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BRAND STORY BY DOMINIC LUTYENS LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM 27.04.20
The Swedish archipelago, which stretches approximately 60 kilometers to the north and south of Stockholm, is made up of over 20,000 islands. Fishermen were its main occupants for centuries. Today many Swedes escape there to holiday homes during the country’s fleeting summers when its low-lying hills and pebble beaches light up when the sun hits them. For an all too brief season, under cloudless skies the Baltic Sea turns a sapphire blue and the grass a vivid green.
Skargaarden’s elegant modular seating system, Bönan, embodies the spirit of the Swedish village it’s named after, the clean-lined house of the company’s co-founders and views of the Baltic Sea.
The Swedish for archipelago is Skargaarden. It is also the name of a Swedish outdoor furniture company in Gävle, a town on the Baltic coast. Its co-founders, Jari Visuri and his wife Anna, hatched the idea for it while celebrating a birthday at a beautiful design hotel in Bali. ‘We were partly inspired by the hotel which had great outdoor furniture,’ recalls Jari. ‘I’ve always loved design and furniture. Despite being too meticulous and always finishing last with all my carpentry and furniture-making projects at school, drawing and designing became my passion when I graduated,’ he adds cheerily.
The couple, who co-founded Skargaarden in 2008, run a separate design company called Studio Norrlandet and live in Bönan, a fishing village on the Swedish coast. ‘Most of the year it’s windy, harsh and dark. It’s not noted for its outdoor furniture for obvious reasons,’ he points out wryly.
‘We take full advantage of our summers as they’re only eight to 10 weeks long, and make our furniture mainly to celebrate these precious moments’
Skargaarden’s understated furniture is also inspired by American Shaker furniture, the Bauhaus and the couple’s clean-lined, coastal home – a new-build. ‘Our architect took inspiration from the Stahl House, a Case Study house in Los Angeles designed by Pierre Koenig in 1960,’ says Jari. ‘We take full advantage of our summers as they’re only eight to 10 weeks long, and make our furniture mainly to celebrate these precious moments.’
Perfect for poolside lounging, the Anholt collection, which is covered in a robust, waterproof fabric, is high on durability and low on maintenance.
Its sofa, called Bönan, which was launched in 2018, pays homage to the village. Co-designed by Jari and Anna, it’s a modular sofa system, which can be combined with a coffee table. ‘We designed it for us but it works for others, too,’ says Jari with understatement: it’s the company’s bestselling sofa. With its skeletal frame and slender legs, it doesn’t dominate its surroundings.
‘Our furniture is designed not to detract from its natural setting,’ says Jari. Like many of Skargaarden’s stylish yet durable designs, it’s upholstered in a high-quality, waterproof fabric from the French fabric producer Sunbrella. Overall, Skargaarden’s furniture comes in neutral colours echoing the archipelago’s landscape and weathered wooden jetties.
The sofas and accompanying side tables of the Saltö collection look equally good indoors and out.
Yet there’s an urbane elegance to it that hasn’t gone unnoticed at prestigious design fairs. ‘We had lots of interest when we showed at ICFF in New York in 2014, which gave us confidence,’ recalls Jari. Second to Scandinavia, the US is the company’s biggest market; overall Skargaarden exports its furniture on a small scale to around 30 countries.
For the Scandinavian designers who contribute to Skargaarden’s success, the rugged beauty of rural Scandinavia is their main inspiration.
Another design, the Anholt sofa, by Danish designer Susanne Grønlund, is named after an island midway between Sweden and Denmark. She delights in recounting how it was retained by Denmark after a war between the two countries: ‘Their kings were discussing how to divide the territories, a map before them. The Danish king put his beer glass on Anholt. The Swedish king didn’t notice, so Anholt remained part of Denmark.’
The curvilinear Saltö is inspired by driftwood and plants found on the shores of Swedish island Saltö, while its cushions are covered in a fast-drying, durable fabric.
The island is known for mainly comprising desert that’s surprisingly fertile – a habitat for 400 varieties of flowers. The boxy, comfortable Anholt has a ‘light, visual look’, she says. ‘It’s practical – easy to move and pack away. You can remove its armrests. But I also feel it’s poetic. For me, it epitomizes modern Danish design – comfortable, simple and functional.’ It turns out that Grønlund is a fan of mid-century Danish architect and designer Finn Juhl.
Another piece, the Saltö sofa directly references nature, explains its designer Matilda Lindblom: ‘It’s like when you see a tree in winter – its form is very visible like the sofa’s structure. I like the contrast in the sofa between the hard frame and soft cushions. It’s lightweight but, like a tree, it’s strong. I also like the way it looks like an indoor sofa, too.’
The more casual Asker sofa is highly flexible – its individual elements can be added to, creating a multitude of configurations.
A more informal option is Martin dos Santos’s Asker sofa, consisting of cushions with no external frame (it’s supported by an internal aluminium structure). Named after Asker, a district near Oslo, it has comfortable cushions including a thick upholstered armrest which are plump yet provide plenty of support.
‘It’s a modular sofa – you can build it up, a bit like Lego, to a one, two or three-seater sofa,’ says the half-Swedish, half-Portuguese dos Santos. ‘It’s quite basic but very practical – you can splash water all over its Gore-Tex-like fabric and it dries in minutes.’
Although popular on verandas in Sweden – perfect for alfresco meals of crayfish washed down with vodka – he can just as easily imagine Asker covering ‘an entire terrace by a swimming pool in Italy or Mallorca. It’s a big, relaxed sofa for having drinks on while watching the sun go down.’
Just as Skargaarden’s furniture takes its cue from natural forms and hues, so does nature become an ever-changing spectacle to those ensconced in it.