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Secrets of Scandinavian Design with Staffan & Monique Tollgård

This exclusive interview closely examines one of the world's foremost design styles.

By Faaizah Shah, Editor
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Having started their interior design studio almost twenty years ago, husband and wife duo, Staffan & Monique Tollgård champion a marriage of function and form within each of their projects. Their accomplished studio has worked across the globe, perfecting London’s finest townhouses as well as sun-soaked villas in the Middle East. The Swedish and South African duo graciously share their thoughts on the world’s growing fascination with Scandinavian style.

Utilising natural materials, enduring textures, and an ethos of relaxed living, the studio creates inviting spaces that stand the test of time. The LuxDeco 100 designers share stories from their Summer House project, an escape to the sandy dunes of Fanø, an island just off the southwestern coast of Denmark. The house itself was built by legendary architect Knud Holscher, with its slanted roof and clean lines a complement to the landscape. The floor-to-ceiling windows create a gallery-like effect with a series of frames through which to enjoy the surroundings. The interior lends a softness to this space with its heavily textured woven textiles, and light natural and smoked oak furniture. 

On the enduring appeal of Scandinavian design...

"Scandinavian design is more about the atmosphere and emotion that a home creates and less about its aesthetic effect. I believe the long, harsh winters contributed to developing a style that feels homely and warm. No matter the climate, I believe this is an existential answer to a universal question of living. Who doesn’t want to feel warm in their home?"

On the concept of the ‘Red Thread’...

"The Northern European concept of the "Red Thread" is the creative DNA of a piece of creative work: the underlying theme or notion or question that the artist explores, and often the very ‘why’ that the work has come into being. There is a red thread in Asian culture as well: one that binds lovers across time and space.

As a design practice, we use this notion in every project as a shorthand to describe the linking thread that makes it unique. Pulling together clues from the architecture, the cultural history, the environment, the client’s personality and the questions of living that need to be solved by design, the red thread draws a protective framework around the project, binding the environment, architecture and identity.

The notion of the red thread guides all our projects. Fano is a Danish island summer home where the red thread was the visual and sensory connection with a uniquely Danish natural setting. This was expressed by fusing inside with outside as seamlessly as possible, using vernacular and accurate materials as simply as possible. Comfortable, functional minimalism was the goal so the clients could enjoy every space to its fullest and detach from the buzz of city life left behind."

Good design is rooted in place and the questions of living it answers.
Tollgard Studio

On great Scandinavian style...

"Good design is rooted in place and the questions of living it answers. The formative ingredients of Scandinavian design are long winters, a yearning for lightness, an abundance of wood in our forests and a lack of ego. The two most important design influences post World War Two are Scandinavian and Italian. The Italy that emerged in the 60s was sexy, striking and bold. Scandinavian design took a different, humbler route, allied to functionalism rather than form."

On Scandinavia’s unique design culture...

"Hygge is a Danish word that has the onomatopoeia quality of a hug in a woolly jumper in a word. It captures the quality of senatorial and textural layering that good Scandinavian design provides. The Swedish word Lagom is less well known but equally important. While hygge captures the sensorial approach; lagom is the mindset. Lagom means ‘just about right’: think Goldilocks - not too much, not too little. It’s the only word where compromise is a good thing rather than a cop-out. For a design it can mean paring things back, avoiding ostentation, and sticking with the red thread."

On their favourite Scandinavian piece...

"Finn Juhl is our design hero and the Chieftain is our favourite piece. Ahead of its time, and somehow beyond place: the mark of truly great design. Interestingly Finn Juhl was not typically Scandinavian in his thinking - one of the few designers of the period who wasn’t a trained cabinet-maker - his perspective as an architect made him question the way that things were made and resulted in his pieces looking like they came from a different time and place. The Pelican chair was met with astonishment and confusion when it was launched in 1940 at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition. And yet it endures as one of the foremost examples of Scandinavian design."