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Scandinavian design: Beyond Blond

Scandinavian design was once regarded as a gesture of simplicity, but today it makes space for brilliant colors, powerful patterns and lavish motifs.

Astrid Krogh's 'Lightfall'
Contemporary design is often embellished with the edgy illustrations created by graphic designers, or tactile textile patterns that adorn more than just fabric.

At a time when mobility, mutability, and multi-functionality are becoming key considerations for urban interiors, fluid exchanges between graphic designers and textile artists are resulting in some of the most radical innovations in contemporary design. As graphics forge a new relationship with the built environment, they peel off the printed page and on to three-dimensional forms. Textiles have always had an intrinsic ability to demarcate space and create decorative elements, and these days they easily combine the poetics of art with the radical aesthetics of contemporary design.

The Scandinavian designers featured here are pioneering a dynamic new style, born through the fusion of artistic expression and modern design practice. Their work outlines a new vision for surface design that makes a clean break from the legacy of the past. Whether creating designs so spare that they take minimalism to a higher level, or working in a kaleidoscope of colors, the new generation of surface designers is transforming everyday forms into tools for a vibrant future.

From their base in Oslo, the award-winning graphic studio Bleed is forging new directions for surface design. As they blur the boundaries between fashion, architecture, art, film and web design, they create a new graphic language that moves easily between different areas. When commissioned to design the window displays for Hermès’ retail boutique in Tokyo, Bleed created a surrealistic world inhabited by a menagerie of human/animal hybrids. On their way home to Oslo, Bleed stopped off in New York and picked up a commission from notorious fashion e-zine HintMag. Bleed conceived and produced the spectacular six-part ‘Bright Angles’ Flash animation fashion templates where the magazine showcases new trends. As Bleed’s origami graphics unfold around the models, they strut the latest fashion styles against a background of futuristic graphics.

Toward the end of last year, Miami-based interior design practice Bloom commissioned Bleed to design graphic elements for the ‘Omen’ exhibition launched during Art Basel Miami 2007. Bleed created the exhibition’s logo and graphic identity; coupled with the series of black-and-white graphic motifs that adorned both furniture and interior architecture, Bleed merged two-dimensional design and three-dimensional forms into an harmonious whole.


Astrid Krogh
From her studio in Copenhagen, Astrid Krogh combines craft techniques and cutting edge technology. She weaves strands of optic fibers into iridescent tapestries that glow, illuminate, and flare into a rainbow of brilliant colors. "Fiber-optic textiles are the visual pulse of life," Krogh says. "They are a beautiful blend of light sources. My works incorporate artificial light but they are not artificial light sources in themselves. My work is mostly influenced by the daylight I see outside my window. You could say that as my textiles become brighter, or less intense, they imitate the changes that occur in natural light throughout the day."

Most of Krogh’s projects are made for the interior, but some of them are designed for exterior façades. Her work seems to mark a transitional space between inside and outside, charting a course that may only be visible in darkness. "That is the reality of textiles today," Krogh explains. "They are a rich and diverse material that hold new possibilities for all aspects of contemporary architecture. My starting point, as a textile designer, is to identify how each place or individual room has its own atmosphere. I have to find out what makes the place special, or decide what I need to do to make it special."


Frankenstein is an advertising design studio in Stockholm which devises striking surfaces to brand people, products, and places. Since the studio was founded in 2005, Frankenstein has consistently set new standards for graphic imagery, product design, interior motifs, and digital media. The synergy between art director Jonas Torvestig and creative director Pontus Frankenstein raises the bar ever-higher as they counter design dilemmas with sleek surface solutions. Last autumn, Frankenstein produced a wallpaper repeat based on graphic imagery art directed in-house. Domestic bookcases were styled by Liselotte Watkins and cunningly photographed, then transferred onto wallpaper to create a trompe l'oeil ‘library’ effect. With Frankenstein’s wallpaper, almost any part of the interior can have a Club Room feel – with no grimy bookcases to dust.


Maria Löw
Swedish textile and interior designer Maria Löw is a household name in Sweden. Author of influential home books and a former newspaper columnist, Löw speaks the language of design literally as well as graphically. In recent years, Löw has joined forces with Swedish textile producer Almedahls, creating a new range of interior fabrics and tufted carpets. The striking textures of her ‘3D’ hand-tufted carpet suggest movement as well as depth, catching and reflecting light within its dense fibers. "I experimented with wool-cutting techniques to develop a carpet with a trompe l'oeil effect," Löw explains. "I also wanted to make a carpet with light and shadow contrasts, going against the wool’s resistance to reflect light."
Earlier this year, Almedahls launched Löw’s latest designs: ‘Lucky’ and ‘Corso’.
"While designing 'Lucky' I was fascinated by the spaces between leaves," Löw explains. "I was inspired by the interaction between foliage and empty spaces, as seen everywhere, in nature, or in the urban environment." Löw designed the ‘Corso’ motif following a trip to Scotland, where she was fascinated by the tradition of family tartans. "The trip inspired me to design a checked 'burnout' curtain, a design that would that would update the classic net curtain with twenty-first century style," Löw says. "A part of the same pattern has been transferred to my shag-pile rug ‘Vico’, which creates a pattern as its narrow lines contrast with the longer fibers."


The Finnish textile company Marimekko has led the industry for nearly six decades, and their dynamic new prints continue to position them at the forefront of fabric design. Recent fabrics, such as Erja Hirvi's designs for Spring 2008, project vibrant color palettes that charge the interior with vigor and verve. Hirvi’s new designs feature exotic fruits and ephemeral flowers, transporting the onlooker to a lush landscape of spring blossoms. Hirvi’s motifs clash colors and create unexpected combinations, using hues of bright yellow, electric orange, and shocking pink to excite the eye, while subtle tones of cool turquoise, soft grey, and mottled green create spaces of rest within the chaos.

Designs by Hennamari Asunta are uniquely popular with both children and adults. Asunta’s ‘Umi’ fabric, designed in 2007 but launched this spring, depicts a playful underwater scene in which a shark-like predator swims menacingly among a school of smaller fish. Also new this spring is ‘Pikku’, a striking pattern that evokes a length of dotted fabric. Asunta has created the illusion of depth by making the dot motif appear wrinkled or scrunched. ‘Pikku’ is accompanied by ‘Nyyti’, a pattern also based on a motif depicting fabric forms. ‘Nyyti’ evokes the simplicity of the Far East, depicting small bundles of vibrantly-colored fabric bound with string.

Norwegian design group Funkle is a four-person team consisting of two graphic designers and two 3-D designers. Funkle (a word meaning ‘twinkle’ in Norwegian), launched their first line of cushions in 2007, and since then, gained acclaim for their edgy, urban motifs and bold, abstract shapes. The rounded forms depicted in the designs deliciously named ‘Chocolate’, ‘Cream’, and ‘Venetian’ are based on simple shapes drawn in bold outlines and colored in deep primary tones. Industrial forms have also been Funkle’s biggest source of inspiration, resulting in designs such as ‘Train lines’, ‘Cranes’, ‘Wires’, and ‘High Voltage’. Funkle produces all of their designs as ready-made cushion covers, transforming industrial objects into chic interior accessories.


Fokus Fabrik
Fokus Fabrik claims to imbue their work with happiness, and the vivacious prints they design would easily bring an element of joy to any interior. Designers Tiia Eronen, Eeva Heikkinen, Laura Järveläinen, and Hanna Kerman formed the company in 2005, and since then, they’ve launched an impressive number of fabric designs and ready-made products. Designs such as ‘Fusio’, which depict an army of construction cranes, and ‘Katve', which shows trees growing in an urban landscape, take inspiration from the built environment. Contrasting sharply with the industrial world, the falling snowflakes depicted in ‘Mystika’, and the subtle birch tree silhouettes portrayed in ‘Honka’, seem to capture the Nordic landscape in fabric form. All of Fokus Fabrik’s textiles are ecologically-produced in workshops in Finland.


Hanna Werning
Hanna Werning is based in Stockholm, but her work transcends virtually all borders. "My prints reflect the world I live in today," Werning said. "To me, the world is like a big patchwork of different cultures, and sometimes I see my own work as a big visual collage or like the sound of a DJ sampling her own rhythms with others."

Werning established her own studio in 2004. Since then, she has been designing interior textiles for international brands such as IKEA and Borås Cotton, urban prints for Eastpak and Stüssy, and unique motifs for fashion labels such as Anna Sui , BoxFresh and Dagmar. Werning also launched her own wallpaper range, a brand she called ‘AnimalFlowers’. Unlike ordinary wallpaper that comes in rolls, Werning’s wallpaper is printed in poster format. The concept underpinning AnimalFlowers gives consumers the freedom to buy as many individual poster sheets as they need instead of buying a whole wall roll, or just buy single prints for framing.

Werning discovered fabric design when she was still at university, where she learned screen-printing and was drawn to making repeats more than one-off graphics. "I have always had a fascination for patterns, whether it is the natural pattern of wood or something more made-up and decorative," she said. "Textiles are interesting media to work with because they are soft and easy to mould. They follow the body of an object so nicely. I also find them interesting because they make it easy to create temporary changes in an environment, whether they are mounted on scaffolding in the city or made into a cover for a bed."

Nature has been a constant source of inspiration for Werning, who maintains an ongoing dialogue with the natural world in her work. Her representations of animals, plant life, and the landscape are drawn in fluid, organic lines, and characterized by spontaneous juxtapositions of flora and fauna. "Taking inspiration from the landscape is second nature to me since I grew up close to the forests," Werner explained. "Motifs that depict nature will never go out of fashion, and they will stay with us even if technical development becomes more popular."


Sari Syväluoma
Since Finnish designer Sari Syväluoma moved to Norway in 1994, the Norwegian textile scene has changed forever. Despite its long history of colorful embroideries and elaborate folk costumes, Norway had never had a tradition of printed textiles that reflected contemporary sensibilities. When she accepted the role of textile designer at Sellgrens Veveri (known as Gundbrandsdalens Textiles today), Syväluoma introduced a range of expressive, eye-catching designs that had never before been produced in Norway. Since then, her work has put Norwegian textiles on the map. Syväluoma’s woven jacquards and printed fabrics have been exported internationally and even exhibited by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign affairs as examples of outstanding textile design.

"Not bad for a young Finnish designer, eh?" chides Syväluoma from her studio in Oslo, as she reflects on what she’s achieved. "I was so happy to come to Norway and contribute with something that was really needed here then. When I came here, the government was just starting to promote good design and make it possible for young designers to show their work abroad. It’s exciting to be part of a new movement and see how the design scene here is starting to catch up with its Nordic neighbors."

Syväluoma says she designs "just for fun," because she regards textile design as a playful medium. Her work is characterized by a palate of soft colors, which she builds up in layers with the careful composition of a still life. She consciously creates whimsical motifs or casually sketches patterns so vibrant that the repeat seems to disappear altogether. "I would describe my style as quirky," she said. "I love organic shapes and free-flowing patterns. I like contrast in colours, shapes and material."

Contemporary Nordic interiors are often minimal, and Syväluoma likes to counteract cool decor with powerful patterns that hold their own in the interior, eclipsing the need for paint finishes, elaborate carpets and decorative detailing. "My fabrics are designed to be draped across chairs, sofas, beds and windows," Syväluoma said. "They are intended to be a functional art form for the home, something that can say something about the personality of the person living there. I tell people: 'Think of your home as your universe, filled with the things you love, things that tell the story of you.'"

Today, Syväluoma works primarily as a freelance designer who also embarks on partnerships with other practitioners. She produces small-edition print runs for interior design boutiques and launched a range of children’s textiles in 2006. In recent years, she has expanded her client base to create interior fabrics for manufacturers in Britain, Germany, Finland, and Hong Kong, but Syväluoma says she is not done with Norway yet. "A lot of my work is exported as 'Norwegian Design', and that’s fine," she says. "But my real work now is to bring more international influences into Norway, so that the people here can experience something more than just Nordic design."


Written by Bradley Quinn
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