In Praise of Svenskt Tenn

Port‘s creative director reflects on a humble tray by the iconic Swedish design brand Svenkst Tenn

It’s no overstatement to say that Josef Frank and Estrid Ericson – who founded the interior design store Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm in 1924 – did more to shape Swedish modernism in the 20th century – and by extension, Swedish cultural life – than any other designer or company. Through their collaboration, they formed a brand that carries an underlying message of comfort, elegance and restraint – an ease that can be rare to find when modernism gets too brutal or functional.

Frank – the celebrated Austrian-born architect and designer, who adopted Swedish citizenship in 1939 – is close in spirit to the Arts and Crafts movement and the ideals of William Morris, but both his and the Svenskt Tenn aesthetic are far more confident and relaxed, using bolder colours and motifs. He set out his philosophy in 1934: “The home cannot just be an efficient machine. It must offer comfort, rest and domestic harmony – repose for the eye and refreshment for the senses. There are no puritanical principles within good interior design.”

A parallel can be drawn with the work of the Scottish designer, Christopher Dresser – a central figure in the Aesthetic movement who, like Frank and Ericson, drew on inspiration from Ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt, as well as Japanese art and craft. Many of the prints and botanical patterns Frank produced for Svenskt Tenn have historical influences, from frescos found in Crete dating back to 1500 BC to 17th-century Chinese brocades. This educated reference to the past, whilst thriving in the present, gives the brand its continuing allure. To this day, no self-respecting home in Sweden is without something, be it a tray or a coaster, from Svenskt Tenn.

Photography Suzie Howell

Back to the Future: Christopher Dresser 

Jack Morrison contemplates the pioneering spirit of Christopher Dresser: a designer ahead of his time

The Alessi teapot, 1879. Designed by Christopher Dresser
The Alessi teapot, 1879. Originally designed by Christopher Dresser
Christopher Dresser (1834–1904) was an industrial designer before the term had even been invented. A true visionary, his work would not seem out of place alongside the modernist creations of the Bauhaus era or postmodern curios of Ettore Sottsass and The Memphis Group. Quite simply the man was a genius, and he refused to let the period in which he lived limit his thinking or creativity. 

Dresser’s academic achievements almost parallel those of his design. In 1850, he received a doctorate for his work on botany from the University of Jena, Germany, and subsequently went on to produce several works of authority on design and ornament.

Having worked for Tiffany & Co, Linthorpe Art Pottery, and Liberty of London, Dresser aimed to fulfil his mantra with each project: “The cheapest and commonest of things need not be ugly.” 

Conceived by Dresser and produced by James Dixon and Sons, this astonishingly prescient Alessi teapot from 1879 embodies a simple philosophy that remains just as relevant today.

Photography Matteo Oriani and Raffaele Origone

This article is taken from PORT issue 19, out now.