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Axel Einar Hjorth (1888 – 1959) – A design revolutionary

17 March 2016

A maverick in an environment driven largely by conformity, Hjorth bucked the trend in Swedish design. He played with classic principles to produce something fresh and unexpected, rebelling against the established tastemakers, and lauded by leading authorities on international design.

As Chief Designer at Nordiska Kompaniet between 1927 and 1938 (the most prestigious design post in Sweden during the interwar years), he reinterpreted existing styles for Swedish tastes, introducing exotic woods, bright colours and textiles, following his own instincts rather than the crowd. The role included innovative interior design for both public and affluent private clients, including the Shah of Persia.

As well as these special orders, he designed ground-breaking ranges of furniture for Nordiska Kompaniet. Most notable now is his “Utö” range of simple, rustic cottage furniture in pine or oak, which catered for the rise in popularity of the weekend house in Sweden, using primitive elements such as hand-forged nails. His “Typenko” designs reflected the radical aesthetics of international Modernism. The secretaire pictured here, dated to 1936, displays the restrained simplicity he employed in many of his designs in this range.

Axel Einar Hjorth exhibited internationally, from the World Exhibition in Barcelona in 1929, to the Stockholm exhibition in 1930, where his lavish work showcased rosewood and Ceylon lemon and walnut in red, black, yellow and violet brown.

In 1938, he set up his own furniture design company and the following year was invited to exhibit at the World Fair in New York. Disastrously, his furniture was destroyed by heavy rain before the exhibition (possibly an act of sabotage). This, coupled with restrictions on exotic woods due to the advent of World War II, led to the company’s decline and ultimate closure.

Hjorth’s work marked a sea change in the design of Swedish furniture and his lasting legacy influenced international designers for years to come.