Swedish design has a long and illustrious history and Folkform, a product design studio founded by industrial designers Chandra Ahlsell and Anna Holmquist, looks set to join its ranks. Based in Stockholm, the group was only launched in 2005 but has already had a piece of work – the Unique Standard marble cabinet – acquired by the Swedish National Art Collection.
Ahlsell and Holmquist met while completing an MA in Industrial Design at Konstfack college of art in Stockholm. A shared international experience helped bind them together – they had both returned to Stockholm after studying abroad, Ahlsell at the Pratt Institute in New York and Holmquist at Goldsmiths in London – and they founded Folkform on graduation.
The group’s ethos is ‘to bring poetry to the mass-produced object’, says Holmquist, and its work revolves around experimenting with materials, particularly the everyday. ‘Our work looks at how we can add value and beauty to everyday materials,’ says Holmquist. ‘We focus on finding new applications for materials and constantly collect standard building products.’
A large part of the emphasis lies in combining materials in unusual ways; for the group’s Lacewing pouffe, for example, laser-cut steel merges with a soft fabric. ‘All materials derive from only 92 natural elements and we’re interested in seeing if we can create new forms of expression by combining materials in new ways,’ says Holmquist.
This approach is exemplified by The Collectors range, which Folkform launched in September, as part of London Design Festival, at Mint. The Collectors, a series of three cabinets, is a contemporary take on traditional, museum-style collector’s cupboards. As with much of the group’s work, what looks like a simple piece is layered with more complex meaning. Made from Masonite, which was a key building material used during the creation of the Swedish welfare state in the 1930s, the work investigates how perceptions of a simple material such as hardboard can be altered by design. Each piece is unique and features contributions from donated collections of plants and butterflies. ‘We invited collectors to take part in the design process by donating their collections to the project,’ says Holmquist. ‘Then we took the trend of using flowers and butterflies to an extreme by using them to decorate the cupboard. The real butterflies were inserted into the presses in the factory to create a permanent organic decoration embedded into the Masonite.’
While there is a real sense of the Swedish aesthetic to much of their work, there is also enough subtlety and ambiguity to avoid the cliché. Holmquist believes the duo’s greatest cultural influence is its commitment to working with local producers. ‘It’s a reflection of our Swedish heritage,’ she says. ‘We want to work within the possibilities of small-scale, local production, but that’s a challenge in a global design market.’
In creating The Collectors series, the duo worked with a Masonite hardboard factory in the north of Sweden, where local manufacturers have worked with the material for generations. The project gave workers at the factory a new perspective on the material and their role in manufacture. ‘By combining wood fibre with organic materials under high pressure, it has been possible to give this down-to-earth material an entirely new look. It’s a fusion between the mass-produced and the handmade,’ says Holmquist.
Plenty more projects are in the pipeline. The Unique Standard collection – a series developing the piece acquired by the Swedish National Art Collection – will launch in Cologne in January. This collection questions our perception of materials by combining natural substances with surfaces that try to imitate the original: a cabinet made of Carrara marble in combination with marble laminate, and a bench combining the original leather from Danish designer Arne Jacobsen’s Swan chair with synthetic leather and patterns often used on car seats are just two examples.
And keep an eye out for more of Folkform’s work in British stores too. The pair are working on a range of new projects for British brands like Mint, so it looks as if we can expect to see more of their Swedish design with a darker contemporary twist.