For Svenskt Tenn’s founder, Estrid Ericson, the good life was not only about luxury and exclusiveness, but also about contemplation and refinement. She fearlessly combined high and low, old and new. And long before she met Josef Frank she had an eye for choosing excellent partners.
ESTRID ERICSON HAD JUST TURNED 30 when she founded the company Svenskt Tenn. She had trained as an art teacher at the Technical School (now Konstfack, the University College of Arts, Craft and Design) and her professional experience consisted of working as a drawing teacher in her home town of Hjo during one term; she had also worked for the interior design shops Svensk Hemslöjd and Vackrare Vardagsvara. An inheritance provided her with the opportunity to open her own pewter workshop and shop, and with no hesitation Estrid Ericson seized the moment.
Svenskt Tenn was founded at a time when Swedish design enjoyed a world-wide reputation. Young talented designers were hired by big Swedish firms to design better things for everyday life. Svenskt Tenn and Estrid Ericson was part of this movement. Modern design was exhibited both nationally and internationally and Svenskt Tenn soon developed into a creative centre for design. Estrid Ericson turned out to be very apt at spotting promising young talents. Before long she was collaborating with artists, architects and designers such as Nils Fougstedt, Anna Petrus, Uno Åhrén, Björn Trägårdh and Tyra Lundgren.
AS SCENOGRAPHER, CREATOR AND ORGANISER OF INTERIORS AND EXHIBITIONS SHE WAS IN A CLASS BY HERSELF.
Svenskt Tenn’s products were exclusive and already from the beginning their patrons came from the well to-do, educated middle classes – Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf was one of their first customers. Estrid Ericson’s ability to lead the company was crucial. As scenographer, creator and organiser of interiors and exhibitions she was in a class by herself. Her talent for developing moods and atmospheres by juxtaposing objects in beautiful and sometimes unexpected arrangements was unique.
Photo: Lennart Nilsson, Svenskt Tenn.
Estrid’s stage designs were as simple as they were appealing. Modernistic furniture rich in contrasts, such as black and white, were placed in light interiors. In the store she created exciting still lifes. Boxes, corals and modern pewter objects were displayed, showing her scenographic artistry. Estrid Ericson was quick to embrace the aesthetics of the modern design movement and arguably it was she who introduced functionalist furniture to the Swedish market. Her philosophy was to mix expensive and affordable objects that did not necessarily go together. The main thing was to create a comfortable and pleasant home. And it shouldn’t be a home that was complete or static: things could be added little by little; objects, furniture, interior design details. Mementos from journeys and other cultures were introduced, like historical additions to a modern interior. In this way the home would be a reflection of one’s personality.
Estrid Ericson was also an accomplished designer. She sketched mirrors, boxes, fabrics and jewellery. Her designs revealed a lot of her personality. She designed peculiar mirrors with details inspired by classical, ancient cultures. She garnered inspiration from historical objects from 9th-century Peru for her designs of flasks or vases in pewter. And she was also influenced by the major artists of her time. Her analysis of the world around her was remarkable and her journeys were her main source of inspiration. “The world is a book. He who stays home reads only one page”, was one of her favourite quotations. She turned her store into an Eldorado with inspiration from all over the world. She did not really have any models for her interiors but was open to impulses from a multitude of places and eras. High and low. Classic and modern. The resulting combination was outstanding. Estrid Ericson’s unfailing sense of style was unique in the capital and in the 20th century.
HIGH AND LOW. CLASSIC AND MODERN. THE RESULTING COMBINATION WAS OUTSTANDING. ESTRID ERICSON’S UNFAILING SENSE OF STYLE WAS UNIQUE IN THE CAPITAL AND IN THE 20TH CENTURY.
Estrid took a keen interest in the activities of the pewter workshops. With passion and detailed opinions she set the tone for the furniture that Uno Åhrén or Björn Trägårdh designed around 1930. Sometimes she elaborated on other designers’ work. For example, Anna Petrus’ well known lion figures ended up on pewter boxes designed by Estrid.
Designed by Anna Petrus in 1926.
Peruvian Urn. Designed by Estrid Ericson in 1926.
Estrid Ericson and Svenskt Tenn also enjoyed great success in exhibition contexts. The company had not even existed a full year before it won the Grand Prix at the 1925 Paris World’s Fair. Svenskt Tenn also participated in the noted 1930 Stockholm Exhibition, which introduced functionalism to a Swedish audience. The functionalist tea set by Björn Trägårdh received rave reviews. The Times in London wrote: “This tea set, made by Svenskt Tenn, is summing up the spirit of the exhibition.”
The modern design movement of the 20th century had an explicit social ambition. Interior design should be used to engineer a better life for people. However, Svenskt Tenn did not participate in this movement. Estrid Ericson was not afraid of sticking her neck out and questioning the strict functionalist approach that characterised the modern design movement. Her ambition was rather to mix work and pleasure, dreaming, diversion and target-oriented purchases. She wanted to elevate utility goods in simple materials into symbolic objects that consumers could dream about.
By connecting history and modernity, Estrid Ericson created delicate and exclusive settings that were beyond compare. And this, even before her long-term partner Josef Frank had entered the scene.