Fredrik Paulsen, furniture designer

Fredrik Paulsen’s work, both as a designer and as a co-founder of Stockholm’s brilliant Örnsbergsauktionen, is shaking the foundations of what you think Scandinavian design ought to be. “Here you are taught to produce work for the everyman,” Paulsen says. “It’s the legacy of IKEA: Good design for everyone. But if your work doesn’t really fit into mass production and it is not intended for it, then there is no platform or venue to show it.”

It was this void that led Paulsen and his friends and fellow designers Simon Klenell and Kristoffer Sundin to stage their first auction during last year’s Stockholm’s Design Week. They invited contemporaries — some they knew, others they only knew of — to submit diverse, self-made works that went beyond the cookie-cutter forms they’d grown tired of, and put them up for bidding. It paid off: The auction clocked column inches and, more importantly, sales, and was so popular that the trio repeated the exercise this February.

I was in Stockholm on the morning of the auction, and I sat down with Paulsen at a coffee shop around the corner from his studio for fika (that’s a Swedish coffee break with something sweet on the side, for those not au fait). Paulsen was buzzing. No matter how hard it must be to organize and promote an auction toting 49 lots, whilst squeezing in his own work as a designer, it’s clear he enjoys the experience. “We are not curators, we are designers. But it is super nice,” he beams, brushing icing sugar from his unruly facial hair. (“It’s hard to eat Semla with a moustache,” he says.)

Paulsen’s studio is just west of Stockholm’s centre in Örnsberg, an area with a quiet, suburban feel, away from the fashionable slog of nearby Södermalm. “I like the location as it’s outside of town,” he says. “I can fully concentrate here, and there’s a nice vibe.” The designer lived in London for a few years, studying at the prestigious Royal College of Art. On moving back to Stockholm he was struck by how comparatively small the city was, and how much easier that makes many aspects of everyday life. “Most things I strap to my bike, and I cycle from the woodshop to the studio.”

When we arrive back at this studio post-fika, Paulsen circles a mound of belongings, packed away in order to host auction viewings in the space, and begins plucking out chairs and stools for me to look at. Rational in shape and construction, the swirling, wild color and pattern he applies to them transforms the solid and rigid forms into something acid-tinged. He developed his wood dyeing technique at the RCA — bright turquoise diffuses into deep purple, and then ochre. He decorates surfaces with off-the-shelf industrial floor flakes, providing a braille-like pattern to the touch.

Although the auction was born out of necessity and not necessarily a self-prescribed manifesto, Paulsen admits he is political in his design approach. “If I wasn’t then I would just go on and design really commercial chairs,” he says. “But if you’re not doing something that’s pushing design forward, then what is the reason? We have so many nicely designed objects already. There are enough for so many lifetimes.” He has a good point.