Carl Malmsten

“Break all edges thoroughly”, was a frequent instruction on Carl Malmsten’s drawings. Nature was his great source of inspiration, and there you rarely find sharp edges or corners.

“Neither light, nor eyes or people like bumping into sharp corners”, he explained. Therefore, all edges had to be smoothed so that they were kinder to the eye and to the touch. Carl Malmsten (1888–1972) is not only one of the most famous furniture designer in Sweden. He was also one of the great cultural celebrities of the last century, with a strong influence on domestic and public environments and the social debate of the time.

Matchstick Palace

His career started in 1915. When the results of a furniture competition for the massive new building project, the Stockholm City Hall, were announced, the surprised jury realised that they had awarded both first and second prize to a hitherto unknown designer. The interior of the Council Chamber and other meeting rooms in the City Call became a great break-through for Carl Malmsten, and the furniture is still used by the City Council. Oddly enough, the beautiful writing chair with which he won the competition, never found a place in the building.

In the 1920s, Carl Malmsten became one of the most sought-after interior and furniture designer in Sweden. Prestigious commissions were rolling in. As a wedding gift to Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and Lady Louise Mountbatten, he designed a comfortable living room at Ulriksdal Palace. The architect Ivar Tengbom engaged him for the Stockholm Concert Hall, Ivar Kreuger’s Matchstick Palace and the Swedish Institute in Rome. Waldorf Astoria in New York phoned and asked Carl Malmsten to make the furnishings and furniture for bedrooms, salons and dining rooms. Banks, insurance companies, the Riksdag – as soon as luxurious board rooms were required, his name was mentioned.

In connection with the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, Carl Malmsten took a stand against the sterile varieties of functionalism. Malmsten himself was accused of being a narrow-minded apostle of handicrafts, disregarding the great production factor of the time: industry. It was not until after the war that Malmsten started combining handicraft and industry in his work. Up until then, the furniture had been made at the school he started in 1930 (see below) and at a number of joinery workshops suited to artisanal production. He established contact with a group of high-quality small industries, the so called Key Workshops.

The break-through came in 1956, with an exhibition at the Röhsska Museum of Design and Craft in Gothenburg. For the first time, Malmsten showed furniture designed for serial production, and which soon found their way into the Swedish “People’s Homes”.

Some of the original Key Workshops still make classic Malmsten designs. For example, Stolab in Smålandsstenar, where Lilla Åland and Vardags are made, and O H Sjögren in Tranås, where upholstered armchairs such as Rundrygg, Farmor, Hemmakväll and Samsas are created. Just like Josef Frank and Svenskt Tenn, Carl Malmsten represents a distinct style of interior design that lives on long after its creator has passed away.

He had a tremendous sense of proportion and designed furniture that people would feel very much at home with – and comfortable in.

Ulriksdal palace, living room.

Carl Malmsten was at the forefront within Swedish crafts and furniture design, but he was just as much an energetic educator. At the time of the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, he opened his second workshop, which was also designed as a school: Olofskolan. In 942, Carl Malmsten founded the Workshop School, where pupils received “a technical art education” in furniture making and where “the physical and mental forces develop together”. In the 1950s, the royalties from Carl Malmsten’s collaboration with a number of small industries went to the Nyckelvik project. After the opening of Nyckelviksskolan on Lidingö (1955), the royalties were directed to Capellagården on Öland (1958). In all of the schools, including the Malmsten School of Furniture on Lidingö – now an extension of Linköping University and simply referred to as Malmstens – the basic philosophy is still that of “hand and mind in creative collaboration”.

Capellagården

Many people have testified to Carl Malmsten’s eccentric and strong-willed personality. Depending on the time of year, he went from his home in Bergshamra on the northern side of Lake Brunnsviken to the office in central Stockholm on foot, by bicycle or on skis. Driving was not his thing. Another peculiarity was that he never ate at set times, only when he was hungry. This could be difficult for those around him, especially if they wanted to invite him for dinner. Carl Malmsten was simply an awkward person with a hot temper and generous love, depending on when, where and with whom he interacted. The potter and glass designer Ingegerd Råman has told how she fell out with Carl Malmsten when she was a student at Capellagården. “I remember how angry I was with him, but he didn’t crumble. He knew what he stood for and it was wonderful to meet such a person. I learned about simplicity and tradition, the quality of materials and that things must function.”

Malmsten at Capellagården

Carl Malmsten i timeline

1888 

Charley Per Henrik (Carl) Malmsten was born

1910–1912 

Apprenticed to the master carpenter Pelle Jönsson, Stockholm

1912–1915 

Self-studies within handicrafts and architecture

1916 

First and second prize for writing desk and chair for Stockholm City Hall

1916–1923 

Furniture for Stockholm City Hall

1917 

Married Siv Munthe

Participated in the Home Exhibition at Liljevalchs

1918 

Son Ulf was born

1919–1922 

Own carpentry workshop at Arbetargatan in Stockholm

1920 

Daughter Kerstin was born

1921 

Son Egil was born

1922–1925 

Course leader at Nääs School of Crafts

1923 

Gothenburg Tercentennial Jubilee Exposition (five rooms for Swedish Furniture Factories)

Interior design of large living room at Ulriksdal Palace

1924 

Son Vidar was born

1925 

Participated in the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris; received a Grand Prix

1926 

Son Torgils was born

1926 

Furniture for Grand Hotel, Stockholm

Furniture for Stockholm Concert Hall

1926–1934 

Held woodcraft courses at Sigtunaskolan

1928

Exhibition at Liljevalchs

Olofskolan was founded

1930

Olofskolan’s workshop set up on Humlegårdsgatan

Furnishing for the Matchstick Palace on Västra Trädgårdsgatan in Stockholm

Furnishing of three rooms at Stockholm Exhibition

Furnishing of the Swedish suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York

1933

The company Carl Malmsten is registered

Exhibition at the Röhsska Museum of Design and Craft in Gothenburg

1933–1940

Held woodcraft courses on Åland, in Bruksvallarna and Hedemora

1934

Exhibitions at Liljevalchs, in Riga, Reval, Dorpat and Kaunas

Furniture for the Council President’s room at the League of Nations in Geneva

1936

Awarded the title of Professor

1937

Participated in the Swedish Pavilion at Expo 37 in Paris

Furniture for Svenska Handelsbanken

Interior design of m/s Stockholm

1939

Furniture and furnishings at the New York World Fair
Furniture for the Swedish Institute in Rome

1940

Exhibition and office moved to Strandvägen 5B and Väpnargatan 8

Participates in “Bo bättre” (Better living) at Röhsska Museum of Design and Craft

1943

Utility artists at Nationalmuseum

1944 
Solo exhibition; From Bark Boat to Own Home, at Nationalmuseum

Carl Malmsten AB was formed

1946

Started and held summer courses at Viggbyholmsskolan

1947–49

Furnishings for the Supreme Court in Stockholm

1948

Woodcraft teacher at Konstfackskolan

1948–50

Furniture for the Swedish Riksdag

1949

Mittens rike (Middle Kingdom) – a summary of the setting up of Nyckelviksskolan

1950

Workshop moved to the new Hantverkshuset (Arts and Crafts Building), Renstiernas gata 12

1955

Nyckelbrödernas förbund (Association of Key Brothers) founded

Participated in H55 in Helsingborg

1956

Key Brothers’ exhibition Living Swedish Tradition at Röhsska Museum of Design and Craft

1957

Capellagården was acquired

1958

70th jubilee exhibition Bo i ro (Peaceful living) on Strandvägen 5B

First summer course at Capellagården

1959–60

Furnishing of several rooms at Folksam in Stockholm

1964

Participated in the exhibition Swedish Chairs at Nationalmuseum

1969

Root and Crown, the last major exhibition, at Liljevalchs

1972

Carl Malmsten died

 

Poster for Malmsten’s last exhibition “Root and Crown”