Profile – Scandinavian Surface

Scandinavian Surface’s wallpapers have been a hit around the world, with clients ranging from newspapers and hotels to an oil company. Clare Dowdy meets a quartet who bring a touch of Norwegian nature to walls

In many ways, Scandinavian Surface follows a path well-trodden by Norwegian designers. The quartet met while studying in Norway’s second city, Bergen, and set up shop there to pursue careers in design. It’s a route familiar to the likes of up-and-coming furniture design group Tveit & Tornoe, and it has turned Bergen into a city stuffed full of creatives.

However, Scandinavian Surface’s tale strays from that plot somewhat. While Bergen’s design colleges mean the place is choc-a-bloc with furniture designers (like Circus and Geir Saetveit, as well as Tveit & Tornoe) and graphic designers (such as Grand People, Luftmensch and Haltenbanken), there are a few textile design graduates who’ve then switched discipline.

Scandinavian Surface’s Kristine Dybwad, Katrine Nylund, Ann-Tove Engenes and Asne Midtgarden all studied textile art at Bergen National Academy of the Arts, but now find themselves concentrating on wall graphics. It may sound niche, but the group is clearly making this niche its own.

What’s more, unlike many others, the founders didn’t join forces the minute they’d graduated, but got together after a decade of solo projects in applied arts, costume design and set design.

‘We wanted to use our experience in a more commercial way, compared with being an artist,’ says Dybwad. ‘We thought that together we would have the resources to go commercial.’

They got off to a speedy start in 2003, when they showed a big-leafed wallpaper design in a national touring exhibition. ‘It was new for Norway and had a good response,’ says Dybwad. A year later they took space at London’s 100% Design, and were rewarded with an award for best international newcomer.

It may not be a huge leap of faith from textiles to wallpaper, but Scandinavian Surface insists that it is rethinking wall covering itself. So its latest range, which launches at this year’s 100% Design, comprises 12 illustrated panels, which can be hung separately or together. It is called Panel Piece, and its creators think of it as an artwork rather than straightforward wallpaper. ‘It makes quite a bold impression when you put more than one together,’ says Engenes.

While the quartet’s medium may vary from that of many of their peers, their aesthetic is distinctly Norwegian. Panel Piece is strewn with references to the great outdoors, which can be seen from Bergen’s pretty cobbled streets and white, weather-boarded houses.

‘We like to think of Norway as our farm that we can harvest ideas from,’ says Engenes. ‘These panels are like glimpses of Norwegian nature. You get some fresh air in your room.’

Dybwad adds that these countryside references are combined with references from Norway’s old embroidered textiles, ‘like the geometric double stitch that recurs in each panel and connects the organic designs together’.

While the group has been trying to build up distribution and sales outlets, it has had some good uptake from the contract market. Newspaper businesses, a hotel, shops and an oil company have papered lobbies, loos or entire rooms in its designs. Its biggest client to date is the Fairmont hotel in Abu Dhabi, which plans to use the Spring Beech pattern for its lobby.

Dybwad, Nylund, Engenes and Midtgarden may share a similar sartorial aesthetic – interesting, feminine outfits in tasteful, Northern European muted colours – but they claim that they can always tell whose design is whose. They are clear about what the company style is – ‘very fresh and airy and quite dry’, according to Engenes, and again, this links back to nature.

‘The Norwegian climate is harsh and the topography is steep mountains, which are cut down to sea level by a network of fjords. This freshness and air is something we want to portray in our design,’ she says. Then there’s the mountain flora. ‘We study these plants, often small and dry, yet beautifully shaped and surprisingly tough,’ she adds.

This aesthetic is honed through the group’s design process, which could see one partner doing a sketch and another moving it on. ‘It feels like getting presents all the time,’ says Engenes.

Dybwad acts as manager and handles accounts, Engenes manages press, catalogues and graphic presentation, Midtgarden is the computer genius, and Nylund deals with customer contacts.

Dybwad admits that they could do with someone to take over sales and accounts – maybe the group’s presence at this year’s 100% Design will help to bring that about.

All work by Scandinavian Surface

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