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Seeing Scandinavian Design for the First Time

Posted on November 05 2017


Authors Charlotte Fiell and Peter Fiell − top professionals on the history, theory and criticism of design – have come out with MODERN SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN. They have written and edited over 50 books about design, including "Design of the 20th Century, Industrial Design," "The Story of Design: From the Paleolithic to the Present" and the ever popular "1000 Chairs."

Their career started in the late 1980s, when they were managing some high-end design galleries in King’s Road, London. They needed to produce a catalogue, and therefore quickly became adept at research and writing, which in turn led to a run of best-selling books with an international audience. 

Their latest publication features never-before-seen design objects, many from the hidden storerooms of auction houses, and some are from the Fiells’s own private collection.

Why write a book about Scandinavian design, and what makes it so timely?

Peter Fiell (PF): Having written many books about design over the last 25 years, we’ve learnt about national styles – and the Scandinavian one is the most interesting of them all, being utterly exemplary: its designers have focused on the synthesis of practical function, artistic beauty and high-quality manufacturing, while also being guided by an all-important democratic ethos. We have spent a lot of time in Scandinavia over the years visiting historic sites, and meeting with designers and leading manufacturing companies. And we realize how much of the story remains to be told and revealed to our readers.

Charlotte Fiell (CF): There is this cornucopia of Scandinavian stuff out there  – from extraordinary buildings to exquisite jewelry pieces -- that is much less well known. And it is the sheer consistency of these many different things that just keeps blowing us away. But more than this, we wanted to demonstrate that Scandinavian design is enjoying a renaissance of appeal since it is based on fundamental human values and a belief that design should be life-enhancing.

How did you discover the connection within Scandinavian design between ethics and aesthetics? That this was a new, human-based approach to design? Making craftsmanship democratic, so that everyone could enjoy design that was both functional and beautiful?

PF: That ethos is so embodied in Scandinavian design that you just sense it through the artifacts when you pick them up. They are so thoughtfully conceived and possess such a tangible sense of 'rightness.' Scandinavian design is ultimately born of great craft and democratic values, and that’s why we connect with it through our head, hands and heart, to paraphrase Tapio Wirkkala – perhaps the greatest Scandinavian form-giver of them all.

Tell us about your writing process, and what research went into this book?

CF: We are very much dialed into the world of auction houses and dealing. You can learn so much about design just by handling artifacts, and best of all, actually using them as intended. Over the years, we have developed some connoisseurship as long-time collectors of many different kinds of designed objects. In the end, a huge amount of research went into this book – many hundreds of hours.

It took us about a year to research and write the book, but then we spent months agonizing over the image selection and the design layout with our Swedish graphic designer, Henrik Nygren, because we all wanted it to be absolutely perfect. In fact, we aimed very high to create a book that embodied of the core values of Scandinavian design, so that it could stand proudly alongside the objects it was showcasing.

The images in this book come from everywhere and anywhere – picture libraries, auction houses, museums, collectors, other dealers, designers, manufacturing companies – and then we also commissioned quite of lot of new beautiful imagery specially taken for the book, often of things from our own collection. We wanted this book to have a lot of surprises for people flicking through it, so we took an inordinate amount of trouble over the picture selection.

Who is the intended audience, and what has the reception been so far?

PF: We knew it would probably find its own audience among collectors, dealers, interior designers, design aficionados and so on. But we have been delighted to see how people who don’t fall into any of those categories really love the book and find it hard to put it down – poring over each and every page. We have actually witnessed this a number of times with our own eyes, and it is very gratifying as authors.

-- Mid Century Books interviews Charlotte & Peter Fiell, of Modern Scandinavian Design

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