Monday Inspiration: A visit to Stockholm

To Stockholm for 24 hours for the annual furniture fair, which has been going since 1951 and is one of the most popular trade shows, not least because it’s a more manageable size than Milane Salone (which fills about five airport hangers) but also because it brings together the most comprehensive collection of Scandinavian and Nordic design under one (large roof).

It was my first visit to the city and I definitely plan to return. And I’m trying to make a tenuous link with Stockholm Syndrome and failing so I’m just going to tell you that I was invited to a dinner, hosted by Humanscale, at the Nobis Hotel , which was once a bank, and, thanks to a six day siege in 1973 when four hostages developed a bond with their bank robber captor, gave rise to the expression which we use so casually today.

I rather loved this line from a report on The Smithsonian website that after the police gave in to all the robber’s requests bringing him the ransom money, a car full of petrol and even the convict whose release he demanded, they refused to allow him to leave with his four hostages. During the following six days one of the hostages said: “We are more afraid of the policemen than these two boys. We are discussing, and believe it or not having rather a good time here. Why can’t they let the boys drive off with us in the car?”

The stand-off was ended when police drilled a hole in the roof and dropped tear gas into the bank. You can apparently still see the bore holes (although I didn’t know to look for them).

I also didn’t take any pictures but above are a couple of shots from the Ostermalms Saluhall, which is the most incredible food market full of little restaurants and stalls. The top picture reminds me of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, an effect I could surely have enhanced with a professional shot as opposed to a phone snap.

On my bucket list, however, was a trip to Svenskt Tenn, founded by Estrid Ericson in 1924, which by the 1930’s had become the city’s most elegant interiors store. Today there is a fabric store upstairs and a series of charming room sets downstairs. In 1943 Ericson offered sanctuary to the Austrian designer Josef Frank, who was fleeing the Nazis with his Swedish wife, Anna and they created some of the most well known and enduring designs.

While I was there I found the store was holding an exhibition dedicated to his designs (it’s on until 19 May should you be going). Pleated For Frank, a collaboration between Svenskt Tenn and Folkform pays homage to the classic pleated lampshades the store has been producing since the 1930s with some of his most popular and colourful designs. I wanted to buy one so much but, of course I wanted the biggest most patterned one which was around £900. A plain one is half that and a printed shade on its own about £175 so you might be able to make it work for you.

Even you can’t get to Stockholm before 19 May (and I say it in those casual terms as several people messaged me while I was there saying they already had trips planned) it’s still worth a visit as there’s also a cafe and so much to see. I felt slightly faint from excitement when I walked in.

But I left there and head over to Nordiska Galleriet, a store that was opened in 1912 and began life as a furniture auction house but it was so large they started selling cars in the open spaces!  In 1929 the cars were discontinued and the furniture store was supplemented with an art gallery. I was lucky again with the timing of my visit as there was an exhibition dedicated to Italian design which was a real treat.

The windows were given over to Memphis Design and anyone with a passing knowledge of interiors on instagram will recognise that wavy mirror as being one that everyone is try to find or copy for their own homes. The Ultrafragola mirror/ lamp by Ettore Sottsass, one of the founders of Memphis, was designed in 1970 and you can expect to pay around £7,000 these days.

I wrote this about it in The Financial Times in September 2012: Sottsass led a group of Milan-based designers with a post-modernist aesthetic that freed them from earlier rules. They mixed wood and metal, perspex and vinyl and strong colours – turquoise, red and yellow with black and silver edging. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as a “shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher Price”. The collaboration lasted barely 10 years but its influence is still felt today. Karl Lagerfeld was said to be a collector and Dior based its 2011-12 haute couture autumn/winter show on Memphis.

And, of course, 11 years later it’s all about that mirror on instagram.

From there I just had a lovely wander around the store gazing at all the lovely Italian room sets and I hope you find it as inspiring as I did despite the rather hurried phone snaps which were more designed for the transience of Instagram stories .

Above the Warren Plattner dining chairs for Knoll, paired with a classic Eero Saarinen Tulip table, while below those curvy sofas are another instagram sensation although few can afford the real thing.

I adored this colour combination of tobacco and duck egg blue – remember I mentioned it as kitchen inspiration the other day. We have since decided to go for a different colour scheme but as we are several weeks away from painting I may yet return to it.

Here the blue has been soften to mint and the overall scheme softened to a neutral background although I keep seeing flashes of zebra print around….

After leaving here I popped into Superfront, a company I have written about many times before. I have bought their handles but never seen their cupboard fronts in real life. They were, I can report, pleasingly solid and tactile and if you are buying an Ikea kitchen and want to pimp the fronts I would definitely check them out. It will add to the cost of the kitchen but if you have some wiggle in the budget, then buying the Ikea carcasses and spending more on the visible bits might be the way to go.

And with that it was time to head back to the airport. Before I go I should tell you that I was invited by Humanscale, with whom I have worked before to meet their designer Todd Bracher, who has designed the world’s most sustainable office chair for them. The Path chair is made from ocean waste with a fabric mesh seat (made from recycled plastic bottles) that comes in proper home office colours – terracotta and olive green to name but two. The other cool thing is that there are no levers and buttons – it adjusts to your weight and gravity does the rest, which also means it will integrate better into a domestic environment. I was so comfortable sitting and chatting that I completely forgot to take better pictures. You can read more about it here



Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. I thought that the last couch: minty-green seemed inviting…I liked that one and some of the lighting was most inspirational. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Hmm, pretty to look at, but some of those couches are only good for perching on. A good couch should invite one to lounge. I do love the zebra stripes. Cheers from Canada!

  3. So pleased you managed to get to Svenskt Tenn – one of my all-time favourite sources of inspiration anywhere in the world. I find Josef Frank’s designs as jaw-droppingly inspirational as when they were first put into production. There’s so much to delight in Stockholm so I hope you get to go. back. Harriet

  4. Great direction to the Superfront site. We will need to change our kitchen sometime in the next 3 years, and will certainly want to do it economically. So IKEA + fronts are likely to be the way for us. Interested also in Plikea. If you have examples of small kitchens done on a budget with these products, would love to see them featured in a future blog/podcast.

    Enjoying the reno stories too.

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