All eyes seems to be looking northward these days. Find out why Stockholm is becoming the trendiest design destination in Europe.
Behind every great city are innovative thinkers and makers. Sweden’s capital city has a long tradition of artists and designers who derive inspiration from nature, culture, and political ideas.
In the last hundred years, Scandinavian design has evolved from its charming roots—think Carl Larsson—to include a more modern esthetic. Yet, even in the 21st-century, echoes of Sweden’s past remain, providing a sense of past and present.
Stockholm is an ideal destination to experience the fluid collision of old and new. My husband, Peter, and I visited the picturesque city in September on a journey to discover what makes Swedish design unique as well as how it reflects the Swedish spirit.
We fell in love with this vibrant city, where cranes stretch across the sky like modern dinosaurs, tangible symbols of Stockholm’s current building boom and its stature as a world-class city of innovation and design.
Artipelag, A Destination Art Gallery
The Perfect Introduction to Swedish Design
Comprised of 14 islands, Stockholm balances on the edge of nature with the Baltic sea forming a backdrop for its historic palaces, city halls, public buildings, and gilded theaters. In fact, viewing Stockholm by water gives visitors an important sense of scope and highlights the impact of nature and climate on day-to-day Swedish life.
A perfect introduction to Swedish design can be found at Artipelag, a destination art gallery set in the wild landscape of the archipelago that undulates eastward from the capital. On a sunny September morning, Peter and I boarded a tour boat to Artipelag for a 90-minute cruise through rocky, forested islands.
As the cityscape receded behind us, we admired cozy wooden homes in shades of deep red and sunlight gold that dot the islands. Here and there a modern house—all concrete and glass—appeared, fitting in the rocky terrain just as naturally as the wooden homes.
Artipelag epitomizes the harmony of art and nature. Founded by the family that launched Baby Bjorn—an international line of children’s clothing and accessories, Artipelag opened in 2012 and hosts exhibits, performances, and events.
Located on the island of Värmdö, the monumental building—designed by Johan Nyrén—exemplifies the architect’s social conscience with its warm, welcoming vibe, green sedum roof, and use of local materials. Views through wall-size windows ensure that, even from the inside, you feel connected to the surrounding forest.
Art is displayed in interior galleries and outside. Currently, an outdoor sculpture exhibit called Detour invites guests to wander among the pine trees on trails where surprising and mystical sculptures await. Artipelag also emphasizes artfulness in its restaurant, where Scandinavian cuisine meets local, sustainable produce.
Discovering Inspiration at Designtorget
Get In Touch with Your Own Creative Spirit
Back in the city, Peter and I embarked on a whirlwind tour of some of Stockholm’s design-centric attractions. Designtorget, an inspiring store with multiple locations across Sweden, showcases the work of up-and-coming designers like Arash Eskafi, who co-owns HAHA Design Studio with Yu-Chin Chiangs, both second-generation Swedes.
The team designed a candleholder that invites play and invention. Composed of polished zinc, the pieces can be combined in multiple ways to create candleabras that reflect your own creative spirit, Eskafi said.
“We focus on creating pieces that make you smile,” Eskafi continued, “and that inspire laughter in your everyday life.” The design studio also believes their work should reflect the heritage of Scandinavian design, emphasizing function and respecting how the environment and nature impacts design.
“Everything is clean and minimal,” Eskafi said. Peter and I played with the candle holder pieces, which felt heavy and solid in our hands but had a smooth feel and aesthetically pleasing shapes. Adding the warm glow of candlelight provides a warm contrast to the metal’s coldness, a reminder that good design is also about balance.
Life in a Nordic country means long winter nights and a need for warming light. Peter and I learned more about Swedish light design in the Nordic Museum on Stockholm’s lovely island oasis, Djurgârden.
The museum is housed in an imposing building (c. 1907) featuring one of Sweden’s largest rooms, the Great Hall—416 feet long and 78 feet high, its round skylights bringing natural light to the cavernous room below. Lined with 28 arches supported by marble columns, the space evokes elaborate banquet halls of Swedish and Danish Renaissance palaces.
The Nordic Museum offers a link to pre-industrial Sweden’s design roots, especially as it relates to life and work in the last century. The museum’s current exhibit, Nordic Light (through Dec. 31, 2018), traces the evolution of illumination from candlelight and oil lamps to today’s modern lamps and light fixtures, while exploring how light and darkness impact our lives.
Sweden’s Love Affair with Libations
Explore the Absolut Art Exhibit & Much More on Djurgârden
For a different take on design, we visited the Museum of Spirits, also on Djurgârden, which celebrates Sweden’s love affair with libations.
An exhibit about champagne explored the mythology of champagne, which has exploded in popularity in Sweden in recent years, and how its glamorous appeal brings an element of style to all who partake in the bubbly beverage.
Peter and I wanted to see the Absolut Art collection, a curated collection of art that started with a piece by Andy Warhol in 1986. The artist reportedly commented at a dinner party that he loved the Absolut bottle and “wanted to do something with it.” His piece became the first of a long line of contemporary art works that incorporated the Absolut vodka bottle into colorful, clever compositions. The collection includes 850 pieces that rotate in the gallery.
For a look at turn-of-the-century Swedish lifestyle, we visited the Thiel Gallery, housed in a banker’s impressive manor home also on Djurgârden, where Nordic art intermingles with period furniture in a unique setting.
Works by Edvard Munch, Karl Larsson, August Strindberg, and Anders Zorn echo the Nordic national romantic period, elements of which are also found in Stockholm’s stately turn-of-the-century buildings.
For example, the City Hall is a fine example of romantic style. Home of the prestigious Nobel Prize Banquet, it’s an interesting combination of the austere and the opulent and also reflects principles that have defined Swedish design throughout the centuries: beauty and function, quality and affordability, simplicity and innovation.
Lagom: Not Too Much, Not Too Little
Arash Eskafi says, “It’s Always About Finding Solutions.”
These principles evoke a concept known in Sweden as lagom, which Arash Eskafi says is an important component of Swedish design.” It means “not too much, not too little, but just right,” Eskafi explained.
This concept, inherent in Swedish culture, can apply to everything from adding milk to your coffee to designing candleholders. While admitting that lagom can be restrictive and keep artists and designers from “spreading their wings,” Eskafi says lagom has been good for him.
“It teaches you about respect and allows others who view your work to offer constructive criticism,” he explained. “That atmosphere creates a conversation.”
On our journey to learn about Swedish design and innovation, Peter and I saw a small fraction of Stockholm’s vast contributions, but we left with a sense of respect for the way Swedes stay connected to their natural surroundings and keep humanity at the center of their design esthetic. As Arash Eskafi noted, “It’s always about finding solutions.”
Here’s How To Design Your Stockholm Stay
Check Out the Best Design Hotels & Best Restaurants in the City
Opt for a Stockholm Pass which includes entry into most of Stockholm’s museums and sights. To get around, get an SL Travelcard, which includes rides on the metro, trams, and selected ferries. Tip: Check out Sweden’s subway art, known as the world’s longest art exhibition.
Nordic Light Hotel
This downtown design hotel is a friendly oasis in the bustling city. Dining in Lykke, which means happiness, is a must—with its fresh caviar and stellar fish dishes. Don’t miss a chat with Patrick, the bartender, who will wax poetic about shaken-versus-stirred martinis (he prefers the latter). Book your stay at nordiclighthotel.com.
Prince van Orangiën
An early 20th-century Dutch yacht offers sumptuous accommodations for adventurous travelers. Enjoy sunset cocktails on the bow overlooking the harbor, followed by the tasting menu at the award-winning restaurant Oaxen Krog & Slip next door, whose owners also manage “the Prince.” Make dinner reservations and find out more about staying on “The Prince” at oaxen.com.
Hotel At Six
Elegance with a twist describes this hip downtown hotel, where curated modern art is everywhere and a listening lounge spins vintage vinyl. Dining Room wows with its contemporary cuisine and craft cocktails. Sip on a white Negroni, and then try the flavorful At Six kabab. If you’re looking for a hip place to stay, check out hotelatsix.com.
This trendy downtown hotel caters to travelers who embrace the great outdoors. Daily meditation sessions and a lifestyle concierge are just some of the surprises that await. Join the other trendsetters and book your stay at scandichotels.com
Lux Dag för Dag
This restaurant serves quality food sourced from Sweden’s forests, fields, and waters—think venison, lamb brisket, and pike-perch. Expect finely crafted dishes with unexpected touches. Save room for the sublime butter-fried pancakes for dessert. You’ll love the cozy vibe and incredible food at Lux Dag för Dag.
Wandering through Södermalm, we stumbled on this crowded spot where the best-ever hand-crafted pizzas and cold local beers will soothe your inner savage beast. Can’t find a seat? Just cozy up to a table and someone will make room for you. Check out the latest craft brew list and the yummy pizzas coming you of the oven at omnipolloshatt.com.