*tl:dr, Opinion piece. Sorry to Stockholmassan and the Stockholm Furniture fair, I do love you, but.
It all started out so optimistic didn’t it? 2020 was going to be an awesome year. To kick off the year Stockholm design week. Who knew what would happen next?
A damn global pandemic. Then as we knew it 2020 got cancelled.
Nevertheless, the design world did get to enjoy Stockholm Design Week in a normal sense. As I think back, I’ve been in a constant state of brain fog as soon as the lockdown began in March 2020 (here in Denmark). I’m sure I’m not alone with this.
Just as I was about to write about the fantastic and inspiring week I had in Stockholm, the virus took centre stage over all news networks and media. Writing about a trade fair seemed quite irrelevant at the beginning of all this. The cost of one’s health or even a life not to mention a catastrophic global financial crisis made the idea of selling luxury interiors to be a little crass to say the least. If anything it halted my innate response to share what I love sharing until it felt more like a reasonable time. Hence this post was put on pause.
As more design weeks were cancelled or postponed, I became quite reflective of my time during Stockholm design week and the fair. In particular, how the Stockholm furniture fair was curated, and why it stirred up a lot of frustration in my head. I liked a lot, though what I disliked, that’s what stuck.
This year (2021) the Stockholm furniture fair will be hosting a ‘City & Digital Edition‘, where showrooms, design talks and pop up exhibitions will be available to view online. I mention this because this could be a good thing as I feel the fair needs to work on how best to adjust trade fairs for modern times. Maybe a focus on digital design events is a positive thing to take away from this, I mean, it’s about time right?!
The 2020 Stockholm furniture fair, in my opinion, felt SO off, disjointed, out dated and overall lacklustre. And while we have 2021 to receive staged events and panel discussions in the comfort of our own home, I do hope that when the trade fair opens again in 2022 that a few things change. I’ll explain.
The Stockholm furniture fair 2020- What didn’t feel right to me
The Guest of Honour – what’s the message? or simply a place for self-indulgence?
Someone asked me, “What do you get excited to see each year at the fair?” My answer, two fold, the central guest exhibition and the greenhouse (new designers). Years ago (I mention this because it’s been years since I think this was done well) the central guest exhibition made a massive impact and set the stage for the rest of the fair. An artful and expressive installation to greet you as you enter the vast Stockholmassan exhibition centre.
A guest designer is chosen each year to curate and design this space. With over 40,000 people visiting the fair it’s an incredible opportunity. In recent years it’s been hit and miss. Many have used it as a lazy attempt of self promotion and often boringly displaying their product designs with little to no impactful curation. Self promotion is expected as it is the guest of honour of course but you’d hope, with someone of that calibre that they’d use that platform for some really exciting. To inspire, teach or initiate a thoughtful discussion for us keen design geeks to mull over.
Needless to say, I get annoyed when it’s entirely a vanity based project. Some big names from previous years come to mind.
The Unfolding Village exhibition 2019. The best I’ve seen in a long time. The 2019 guest of honour were Neri + Hu, the chose to link the objects and products on display to pressing social issues unique to China. And in this case they started to look at the issue of disappearing villages and village culture.
With a dominant structure made inspired by the alleyways and street life of clan-based villages, the exhibition has weight. Neri+Hu used with their creativity to share these social issues using their work. It was incredibly inspiring. They did not take the guest of honour platform for granted. A perfectly planned exhibit for a design fair.
The 2020 installation looked to be interesting. The guest of honour was London based design duo Nipa Doshi and Jonathan Levien from studio Doshi Levien. Their work with textiles is inspiring and I truly love it. At the exhibition they presented a large wooden structure with pale Kvadrat curtains leading you into the central space. The structure and fabric looked incredibly beautiful but I think this was the most interesting part.
The exhibition inside the structure aimed to give insight to the Doshi and Levien’s work by reinterpreting their design studio. Within that held prototypes and designs. It was interesting to a point. We could all see and understand what the design duo do and an insight into how they work. I found it a shame that with it being the central exhibition in Scandinavia’s largest furniture fair, that it had more oomph. In one respect it was a creative way to see inside the minds of the design duo and what they represent and on the other hand it was an immersive advertorial. I just don’t know what to think of it. Rather than walking away thinking about new materials, design evolution etc. Instead I was left with a, well ok then, congratulations on being successful, kinda feeling. Am I wanting too much?
There was a shift in location for quite a few brands to exhibit their stands. Usually we have a clear Hall A, B and C with fringe exhibitions such as the Guest of honour, design bar and Greenhouse etc.
Hall A, usually contracts based companies with a few brands that do both contracts and retails. Hall B, very much retail, the exciting brands and always very forward thinking with design and trends. Then there’s Hall C, to be frank, is not my cup of tea, a mixed bag of brands, some wholesale, others, no idea. Ok I’m being polite, Hall C brands are usually ones I avoid.
Being a visitor for quite a few years now I know what type of brand would be located where. Knowing where to plan my time in the fair was essential, as is the case for many people. 2020 was strange. Brands were not in their usual spots.
I heard rumours that the furniture fair was trying to get people into Hall C as some brands wanted larger stand to exhibit (so Hall C had the space). Great companies such as New works, Form and Refine, Northern were allocated Hall C, I was slightly unnerved. Placed next to brands that I felt had no relevance to them in regards to retail and design. The space was great but the atmosphere was quite honestly was a bit like a bad party at 4am. You go because you want to see the people you know (those brands I mentioned) but the atmosphere makes you want to leave and get some fresh air. The placement of brands was not cohesive. I found my self zigzagging around the entire fair absolutely exhausted and as I ran out of time I missed some companies I wanted to visit.
Yeah yeah, there was a map of course but it’s much easier and time saving when relevant brands were located close to one another.
The Greenhouse (space for new designers)
This used to be amazing. A few years back the new designers space named “the Greenhouse” was left of the entrance, next to the guest of honour exhibition. A large space to help support new designers share their work and launch them into the design industry. I’ve spotted many head of design brands searching to find their next new designers in this very space. And some of these designers have products in production to this day. It’s a great story. Hence why this was a great space to support the future of design.
So what was my problem with it? (2020) Location. No longer in the prime spot next to the entrance, the Greenhouse is clustered in a dark corner in Hall C. The hall that we all know many people want to avoid. It wasn’t uncommon to hear “oh that Hall, no I skipped that“. Maybe this is why they have tried to shift the curation of Furniture fair, in order to get people in all corners of the building. But let’s face it. You walk into the furniture fair and IF you have to search for the new designers area then they have far fewer chances to be discovered. Hall C isn’t well known for heavy foot traffic, it was likely the new designers were overlooked. Having less exposure at the beginning of your career would impact on the new designers immensely. So it was actually really disappointing.
I wrote a piece for Scandinavia Standard featuring six emerging designers that I discovered at the fair in 2019. It’s worth reading, especially if you missed this section.
‘Celebrating 70 years of The Stockholm furniture and light fair’
In the lead up to the fair it was advertised as a ’70 years of the Furniture and light fair’ celebration. Wow. I was so excited. One thing the Scandinavians love is their heritage. I love design history, my expectations were high.
Did the Guest of honour exhibition in centre stage mention it, no. Were the many brands who sell designs from 70 years ago making a big show of it, no. Where was this so called ’70 years of Stockholm furniture fair’ celebrated and exhibited? It took me a while. Guess where…. Hall f*cking C! and not even the centre of the Hall but a wall riiiiight at the back. A simple design museum style timeline and a few pieces of furniture to represent each decade. Oh SO disappointed. It had so much potential.
Why wasn’t the central exhibition designed as an homage to Scandinavian design history and the way we see it developing in future decades? Where were the brands that say they love their design heritage? Why were they not talking about this? anyone celebrating it?No. It was part of the fair’s marketing strategy so I just don’t understand why it wasn’t the red thread throughout the fair. Did I miss something?
The design bar
Ok so this is when I need to apologise to the designer Fredrik Paulsen. He’s a super fun multidisciplinary designer. Yet I didn’t give his work a chance. I bad mouthed it. Why? Well as you can tell I may have been in a pretty stinking mood. At the time of the fair, the common trends of most stands were beige, white and black minimalism or a 70’s inspired deep rusty red tones with a velvet fabric affair. Fredik’s design bar was the antithesis of anything I’d seen that day. He transformed a Hall into a technicolour fun house restaurant, and I just don’t think I had the energy for it.
The sad thing was that I gave it no chance, usually I would entertain the idea, explore what the space has to offer. But the overall disjointed feeling of the fair, the same styling everywhere, brands scattered all over, no one really giving a shit about 70 years of the fair then this super fun restaurant that had no connection to anything. What was going on? My head was in a spin. I simply didn’t know what to make of it. So I didn’t give it chance. I wish that he had the chance to design multiple areas of the fair. He would have been perfect for staging the Greenhouse (new designers area) too. It’s a shame because in hindsight Fredrik Paulsen’s work was fun, progressive, interesting.
Though I’ve slagged off Hall C a million times, I actually think the design bar is best placed there. This is where Note design studio created their colourful cafe back in 2017. It really worked to bring life to that oh so interesting place.
A new digital era for 2021
With the pandemic still lingering, the 2021 Stockholm furniture fair has now been changed to a digital design fair. I’ll be watching over a vast selection of panel talks, exhibition previews and debates while wearing my pj’s. I’m really excited for this new digital era and I think this may be the perfect thing for everyone to analyse what the industry wants and needs from these trade fairs and design weeks.
I love visiting the fair and I will continue to do so each year. As you can guess 2020 was the year for disappointment. Sadly the best thing about Stockholm Furniture Fair was leaving it and going into the city. I love the exhibitions in the city. They’re always so inspiring. Maybe the fair will come back better than ever, I do hope. Oh I can’t wait for that day again…… see you in 2022 I guess!