On the TV show Från Koja Till Slott he’s the noble-sounding, no-nonsense doyen of design. But while Simon’s bark is worse than his bite, the same cannot be said for his aggressive canine sidekick, Albert. The Local joins them on a comfy sofa in his smart Stockholm store, London W8.
You’ve been a ski guide in France and a surf instructor in Corsica so where does interior designer in Sweden fit in?
I was working with Swedish antiques in London and used to come here for work. I turned up on one of those April days when the sun comes out and Swedes become so radically different. I thought this is the most fantastic country and I decided to move here.
Swedes tend to think of English design as green leather Chesterfields and Laura Ashley. But there was so much fantastic furniture-making and cutting-edge design happening in England and I wanted to bring that here.
Swedish design is praised the world over – surely the Swedes have an impeccable taste in interiors?
No, I think it completely sucks. We’re stuck in some awful time warp. We’ve been doing this funkis thing and strict minimalist thing for so long now and it’s just such old hat. We keep saying “oh that’s marvellous darling, how super, how straight and white that is.” But it’s so dull. We’re not pushing any limits, we keep doing the same safe stuff and it makes me crazy. Swedes are extremely reticent about new ideas, new colours and new ways of doing things.
Is that why all my Swedish friends’ apartments look the same?
Swedish design is a reflection of Swedes’ personality. Sweden is a great country – I have to say that again – but for Swedes, social conformity is more important that anything else. They like to look and dress and speak and think like each other and that was one of the most difficult things for me to deal with when I arrived. There’s a kind of security in numbers and, from a design point of view, people are not brave with ideas here.
Swedes seem very bemused by wall-to-wall carpeting and think it is incredibly bad taste – is it?
Carpet is so big at the moment; it’s banging on Sweden’s door but still they resist it. This is a country where we love to put down tiny mats everywhere – little mat here, little mat there – what the hell is that all about?
Often people haven’t been exposed to real carpet – they think of English pubs, chewing gum and old beer. But when you get a 100 percent thick pile – how wonderful is that? It’s so sexy and glorious and elegant and fabulous! Fitted carpet is rather grown up and rather luxurious and Swedes are not good at being good to themselves. They react against luxury and quality.
So have you ever bought anything from IKEA?
Yes, of course I have! The thing with IKEA it’s an amazingly clever concept. I don’t buy furniture or fabrics from there but I do buy ceramics and glassware. Every season they seem to have one or two things that are just dazzling and cost 19 crowns – I’m truly amazed!
Do you live in a big posh house?
It’s quite possibly the ugliest house I have ever lived in. In Sweden they call it an “en plans villa” but it’s a bungalow for Christ’s sake! It was built in 1953 and the architect was rather inspired – it’s up on a hill and there are sixty steps up to it. But nobody wanted to buy this house because it’s plug ugly – it’s red brick and hadn’t been renovated for 40 years. It’s not posh but it’s a fabulous house.
One feels very much at home here in your store London W8 – is that the concept?
The basic idea is that we carry no Swedish designers at all. Other places do the Swedish thing much better than us. London W8 started about 10 years ago and we had a problem on day one when the first person that came in took their shoes off.
A lot of our clients find it very odd – they come in and Albert is lying on a piece of furniture and you can have a glass of wine or a cigarette. But in some respects this is kind of like the British Embassy – I think of it as a bit of foreign soil so I can do my own thing here.
Who gets recognised the most – you or Albert?
I don’t seem to get recognised at all. People come up and ask, “Is that the angry dog from television?” He’s the real star. Jack Russells are usually divided into two types; those who are extremely good with children and old people and those like Albert.
Does Albert understand Swedish?
Yes that’s all he understands – the only time I speak Swedish is with Albert.
Why don’t you speak Swedish on TV?
English is a beautiful, extraordinary language -it’s so incredibly rich. And to do my job I think that I need to be able to speak English. If I’m talking about colour and texture and nuance and shadow and subtlety, I can’t find those words in Swedish – it’s black or white or flat or round or tall. I’m sure Swedes can do it but for me it’s much easier to do that in English.
Selling ideas to people means pushing them much further than they’re used to going and that’s not a natural thing for Swedes to accept. You have to paint a very clear picture in people’s minds why you want to paint everything in the room black.
Simon, Albert and Från Koja till Slott return for a new series on September 4 on TV3. And you can visit London W8 without taking your shoes off here.