of which that it's the only place to see Frank's complete oeuvre. At Svenskt Tenn, you can purchase his fabric or wallpaper, or opt for an assortment of 'ready made' pieces like throw pillows, notebooks and even cocktail napkins bearing his cheerful patterns. (An interesting fact: Although he is so closely associated with Swedish design, Frank was in fact born in Austria. He sought Swedish citizenship late in life, after fleeing from Nazism, but collaborated closely throughout his career with Swede Estrid Ericson.)

2. Loop 10 Bulb Lights, Granit | Designed for outdoor or indoor use, the Loop 10's are the best looking string lights on the market. Just don't forget the transformer to use them back home, Americans will need an adapter that converts voltage from the European standard (220v) to the US (120v). Each bulb is 15w.

3. Pocket String Shelves by Nils Strinning | Designed in 1949, Nils Strinning's String system remains one of the most compelling modular shelving systems available today. Infinitely reconfigurable to accommodate books, knick-knacks, display pieces, kitchen wares, you-name-it, the proportions and wire bracket design give the sturdy shelves a feeling of lightness. Perusing images of string shelves is enough to get me pondering the logistics of relocating Stockholm. Because, sadly, they're still quite tricky and expensive to get ahold of in the U.S. The good news for Sweden-bound travelers is that, although his larger components are not easily transportable, the popular pocket shelf system is compact and suitcase-friendly.

4. Mon Amie Teacups by Marianne Westman, Rörstrand | Although Marianne Westman's Mon Amie china pattern is still in production today, it's the vintage sets you're after. I spotted a set of tea and coffee cups at Folk & Form (Gröndalsvägen 27) last week, although you can occasionally track them down stateside via Etsy or Ebay. Currently on this Etsy, this set of 4 teacups with saucers

5. Vintage Flora and Fauna Lithographs, Antique Maps and Prints | My blogger pal Maren, of Bureau of Chic, tipped me off to an antique map shop in Gamla Stan, appropriately named Antique Maps & Prints (Köpmantorget 2). I was transfixed by the delicate and neatly stacked lithographs of birdlife native to Sweden. Vintage lithographs of swedish flora run about 10 SEK, while larger bird prints cost around 120 SEK each.

6. Clamp Wire, Granit | Wondering how best to display your vintage lithographs? Granit's clamp wire has a strong two-tone cable with clamps gentle enough to display precious paper goods. The one I picked up for myself in April alternates between holding fabric swatches for work and personal mementos. (See them in action in IKEA's recent feature on my Brooklyn home.)

7. Cross Blanket by Pia Wallén, Asplund | The cross, a symbol of hope in Swedish folk art, serves as the inspiration for Pia Wallén's iconic blanket. In production since 1991, the reversible blanket is woven from 100% organic cotton grown in Peru. The Swedish original is newly available in the U.S. via Urban Outfitters

8. Bath Brush with Knob, Iris Hantverk | Did you know that Stockholm is home to a brush manufacturing movement? Now you know! Iris Hantverk carries a range of exquisitely crafted brushes for bathing, kitchen and cleaning. My favorite model, with a sturdy top knob, is made from oiled-treated birch and horse hair, ideal for bathing because of the bristle's natural elastic properties.

9. Electricity Star Towel by Lisa Vilhelmson, Manos Design Shop | Manos Design Shop is a lovely shop in Södermalm for scouting out hand-crafted housewares. Inspired by cathedral windows, the 'Star' pattern is crafted from looped terry and available in a range of colors intended for mixing-and-matching. Like all Manos's goods, Vilhemson's collection is produced in small-scale batches.


Artist + Designer Spotlight: Kalle Gustafsson

July 18, 2014 | Alex

If Kalle Gustafsson rings a bell, it's likely because the Swedish photographer is a big name on the fashion photography circuit. Although I admired his work within that genre one I'm not generally enamored with I don't think I grasped his range and unique editorial perspective until I stumbled into a deep internet hole and landed on his personal portfolio. 


Gustafsson's recent personal project, Archipelago, is a love story (or perhaps a lust story) told frame-by-frame against the Stockholm archipelago, a network of nearly 30,000 islands of the east coast of Sweden in the Baltic Sea. But beneath the construct of the love triangle, the series is really a love letter from Gustafsson to the landscape. The craggy, choppy watered and densely forested backdrop.

Gustafsson's background as an editorial photographer is evident in his commitment to quite narrative story telling, but compared to his commercial work, his personal portfolio has a nostalgic quality to it that feels more, well, personal. He captures summer pastimes the way we tend to remember them. Sun-dappled, slightly hazy. Although the leggy subjects seem lifted from a glossy September issue, you can see in his portraiture an effort to capture the flip side of summer's lightness. Snippets of solitude and quiet reflection.


In August, I'll spend three days exploring the archipelago on my own. Why I imagine these quieter images are resonating at a higher frequency with me. My plan is to island hop, stopping along the way to hike, snack, swim and kayak in search of golden eagles. With a fair amount of sun-spattered daydreaming, I suspect.


All images by Kalle Gustaffson.

Common Bond Design in IKEA Family Live Magazine

June 26, 2014 | Alex

Regular readers of the blog know that I write often about IKEA both about their products and their design philosophy. And time and time again, I rely on the Swedish home furnishings behemoth for practical and budget-friendly solution in client projects, and in my own home. So you can imagine my delight when IKEA approached me about sharing my Brooklyn apartment in the summer issue of the IKEA Family Live magazine:

If you'd like to see the full story, with more pictures, head over to IKEA Family Live! (And to address the single most popular streaming in response to the story so far: no no, my apartment is certainly not always that clean.) Happy weekend, all.

Artist + Designer Spotlight: Tommy Kwak

June 9, 2014 | Alex

If you read Rue Magazine's story on our "bachelor pad" project, you may have noticed a striking triptych in the living room. The piece is by photographer (and Clinton Hill, Brooklyn local) Tommy Kwak, part of a series of photographs he took while participating in SÍM Residency program in Reykjavik, Iceland, and international arts festival, Villa Reykjavik.

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I first discovered Kwak's work on Artsicle. Our client, a photography enthusiast, had a solid collection of work for us to hang on the walls of his rental apartment, but none of the dimensions were quite right for above the sofa. The white expanse of wall called for something short and wide. We also aimed to stay within the room's RGBY palette and introduce a subtle abstract quality. (I'm a staunch advocate for a mixed media component to an art collection, but the client is a photography loyalist. We compromised on a piece with a painterly quality.) Artsicle's rental program, with a 3 month minimum, allowed us to bring a piece into the client's space so that he could live with it. Essentially, test drive for art.

After securing Marsh (Laugarvatn, Iceland) for our client, I fell deep into a rabbit hole of Kwak's body of work. In his artist's bio, he describes his work as an exploration of absence and the unknown in natural phenomena. Kwak's images of Iceland capture the raw, and slightly fierce, quality of that country's natural beauty. The northern chill is palpable. You can feel the damp fog in his misty images of Laugarvatn and Reykjavik. Likewise, his scenes of Sweden play with the theme of sunlight in the scandinavian summer, streaks of neon sun-spots marring the forest scenes. (Many of Kwak's photograph's from the series were taken in and around Abisko, the northern Swedish town where I will end my 65-mile trek in August.)

I so enjoy getting lost in these photographs. They have a milky, dreamy feeling-- but it's contrasted with a sharp technical focus on certain features of the landscape. Here are a few favorites that reflect the most compelling qualities in Kwak's work:



  1. Tree 4 (Abisko, Sweden), 2013

  2. Mountain (Mývatn, Iceland), 2008

  3. Reykjavík, Iceland, 2008

  4. Fog 1 (Laugarvatn, Iceland), 2011

  5. Icebergs (Jökulsárlón, Iceland), 2009

  6. Glacier (Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland), 2010

Top photographs are Hrafnarbjargafoss, Iceland, 2011, and Marsh (Laugarvatn, Iceland), 2011. 

All images via Kwak's work is also available for purchase or monthly rental via Artsicle, with a 3 month minimum.