For such a famously small population, Iceland has an out-sized reputation in the world of contemporary design. Known for innovation and creativity, Iceland’s designs range from clean-lined interior design to bizarre, off-the-wall conceptual projects. Although Iceland is more commonly associated with majestic natural beauty and rich mythology, design is evident in all shapes and forms in this country. Unsurprisingly, many designers take influence from their surroundings. Given the country’s natural resources, sustainability is a key component for a number of the designers in their work. Emerging from an exciting and eclectic mix, the design scene is rapidly forging its own, distinct Scandinavian identity.
In 1993, a group of women bought the old General Store in Reykjavik and radically transformed it into a cutting-edge design store. Named ‘Kirsuberjatréið’ (Cherry Tree), the store is filled with art, craft and design that gives a true sense of Icelandic creativity. The collective behind the store consists of 11 women, all of whom come from a diverse background of design disciplines. This has led to the store being filled with numerous quirky and original pieces from jewellery to furniture, from textiles to ceramics. Their collective approach to creativity gives the store a unique feel; by blending their different styles and approaches to design, there is an eclecticism that lends itself entirely to Icelandic culture.
A design team comprised of three women, Dóra Hansen, Heiða Elín Jóhannsdóttir and Þóra Birna Björnsdóttir, Eitt A is an interior design firm that works on a variety of projects. These include office interiors, hotels, home interiors, image design and even beauty salons. Focusing on usability, aesthetics and comfort, Eitt A believe that the environment in which you live and work has a major impact on your quality of life. Additionally, they often use local materials and methods of production to create furniture, such as the Flóki – Kollur, or Felt Stool. Using Icelandic wool and Icelandic birch, the wool felt is used as the weight-bearing component of the stool. By folding it lengthways and inserting it into the wooden frame, it is sturdy and supportive, yet moulds to the shape of the owner over time and use.
Originally an occupational therapist, Bjargey Ingólfsdóttir set up Bara Design in 2006 to pursue her life long passion for design. Bjargey grew up in an artistic household in Northern Iceland where her mother made the family’s clothes and her grandparents made many of the furniture pieces in the home. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Bjargey is adept in a range of design media ranging from textiles to sculptures made from kitchen utensils. Finding inspiration in Icelandic nature, culture and society, she created range of sculptures made from kitchen utensils entitled Spoontaneous Collection. This was inspired by what became known as the ‘revolution of pots and pans’ in Iceland, following its economic crisis in 2009. Despite having no formal training in art or design, Bjargey creates beautiful objects that either serve a purpose, make an important statement, or both.
Ceramicist Guðný Hafsteinsdóttir is both a practicing designer and a teacher in Iceland, where she emphasises the history of textiles. This, in turn, inspires her work as a ceramicist; she tries to instil historical and ethical connotations in the pieces she creates. Guðný also draws influence from other aspects of her life: the environment, literature, current affairs and even fashion. Despite considering herself a ceramicist, Guðný does not limit herself to the use of clay. Whilst she specialises in cast forms with regard to her ceramic practices she also uses recycled glass, especially the reuse of old bottles, in her work. Gathering old bottles from gutters, she recreates them in ceramics, giving them new context as well as new usage, such as can be seen in her series of cups.
Atlason was founded by designer Hlynur Vagn Atlason and focuses on work that explores the balance between function and emotion, whilst exploring ways of creating fresh perspectives on familiar objects. With a wide range of big clients, including Umbra, MoMA and Estée Lauder to name but a few, the projects undertaken are vastly varied and could be anything from consumer products and electronics to advertising campaigns. An example of Atlason’s way of approaching product design is evident in the Tricon jars for Umbra. When thinking about space efficiency within a kitchen, it occurred to Atlason that triangles are rarely uses for storage canisters. As a result, Tricon was created; the canisters stack vertically as well as horizontally, and the lids double up as a measuring cup. Finally, the triangular shape is ideal for pouring from the canisters with the corners forming the perfect spout.
Little is known about product designer Anna Þórunn (Thorunn), but her creations speak for themselves. Inspired by both the countryside and urban areas of Iceland, her family and even chocolate, Anna’s work is both functional and whimsical. A multidisciplinary designer, her creations range from tables, chairs, and storage solutions, to lighting, crockery and functional ornaments. An interesting example is the Feed Me bowl, which can be used two ways: right-side up or upside down. She took the idea from a news story about a couple of ravens building a nest for their young in Reykjavík; the shape of the bowl is indicative of open bird beaks when right-side up, which serves as a symbol of nurture and care. Upside down and the bowl looks like the children’s game made from folding paper.
HAF by Hafsteinn Juliusson is a company manufacturing and distributing alternative lifestyle design products. The company is based in Reykjavík, Iceland and was founded in 2011 by Hafsteinn Júlíusson himself and aims to approach design from new perspectives, thus reaching a diverse audience. He is fascinated by fun solutions for simple things, with his primary focus being on the concept rather than a specific project. In this respect, he is truly multifaceted, working on projects that cover furniture, accessories or even food and drink. With strong links to society and ecology, and an aversion to mainstream mass-production techniques, Hafsteinn is inventive and creative with ideas that are exciting, if a little bonkers. His Growing Jewelry is a clear example of his dedication to both ecology and society; he combines live moss with jewellery to create a truly unique idea.
An Icelandic company specifying in the design and manufacture of architectural light solutions, Lighthouse use simplicity and quality to define their products. Producing their lighting under the name LUX, their classic lighting designs can be altered to match a wide variety of tastes. Made to be both stylish and durable, the lighting designed for outdoors is made from the highest quality materials. This is to ensure that it can endure Iceland’s harsh weather, whilst not diminishing the aesthetics of the lighting. The indoor lighting is defined by color, texture and material and is often bespoke to a specific interior, such as the Lava Tube lamp.
Creating a wide range of home accessories, Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir is an award winning designer with a whimsical aesthetic. With playful yet functional forms, Ingibjörg Hanna’s work is influenced by Iceland’s breathtaking landscape and plethora of native wildlife, not to mention the country’s strong literary heritage. Despite not training as a product designer, Ingibjörg Hanna’s products are not only award winning, they have become synonymous with Icelandic design. Her Krummi Bird Hangers can be seen not only in design stores, in pop-up stores and design shows such as 100% Design, they can also be found in the airport. Simple yet witty, Ingibjörg Hanna’s work is fast becoming a global symbol for Icelandic design.
By Sophie Finney
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