open & shut

A new feature has just been added to the exhibitions link on the navigation bar at the top. This is a check list of exhibitions about design and architecture that are currently open in museums and galleries in the Nordic countries with the list arranged first by country and then by the closing dates of the exhibitions.

By right clicking on the list itself, it can be copied as a jpg file to your computer or iPad or even printed out for quick reference - that is why I have tried to keep the format to an A4 page.

It is hoped that this will be a useful feature because there are so many exhibitions opening that it is possible to miss reviews or, more likely, to decide that you will visit an exhibition and then realise too late that it has already closed.

For details about the exhibitions and for specific information about addresses, transport and opening times it is important to go to the appropriate on-line sites - some museums and galleries do not open every day of the week or may be closed for specific events but many also have late evening openings. It is crucial to check before visiting.

If this feature of the site proves to be popular it will be expanded to include links and more information - possibly directions or maps for visitors unfamiliar with the museums and galleries. If you think a current exhibition on design or architecture or even graphic design and photography should be included please contact me by email.

Copenhagen Green

Earlier in the Summer an outdoor exhibition of photographs opened on Nytorv in Copenhagen, the large square in front of the old 18th-century town hall, but on the 18th August it was moved to the other end of the Walking Street onto Højbro Plads where it will remain until 30th October.

On Nytorv there was more space and, ironically, fewer trees so the large display panels formed interesting groups and spaces and the square is slightly quieter so there was more chance to look carefully at the photographs and read all the accompanying text and information. On Højbro Plads the space is slightly more constricted and the exhibition spills out of the square to the south and along the edge of the canal with its views over to the Parliament buildings.

The aim of the exhibition is to “strike a blow for the good city life and for the city’s green and sustainable places.” Photographs selected show 100 sites around and just outside the city and show all seasons … so from well-used public spaces like Frederiksberg Have (Frederiksberg Gardens) and the Søerne or lakes, that arc around the city centre to the west and north, to less well-known areas of green and planting like Kineserbyen (or the Yellow Town) and roof-top vegetable gardens of Østerbro and from the Spring blossom of Bispebjerg Kirkegård (cemetry) to the Winter frost covering Pinseskoven forest.

The photographs are stunning, particularly at the size they are printed, but the information and back stories of the long labels are also interesting and important … for instance there is one photograph and panel about the history of the distinct dark green paint used in the city for gates, doors, windows and benches. There are also clear location maps for finding the places profiled.

One obvious link in the photographs is that many if not most show the citizens of Copenhagen using, enjoying and having fun in these open spaces from an amazing air view of two boys playing football on the urban sports area of Plug N Play to a young woman quietly sitting on a bench in the sun reading in Holmens Kirkegård (Holmen’s Cemetery)

It was worth spending as much time as possible looking at the photographs and reading the information panels but I have also bought the book that accompanies the exhibition because, as I have only just moved to the city, there can't be many better ways to get to know the place than by using the book as a “bucket list” for places to visit and explore over the coming seasons.

In fact, to show the diversity and beauty of these open green spaces in the city I took a camera with me on Friday when I walked from my apartment up to the shops at the triangle by the lakes to buy an electric plug … a distance of well under 2 kilometres along a single main road in the city … and just took a couple of steps away from the pavement to take the photographs.

If you wonder why a post about green spaces in Copenhagen has a place in a design blog then consider the English phrase “by design”. We use the phrase “designed by” x or y or z all the time. By design is a useful phrase that implies that something is deliberate and thought through carefully, either by designed intervention or by carefully-considered leaving alone, but generally we use the phrase when the designers are unknown or work anonymously in a large department. The green spaces in Copenhagen are testament to well-established and generally very successful urban design and planning in the city.

Good design is often about knowing when to leave something alone or, even more difficult, knowing how to work hard to make it look as if no one has done any work at all.

The first photograph is a bit of a cheat in that I took a view of Kastellet on Friday but this photo taken in March shows the windmill rather better. The railway cutting is the main commuter line into the city from the north. Just north of the railway is Østre Anlæg Park with remains of part of the 17th-century outer defence of the city and the lake is the remains of the moat that was beyond the rampart - the heron daintily tiptoed by as I focused the camera clearly trying not to disturb me. North again the road is flanked by the cemeteries of Garnisons Kirkegård and Holmens Kirkegård and then there is Sortedams Sø where people stroll, parents push prams and the fit and want-to-be-fit of Copenhagen pound their way round whatever the season.

Copenhagen Green - 100 green things to see and do in CopenhagenSusanne Trier Norden and Poul Arnedal, for Foreningen By&Natur (June 2014)

There is also a terrific web site with the photographs and text but also maps and route directions ... you can simply browse from your armchair or plan a tour or start from where you are, if you are in Copenhagen, and look for nearby places and use the map and route directions.


Skeppsholmen, Stockholm

Skeppsholmen, Stockholm

If you want a short and focused introduction to the history and culture of Sweden I can’t think of a better way of doing it than by staying for a long weekend on Skeppsholmen. If possible, a very long weekend on Skeppsholmen. In fact, thinking about it, if you want a comfortable and leisurely introduction to the history and culture of Sweden, I really can’t think of a more pleasant and civilised way of doing it than staying for as long as it takes at the hotel on Skeppsholmen.

Read More

Hotel Skt. Petri, Copenhagen

The Hotel Skt. Petri on Krystalgade is a member of the Design Hotels group. The building dates from the 1930s and was a large department store called Dælls Varehus, that was designed by the leading Functionalist architect Vilhelm Lauritzen (1894-1984). The store closed in 1999 and extensive rebuilding work, to convert the building to a hotel, was directed by Erik Møllers Tegnestue. Features of the original building were retained but a new entrance lobby and moving staircases up to the reception on the first floor were added along with a new large high dining room where a courtyard was glazed over.

Normally I do not like large international hotels but for a start this hotel is very conveniently situated close to the old university buildings, within walking distance of Nørreport metro station if you are coming from the airport and within easy strolling distance of the main sites of the centre of Copenhagen.

Although the hotel is very large, the corridors are relatively low and carefully divided into shorter sections by light, bright staircases so moving around the public areas the hotel is not actually dauntingly extensive. The upper rooms to the street side and the upper rooms to the courtyard have large balconies … my balcony was probably around 3 metres by 3 metres and looked west across the roof tops of nearby houses so was fantastic for sitting out to catch the evening sun … even in late March.

Room fittings are simple and sensible. My only complaint was the bedside lighting. There was a light box on each side of the bed, which admittedly threw out a nice light in the evening but there were also odd lights on each side on curving metal umbilical cords. It was not the lights themselves that were the problem but the weird way the light switches were awkward and fiddly. Not the best idea if you wake in the middle of the night in a strange place and have to be absolutely and completely awake to work out where and how the light turns on. 

The only thing worse than odd lights in a hotel room is this crazy habit, in many hotels, of covering the bed with cushions. Last summer I stayed at the Thief in Oslo (also a member of the Design Hotels group) and there were cushions of various sizes and shapes and colours in two ranks from the head board covering the bed and tumbling over the foot. If I was a Hollywood diva entertaining in my room and wanted to be seen seductively draped over the cushions, they might have a use. But then I’m not … so the only place to put them all was piled up in a high precarious stack in the corner. Do designers in Oslo have such a ridiculously high budget that all they can find to spend it on is more cushions?

two more places for coffee in Copenhagen

Last Summer I recommended a number of coffee shops and book shops in Copenhagen. I drink a lot of coffee - my friends are convinced that I have got to the stage where I need “inflight refuelling” - like those surveillance planes that keep in the air by occasionally meeting up with a flying tanker that trails behind it an umbilical with a cone on the end that dispenses fuel - and I spend a lot of my money on books so bookshops that sell coffee are, for me, about as good as it gets.

Both these coffee shops are on side streets in Copenhagen so probably not the sort of place a visitor would come across by chance.

Tranquebar at Borgergade 14, is on the corner of Landgreven - a long narrow open space (with an underground car park) that runs down to Store Kongengade. The bookshop specialises in travel books but also has good general collections including architecture and cookery. There is a large area of comfortable seating and they serve coffee and food and, on the evening I was there, they also had wine although that may have been because there was a book signing. The book shop has an active programme of music, talks and book signings … the present home page of their web site has a photograph of Michael Palin in the shop. I leave it to you to decide if that is a good or a bad thing.

Democratic Coffee Bar at Krystalgade 15 was established in 2011. It is not strictly a bookshop although it does sell some books and magazines but it is closely associated with books because it has one entrance from the street and one entrance directly out of the lobby area of the public library. Last summer I was staying with an American friend in Copenhagen and she told me about the coffee shop and said she would take me to see the bullet holes. I rarely need any excuse to go to a coffee shop but that must be one of the oddest to keep in reserve for future use. When we arrived at Democratic, after a quick word with the bloke serving, we were shown through the kitchen and out through a doorway into an internal courtyard. I’m no expert, but as far as I can judge, the wall of a stair turret was peppered (I think peppered is the phrase you use) with bullet holes. There was no explanation about who, when or why so I kept fairly quiet in case they dated from 1807 when the the English navy attacked Copenhagen and made a pretty good attempt at raising the city. The Danes are pretty tolerant and pretty forgiving but just in case I tried to pass myself off as American. 

Back in the coffee bar we had some excellent coffee and split (shared) some fantastic cakes baked there and when the owner arrived we had a long discussion about wine and tried a few samples he had just brought back from a trip to France as possible candidates for sale in the cafe.

The next day, somehow !! I found myself back in the coffee bar with the plan to have one of the best of the cakes completely to myself. The owner recognised me and rumbled the motive and we then got into a long conversation about baking and what makes a really good cake which somehow involved a lot more free tasting. Obviously the poor man would go bankrupt pretty quickly if everyone reading this post expected free tours of the battlefield along with tastes of wine and cakes but it does suggest that a warm welcome comes with the good coffee.


Sandqvist was founded by Anton Sandqvist in 2004 and his company produces a range of canvas and leather bags, briefcases and smaller items such as key fobs and wallets. He is an engineer by training so he understands and is interested in the technical side of manufacturing but, more important, he and his brother, who has now joined him in the company, have a passion for the outdoors and fond memories of camping out and climbing in their childhood with simple and practical gear. That is not to suggest that their products are just retro or that they ignore modern high-tech materials for about half the range is produced in heavy-weight Cordura but, to quote their own journal, “Sandqvist bags are uncomplicated and beautiful with a clear Swedish heritage.” 

They use vegetable-tanned full-grain leather and many of their bags are in cotton canvas that fades and softens and mellows to reflect the way you use them. With my last back pack I got tired of searching through endless pockets because I couldn’t remember where something was stowed and it had clips and loops that I never did find a function for. With the small day pack I bought from Sandqvist there is a simple draw string under the single flap, like an old-fashioned duffle bag, and a zipped pocket for small items in the top flap and a single large deep internal pocket down the back which is ideal for maps. For a day pack all you need. Brilliant.

The range of colours is also great. There is a strong dark blue - that slightly green Swedish blue that means it really really  isn’t a French Navy - and a strong brick red - but less orange - and a deep yellow - that is half way between Sienna and mustard.

Their basement shop in the Södermalm district of Stockholm has been well laid out with some good pieces of classic Scandinavian furniture and, more important, a large pin board for maps and notes and post cards from friends and customers.

Inevitably, many of the bags are made in India, for straightforward economic reasons, but this is not necessarily a bad thing - traditional leather-working skills and sewing skills have survived in India and the workshop used by Sandqvist not only has these traditional skills but even uses old Swedish sewing machines.

In so many European countries, as accountants drove the move to outsource manufacturing, the inevitable consequence was that local craftsmen were made redundant and their skills and the machinery they needed were lost. Sandqvist is trying to redress the loss and they have brought some manufacturing back to Stockholm, working with Magnus Nyström, a leather craftsman who has a workshop in the same district and has “a passion for his craft”. Together they are producing a range of briefcases under the label Made In Sweden.

Anton Sandqvist admits that the briefcases made in Stockholm are twice as expensive as those he has made in India so really it is down to the customers to make this move back to Swedish production a success.

I have discussed this dillema several times on this blog but it is worth repeating. Good designers rarely produce great designs if they do not have a very real understanding of the materials and craft and manufacturing techniques that will be used to realise their designs. Surely that knowledge and ongoing relationship can best develop through the designer and the maker working closely together and that is most easily done by being geographically close?

For the customer the choice might not be so immediately obvious. Surely the decision is easy when faced with two similar products but one twice the price of the other? 

That’s fine if you simply want something in the latest colour with the right label and you want a new one next year in whichever colour will be fashionable then. The promiscuous consumer looks first at the fashion press and then at the label and the price tag. Neither the item nor the manufacturer need to survive because next season there will be a new label and a new item.

But maybe the alternative is to search out what you need that will do what you want now. If it looks right and feels right and you enjoy using it time after time, then surely product loyalty becomes more important than following a rapidly-changing fashion label. I'm not against change - simply against change for the sake of change. A good well-designed product should evolve and develop so, when you finally have to admit that you need a replacement, something reassuringly similar is available but possibly it's even better.

Sandqvist is clearly succeeding and growing - they now have a second store in Gothenburg and in the summer started a journal that seems to appear twice a year. The second issue is out now and has articles on the company and its founders with descriptions of treks with the backpacks, testing new lines, and there are also profiles of friends of the company and the heroes who have inspired the team.

The journals also include a catalogue with images of the full range and all colour options.

If you are in London, the Journal and a range of Sandqvist products can be tracked down at The Content Store in Lambs Conduit Street and when I was in Shrewsbury in the Autumn I found a small shoe shop, Brok on Wyle Cop, with some of the bags so word is spreading.

Sandqvist have a TUMBLR site for images that is well worth visiting.

matkoillani ... mina resor ... meine reiser ... mine rejser

I’m now back in Cambridge and have just started going through all my photographs from the trip to sort them out.

The whole thing started because some friends asked me to meet them in Stockholm for a few days but it seemed like the ideal time to do a rapid tour of all four capital cities to look at galleries and design shops and to get a broad overview of design right now in each country.

Of course there were obvious shortcomings in the scheme. For a start how do you see and take in everything with only four nights in each city. Also of course, not all designers or manufacturers are located in the cities. Far from it. Already I am trying to pencil in a trip that will take me to Visby on the Swedish island of Gotland because I want to visit GAD and I really want to go to Fiskars in Finland to see the work of one of the furniture makers there.

Also, I wanted to look carefully at and think about the differences between the four countries. English customers, though obviously not all of them, tend to see Scandinavia as a sort of single area and all much of a muchness - to use the English phrase. Any talk of Scandinavia also tends, I’m afraid, to conjure up an image of Lars the Swedish Chef on the Muppet show and his meat balls because of course few English people speak the languages of the region.

That’s not to say the English don’t appreciate Scandinavia ... otherwise how can you explain the phenomenal success here of the TV series The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge and Wallander and the popularity of the Stieg Larsson books let alone the films.

And isn’t Scandinavian design much the same ... all bright patterns, simple shapes in beech or pine? Basically IKEA.

Well no actually. For a start, although IKEA was founded in Agunnaryd in Southern Sweden by Ingvar Kamprad in 1943 he was of German descent and the company is now based in Delft so, being pedantic, should either be defined as being an international company or possibly Dutch.

Also of course a lot of people here are a bit unsure about which are the Scandinavian countries and which are the Nordic group. By strict definition, the Scandinavian countries are just the three monarchies ... Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The Nordic Passport Union of 1954 included Denmark, Greenland, Sweden, Norway (though not all its territories) Finland and Iceland and from 1966 the Faroe Islands. 

Anyone in England would be shocked and hurt if a visitor said that they really couldn’t see any difference between Newcastle and Liverpool and confused them. Those cities are only 150 miles or so apart. Oslo is 260 miles from Stockholm and over 300 miles from Copenhagen. There is only 254 miles of sea between Stockholm and Helsinki and from Stockholm to Copenhagen is 325 miles. Between Padborg on the border with Germany and Alta in the northern part of Norway there are huge changes in the landscape and huge differences in the way people live and work but it is not just distance of course but fierce and often hard won independence that separates the countries.

Helsinki  Stockholm

Oslo and Copenhagen

Obviously there are some significant similarities. All four capital cities are still major ports and the sea and the importance of trade have had a massive influence on how all the countries have developed. All four countries are hugely influenced by bright, sharp summer light, by cold and often difficult winter weather and, as a consequence, by a respect for and a love of nature.

Could I see real differences between the four cities on this trip? 

Well I was surprised at how confident and relaxed Helsinki is with a thriving artistic and design culture. It seemed the least influenced or worried by fashion elsewhere, confident to go it’s own way. Perhaps Helsinki would be the place where the old (or young) hippie would feel happiest.

Stockholm is Stockholm and good for that. It seems to be the loudest and fastest and most cosmopolitan of the four but it always strikes me as odd that it seems to have two extremes ... the young and noisy of pop and rock and business and the middle-aged and affluent older matrons of Ostermalm - the area of the city where you see the long-established middle-class wealth of Stockholm. 

Oslo seemed more uncertain of itself than the other cities and maybe that can be understood because of the awful events of two years ago. Maybe many Norwegians are also uncertain about how they should move forward with their increasing wealth. Several people I spoke to talked about Norway being a poor country until recently but high-quality buildings from the early 20th century in Oslo somehow undermined that assertion. What I detected was a reticence ... a deep pride in the buildings and design of Norway but a concern that if that was said too loudly neighbouring countries might dispute their claim.

Copenhagen as always just seems confident and relaxed, despite the disruption caused by the building works for the extension to the metro. It is an affluent and comfortable city that does most things with style but restrained by a real sense of good taste. I can see exactly why Monocle magazine has declared it to be the best city in the World to live in for this year for their annual assessment. Helsinki came in at number 3 and Stockholm at 7 in the World in the same survey.

Does all this translate into real differences between the countries and the the architecture, furniture, design and fashion they produce and sell? In this age of global companies, outsourcing of manufacture and mass media shaping mass taste I really do hope so.

Svenskt Tenn and Malmstenbutiken in Stockholm

If Esplanadi and the flagship stores for Marimekko and Artek are a good place to start when exploring design in Helsinki then the comparable starting point to explore modern design in Stockholm could be Strandvägen. 

Streets of large, expensive and ornately-fronted apartment buildings were laid out to the east of the old city around 1900 forming what was then a new area called Östermalm. Strandvägen is the southern-most road of this area and follows the north shore of the part of the harbour known as Nybroviken, the road continuing east as far as the bridge over to the island of Djurgården.

Svenskt Tenn at Strandvägen 5 is a major design shop that was opened by Estrid Ericson in 1924, initially to produce good but affordable pewter - the name means Swedish Pewter. The Austrian architect Joseph Frank (1885-1967) joined the company in 1934. In Vienna he had opposed the major movement to produce large apartment buildings in the city and had designed a number of small, simple and functional houses or villas. Before joining Svenskt Tenn he had designed five villas in Falsterbo in Skane, in southern Sweden (below Malmo) with flat roofs, balconies and terraces creating a clear link between simple, informal interiors and the gardens around the villas. For Svenskt Tenn he produced designs for textiles and furniture that reflected this approach with clean bright designs in strong colours inspired by plants and flowers. Svenskt Tenn exhibited at the World Exposition in 1937 and again in New York in 1939 and has maintained since then World-wide recognition for the quality of their products.

Carl Malmsten (1888-1972) was almost the same age as Frank. He was a furniture designer and took a strong position against the move towards functionalism in architecture and furniture design in the 1920s, believing instead in traditional craftsmanship (slödjd), apprenticeships and work on co-operative projects. His reputation was established by 1916 when he designed furniture for Stockholm City Hall and then was commissioned to design furniture for the Royal family. He established two schools for furniture studies - one on the Island of Lidingö close to Stockholm, now part of the University of Linköping, and the other, Capellagården on the island of Öland in Vickleby, for courses on textile design, cabinet making, furniture making and horticulture. The Malmstenbutiken at Strandvägen 5b (so immediately next to Svenskt Tenn) has a wide range of furniture and textiles from a number of designers but also sells classic designs by Malmsten such as the Sofa Nya Berlin that Malmsten produced for the Swedish Embassy in Berlin in 1958. 

Design District Helsinki

Helsinki now has a large and well-established Design District and the city was designated as the World Design Capital for 2012. There is an excellent pocket-sized map of the District available in English. Well, it starts out as pocket sized but unfolds and unfolds and unfolds to show an area more than 10 city blocks by 10 blocks fanning out, mainly to the west and north of the Design Museum. 

Each shop or service is numbered and there are separate groups for interior and design, clothing, antiques and art, jewellery, galleries and museums, food drink and hotels and finally services ... all coded by colour. 

If trying to cover this large area and the 200 or more businesses that make up the District seems daunting then remember that in Finland coffee and cakes are much appreciated so there are plenty of places to have a break as you search the shops and galleries. In fact one place that I will certainly seek out is LoKaL which describes itself as 72% art 28% coffee so it sounds exactly my kind of place.

Marimekko, Artek and Iittala in Helsinki

Perhaps the best place to start to explore design in Helsinki is from Esplanadi. This is a long park or garden running east to west that is lined with shops and hotels. The Cathedral and main government buildings are close but with the harbour, where the main Baltic ferries arrive, at the east end of Esplanadi and with the central railway station (designed by Eliel Saarinen) just three blocks to the north, this is often one of the first places visitors to the city find.

On the north side, at Pohjoisesplanadi 33, is the flagship store of Marimekko. This is on a large corner site, so it has plenty of window display, and the shop is set out over two floors. The displays of textiles and clothing inside the shop are amazing and when you need to rest then Marimekko have their own cafe - Marikahvila - at the back of the store which opens out onto the circular atrium of a large up-market shopping arcade.

On the south side of the gardens, immediately opposite Marimekko is the flag-ship store for Artek at Eteläesplanadi 18. If you can’t make it from one store to the other without a rest then there is an open-air cafe in the middle of the gardens between them. 

Just to the east of Marimekko is the Iittala store and opposite that, to the east of Artek is, appropriately, the Savoy Hotel with the restaurant after which Alvar Aalto named the Savoy Vase . The vase is still made by Iittala and much of the interior of the hotel designed by Aalto survives.

from your foreign correspondent ...


I’ve always wanted to say that ... although I’m not sure that Kate Adie would approve of me claiming it so glibly. I am on my way to meet up with friends in Stockholm and decided to make it a longer trip so I am starting in Helsinki. I have my computer with me and, with the help of WiFi, over the next 10 days or so I will be posting about design shops and design museums that I visit ... although I will also try to keep a focus on furniture and tableware.