In Sweden, great design is a way of life. And where better to experience it than in its stunning capital city, which is having a serious creative moment. Here’s our guide to the highlights.
Stockholmers proudly refer to their city as skönhet på vatten – “beauty on water”. It’s not hard to see why. Few capitals are as picture-postcard pretty as this Scandinavian gem, with its medieval Old Town, Baroque Royal Palace and Belle Epoque boulevards. But make no mistake, Stockholm is not hidebound by its heritage – behind the historic waterfront lies a dynamic modern capital that just oozes contemporary cool.
Visitors to Stockholm quickly discover that Scandi design isn’t just an aesthetic, it’s a way of life. Clean lines, organic textures and minimal shapes are everywhere you go, from the modest cafés where the locals come for their fika fix (coffee, cake and conversation), to the smartest restaurants and boutiques. It’s hard wired into the city’s DNA. Even the streetlights are sleek and minimalist. To experience Swedish design at its most cutting edge, stay in one of the hip hotels on Brunkebergstorg Square. This former business complex in the heart of the city with its Brutalist 1970s architecture is part of a major regeneration project. The square has become the launchpad for a new breed of lifestyle hotels, including At Six and Hobo, which combine high concept, design-led interiors with communal social areas and creative workspaces.
New Kid on the Block
Downtown Camper is the latest arrival on the block. The hotel describes itself as a “basecamp for urban explorers”; the social areas have the vibe of a trendy hostel (giant hammocks, campfires, a games room), while the rooms are distinctly boutique hotel (minimalist bathrooms, moody lighting and window seat reading nooks). Cleverly marrying urban and rustic, the décor in the lobby pairs concrete with natural wood and active guests can hire kayaks, long boards and bikes from the front desk. If you’d rather kick back and relax, there’s a rooftop wellness area with a sauna disguised as a giant bird’s nest (yes, really) and a heated pool with stunning views of the Stockholm skyline. The adjacent cocktail bar, which serves a light breakfast in the morning, shares the same amazing vista. Definitely worth getting up for.
There’s plenty of inspiration to be had just wandering through the streets, taking in design stores and showrooms. Design House Stockholm has a flagship store on Hamngatan, a few minutes’ walk from Downtown Camper, while Svenskt Tenn on Strandvägen is a treasure trove of iconic textiles by Josef Frank. Designtorget is a crucible for Swedish design talent; up-and-coming Swedish designers submit designs to a monthly jury, who decide which ones will be stocked in 11 stores around the country. Stockholm has three Designtorget, stocking a range of witty, clever designs, the largest is in Kungsgatan, which is just around the corner from Brunkebergstorg Square.
Bolon Lab Store on Birger Jarlsgatan is a next-generation design showroom that has become a meeting place for designers, architects and enthusiasts. Bolon, a traditional weaving company, creates trend-setting flooring and rugs, collaborating with high profile names such as Missoni.
For a more laid-back vibe, check out the Hem Design Studio in Eastmansvägen. This independent design studio brings a fresh twist to minimalist furniture, accessories and lighting. Serious design hounds should seek out the Sthlm Design District on the island of Södermalm, where you’ll find around 30 under-the-radar Swedish furniture and textile brands.
No city break would be complete without visiting a couple of museums. Your first port of call should be the island of Skeppsholmen, just across the water from the Royal Palace, where you’ll find not one, but three stunning collections. ArkDes is Sweden’s national centre for architecture and design, it hosts regular exhibitions but also serves as a “place of research, study and debate about how we will live in the future”. Next door, with jaw-dropping views of the water and the city, is the Moderna Museet. There’s an impressive collection of modern art, covering 1900 to the present day, and a fabulous sculpture garden with some eye-catching large-scale works by Alexander Calder. Down on the waterfront, Fotografiska is a centre for contemporary photography offering world-class exhibitions, workshops and courses.
Sweden has a particularly strong tradition of furniture making (all those pine forests!), a craft that is celebrated in the recently opened Möbeldesignmuseum (Museum of Furniture Studies). The location takes a little finding – a warehouse on the commercial docks (seriously cool) – but the trip is worth it. Based on the private collection of designer/architects Kersti Sandin and Lars Bülow, the warehouse is home to 700 pieces of furniture from distinguished Nordic and international designers, spanning the late 1800s to the present day. The current exhibition is a love letter to chairs – expect to see design icons like Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair and Marcel Breuer’s Wassily Chair.
If you fancy taking all your design inspiration in one big hit, Stockholm hosts its own Design Week in February every year. Coinciding with the Stockholm Furniture & Light Fair, it draws the big names in the design world to the capital. The city joins in with light and media installations and special events in stores, hotels and restaurants. But if you don’t fancy braving the February cold, Stockholm has plenty to delight design lovers all year round.