Just when I thought I couldn’t stand seeing another sleek black couch crouched low to the ground, I stumbled into the Greenhouse. But there were no plants to be found. Instead of nurturing young seedlings, this Greenhouse provides a place for art students and independent designers to grow.
Since 2003, the Greenhouse has been an annual forum for design schools and other young designers to exhibit their work at the Stockholm Furniture Fair in February. The furniture fair itself is primarily a trade event, aimed at buyers and other industry insiders. However, in the last several years, there has been an increased focus on discovering new talent as well as creating momentum for Stockholm Design Week with events and exhibitions in town.
The Greenhouse, along with the Designboom mart, was by far the most interesting part of the fair. Both serve as a platform for yet-to-be established designers, as well as create an environment where good and wacky ideas are not squelched by commercial considerations.
Designboom is a Milan-based organization that publishes a webzine, as well as arranging design markets and competitions. This year, 35 international designers came to Stockholm to show and sell their wares. These ranged from everything from a Barbie doll duster (with feathers for a skirt) by American designer Tom Butch to the aptly named “Holy Shit” toilet paper holder in the shape of a cross, by Mischa Vos from the Netherlands.
It is precisely that sense of humour and touch of irreverence that are missing from the rest of the fair. After a while, the rows of couches and office chairs start to look the same. Innovation there takes shape in the form of silent gliders or a more ergonomic curve for office chairs, or a modification to a modular shelving system. To be fair, the goal of most exhibitors is to sell their goods, and the market for metallic pink couches in the shape of a cow is likely quite small.
But in the Greenhouse, you can get a sense of the individuals behind the design. Regarding the aforementioned cow couches, this was not the first time the Brazilian duo Allesandro Jordao and Kiko Sobrino shocked Swedish design sensibilities. They were also behind the most un-Swedish g-string couches on display at the Casa Cor “House of Colours” exhibition in Stockholm last fall. (On the wall, they had also affixed a letter from Princess Victoria’s secretary thanking them for the couch they bestowed upon her. Perhaps Drottningholm is being redesigned?)
A delegation of students and graduates from Northumbria University in the UK also made an impressive showing. Christine Misiak exhibited a new range of eco-friendly drinkware in the form of refurbished tea sets rescued from certain doom. Polly Westergaard showed a stag-shaped mirror, while Alex Underwood presented “the Speaker Dude,” a fun take on stereo speakers in the form of a robot-like guy.
Among the Swedish designers, Maria Persson, a student from Kalmar University School of Design and Communications, presented an eye-catching chair constructed out of fake lemons (interestingly, it was accompanied, perhaps on behalf of the lemons, by the plea “Do not sit”). Other highlights were a children’s floor pillow in the shape of a flower from Little Red Stugan and a lounge pillow in the form of a giant Dalecarlian horse by Skräddaregatan Design studio.
The Greenhouse also featured “Enlightenment,” a lighting exhibition originally produced for Röhsska design museum in Gothenburg. It showed the work of Swedish lighting guru Alexander Lervik, whose lamps include “MyBrain” (a scan of his own brain printed onto plastic) and “T1000,” a spinal cord made out of silver plastic.
The ultimate goal of any of these independent designers is to have their work picked up by a producer. This is not out of the realm of possibility. Norway Says, who were among the Norwegian designers chosen to furnish the new Hotel Clarion Sign that opened last week, broke through at Greenhouse, as did the design group Front.
Front, who are among the best known contemporary Swedish designers, are the creative force behind such projects as raw-gnawed wallpaper and “Sketch” furniture, where pen strokes made in the air are recorded as 3D digital files, which can then be turned into a real object using rapid prototyping technology.
Front currently have an exhibition at the Nordic Light Hotel featuring their latest collection for Materia, a Swedish furniture maker. The installation, which has turned the lobby into a forest of fake fir trees, plays with our perception of materials. The wooden benches are actually soft foam over a steel frame covered with wood-print upholstery. The floor, which also looks like real timber, will also surprise you when you step on it. The exhibition is open to the public until mid-April.
Many of the more interesting designers like Front actually chose not to exhibit at the Furniture Fair at Alvsjö. Industrial design duo Folkform, for instance, are exhibiting their new furniture collection, “Unique Standard,” at the Crystal Place Contemporary Art Gallery until February 12th, and Vujj, a Malmö-based furniture design studio, will be showing their latest collection on the second floor gallery of Urban Outfitters until February 29th. Folkform have juxtaposed fake materials alongside luxury upholstery, such as a bench featuring pleather placed side-by-side with leather from an Arne Jacobsson lounge chair, while Vujj features fun items such as a vase called “Don’t touch”.
Another exhibition that providing food for thought for anyone interested in critically exploring how our consumption patterns will change with time should check out the Future Shopping installation at Gallerian, which will run until February 14th. Students from the University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack) present their view on how technology will transform the products we buy and how we shop for them.
Finally, graphic designers Dizel&Sate have an unusual exhibition, “Life and Death in Architecture,” at Galleri Jonas Kleerup in Stockholm. It will run until February 22nd. Their graphic interiors, which have a gritty, urban feeling, can be seen around town at venues such as the Hotel Anglais, Allmänna Galleriet as well as a new tapas restaurant, Bauer, scheduled to open on Södermalm sometime next month.
The best thing about all of these exhibitions around Stockholm is that is makes design accessible to the public in a way that the Stockholm Furniture Fair does not. This is precisely one of the ideas behind Stockholm Design Week. These smaller exhibitions and installations allow you to enjoy the design without swimming in a sea of sleek black couches.
After last week, I’m convinced that Swedish design is no longer just about those black couches and blond wood. There is a spate of young designers who challenge the notion of Scandinavian minimalism that is stuck somewhere back in the 1950s, along with the work of Bruno Mathsson. But, as one designer told me at a dinner last week, while there are a lot of interesting things going on in the Swedish design scene right now, it is still the sleek black couches and blond wood that sell. Maybe the difference now is that the black leather and blond wood are fake.