Swedish institution Svenskt Tenn draws from a century of innovative designs that add a feminine sense of craft to orthodox Scandinavian minimalism
“I don’t know of many other companies in the world that have our balance of being commercial while also being a cultural institution,” says Svenskt Tenn Creative Director Thommy Bindefeld. “We are securing a rich heritage, but we still have to be a viable business .”
Svenskt Tenn, which translates as “Swedish pewter”, started life in 1924 as a workshop and small outlet in Stockholm selling pewter vases, flasks and other items. The firm’s female founder, Estrid Ericson, was a drawing teacher who used an inheritance to start her own business. At that time, architects, designers and interior designers were usually men, but Estrid Ericson was able to bring a feminine sensibility to Svenskt Tenn’s designs, exhibiting at the World Fair in Paris in 1925, where she received a gold medal.
International success attracted the attentions of Josef Frank, a Jewish Austrian architect and designer who moved to Sweden in 1933 to escape antisemitism. His bold, colourful designs for Svenskt Tenn were in stark contrast to the functional minimalism for which Sweden is famous. “He was a humanist,” says Thommy. “The human being was always at the centre of everything Josef Frank did. He thought bare white walls were stressful, but if you add a print, people can drift away into a fantasy world and relax.”
The harmonious partnership between Josef Frank and Estrid Ericson continued for many years. Neither had children, so the company was sold to the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation after Estrid Ericson’s death in 1981. The foundation model enables the firm of today to reinvest profits into several Swedish institutes that research subjects that include environmentally sustainable economics, agricultural science and medicine. Along with the Josef Frank designs, the company now sells work from new designers that fits with the Svenskt Tenn aesthetic. Many of the firm’s products are made in Sweden, frequently by third-, fourth- or fifth-generation craftsmen. They last for generations and are truly sustainable.
“What we are lacking in the world right now is time,” says Thommy. “So many companies don’t have the time to put into product design and production. Without the need for continual growth and expansion, Svenskt Tenn is able to devote time to these things. That’s why we achieve such high-quality results.”