In the Eighties and Nineties Scandinavian furniture meant flat packs to most people in the UK but in 1998 a new destination store dedicated to modern and classic Scandi design arrived in London. The Fizz goes behind the scenes with Christina Schmidt, co-founder of Skandium, to see what floats her boat...
BY DEE IVA
How did Skandium come about?
The seed idea sparked when my partner Magnus Englund and I found a cooking pot in a provincial department store in Finland. It was the pot, we thought, what a ’looker’... so simple, like a child would draw a pot, yet perfect in proportion and execution. We learned that it was designed by typographer Björn Dahlström for a new kitchen range by Finnish company Iittala called Iittala Tools. Iitala had begun the journey of reinventing themselves for a contemporary market.
We thought the concept was smashing as all the objects were simple but divinely perfect, in a way the reinvention of modernism, celebrating timeless beauty. So we thought let’s put together Alvar Aalto from 1924 with these pieces because style never goes out of fashion. It is not about being fashionable. If it is beautiful and relevant, it is a long-term investment in the quality of your life. With this in mind, we headed to the little island of Hästö in the Finnish archipelago and sat by the water’s edge, contemplating what we should call this idea and how to go about it. That was summer 1998.
ABOVE: Christina Schmidt, co-founder and creative director of Skandium
ABOVE RIGHT: Casserole with lid by Björn Dahlström for Iittala, 1998
BELOW: Hästö island, where the idea for Skandium was born
Do you have a favourite classic Scandinavian design piece?
I do not have a favourite as such as there are so many superb pieces and the design chosen will have to work well in the space you are living in. But If I had to choose, I would always pick the 'PH Artichoke' pendant in copper, by Poul Henningsen, the 'Trolley 900' with basket by Alvar Aalto (great as a side table), a cooking pot by Björn Dahlström and the 'Lempi' glasses by Matti Klenell which serve water, wine and milk equally well.
ABOVE LEFT: 'PH Artichoke' pendant light by Poul Henningsen for Louis Poulsen, from £4,900
ABOVE: 'Trolley 900' by Alvar Aalto for Artek, £2,365
BELOW: 'Lempi' tumblers by Matti Klenell for Iittala, from £12.50
Describe your personal interiors style
I am not so fussed about ‘retro’ as such. I do like great design and love new ideas, no matter what time they are from. I love the craftsmanship and thought behind the classic pieces of Scandinavian design, hence my passion for it, but when executing a project I like to mix styles from different periods, to keep it simple and harmonious and throw in a bit of the unexpected.
You were once a fashion and lifestyle photographer, who did you shoot for?
That was 20 years ago! I worked for the local fashion magazines and advertising agencies in Stockholm. Among others I did a shoot with Izabella Scorupco (right) who had long dark hair at the time. We used an ice blonde bob wig on her for the campaign and she later cut her hair and changed its colour. Izabella went on to play Bond girl Natalya Simonova in GoldenEye. I had a brilliant assistant at the time, Elisabeth Toll, whom I am proud to say is now a stunning fashion photographer with international assignments. It all has to start somewhere.
Do you still take pictures and has this shaped or influenced your work at Skandium?
I always think and act from a visual point, it is innate. I do not take pictures for Skandium as there is simply not the time for it since the content of what we do is so very wide. My focus today is interior design which is my passion. For this I take pictures for Skandium to go online and for my Instagram account.
What's next for Skandium?
There are so many companies out there and many offer the same or similar products as we have done for the last 16 years, so for us it is to enhance the focus on concept living and tighter editing on what we believe makes the Scandinavian aspect alluring. We don’t show everything just because it is on the market. For this year's London Design Festival we will showcase a new Skandium collection including a range of furniture by Swedish architect Jonas Lindvall and a Stig Lindberg retrospective with Swedish manufacturer Röstrand including our own range of bowls bearing Lindberg's distinctive illustrations from the children's book 'Daniel Tip Your Toe'.
ABOVE RIGHT: 'Stig Lindberg Bowls', £12.50 each. Exclusive to Skandium
BELOW: The first Skandium store touched down in Wigmore Street, London, in 1998
Who or what is currently exciting you in design?
I am actually more impressed with good craftsmanship and production than design as such. Without good craftsmanship there is never good design and in the ‘old’ days the craftsman was innately also the designer. I love seeing a mix of materials in an object where the combination enhances the experience, not just ‘entertains’. I will always love simple execution in both shape and material, such as the Collective Tools 'Serving Spoon' by Antonio Citterio for Iittala.
Is there anything you wish you had designed?
The 'Trolley 900' with basket by Alvar Aalto for Artek, as it is functional, stylish and very charming – the dream combination!