The beautiful utility of Scandinavian design

By Mark Broatch In Lifestyle

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Think Scandinavian design and you probably picture furniture and architecture. The Egg chair, the Henningsen table lamp, the Panton chair, maybe Alvar Aalto’s Paimio chair. Among contemporary designers we could possibly name Bang & Olufsen, Georg Jensen, Marimekko and Orrefors before we drew a blank. Followed swiftly by Ikea.

Get the look: a chair by Louise Campbell.

But of course there are thousands more designers across the Nordic region. That clean, simple elegance, strong on minimalism and functionality, and often produced from natural materials, flows through to textiles, ceramics, glass, lamps, bicycles, fashions, electrical goods and even cars, says Norwegian author and curator Widar Halen.

Halen, who will speak at the Norse Code event in Auckland this weekend about the history of Scandinavian design, says it really came into its own after the war, developing its distinctive, beautiful, everyday utility alongside the nations’ evolving social democracies.

Halen declined to name a favourite Scandinavian designer, because he represents all of the countries, but his favourite outside the region is Glasgow-born Christopher Dresser; he’s written a book about the man he calls the first industrial designer, whose toast racks and kettles are instantly recognisable.

A lamp by Harri Koskinen.

The Swedish homewares giant Ikea has played a vital role in Scandinavian design, he says, by delivering products at modest prices to a huge number of people around the world and, especially, by using good designers. When asked to name some Nordic designers Antipodeans might not have heard of, Halen picks the Danish-English Louise Campbell, the Norwegian Daniel Rybakken, Sweden’s Front Design, and Finland’s Harri Koskinen.

What’s the best thing New Zealand can do to maximise the talents of its product designers? Look to your vernacular design, your folk art, as they did in Scandinavia, he says.

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