The Norwegian future is bright

Is Norway the new design hotspot?

Strangely, when it comes to Nordic design, few think of Norway. Wrongly? A search for clues

Literature from Norway is world famous. The books by Norwegian writers such as Karl Ove Knausgard, Maja Lunde, Jostein Gaarder, Jo Nesbo, Per Petterson and Jon Fosse have a huge fan base. This is probably one of the reasons why Norway is the guest country in the world's largest bookstore, the Frankfurt Book Fair, in 2019. But as famous as Norway is for its writing, we prefer to put our books on the shelves of a Swedish furniture giant. Are there any furniture and design products from Norway at all? And if so, who are the most important makers? Houzz was at the design fair in Oslo and shows what the creative scene in Norway has to offer in terms of furniture and interior design.
Norway - a blind spot on the design map?
Although the "Oslo Design Fair" is Norway's largest forum for interior design and attracts thousands of professionals twice a year, products from foreign manufacturers dominate the exhibition space there. Above all, of course, the Scandinavian neighbors from Denmark, Sweden and Finland are very present.
Pictured: The "Siri" glass series, designed by Willy Johansson, is manufactured by Hadeland Glassverk, Norway's oldest craft business. The manufactory was founded in 1762, "Siri" was first produced in 1954

That doesn't mean that there weren't any Norwegian exhibitors. The furniture manufacturer Hovden Møbel, which has been supplying furniture in Norway for more than 70 years, presented modern sofas with a characteristic Nordic minimalist touch. The glass manufacturer Hadeland Glassverk exhibited several series of tableware and home accessories that were designed in collaboration with Norwegian design stars.
In the picture: Chair from Series 7, which the Danish design and architecture legend Arne Jacobsen designed for Fritz Hansen. The chair is a worldwide bestseller from the Danish manufacturer
In fact, it's hardly surprising that Norwegian designers are so unknown. When you think of Scandinavian furniture design, what comes to mind first? Maybe Danish design classics by Arne Jacobsen or the chairs by Hans J. Wegner? Or maybe a chair or a vase by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto? Definitely Ikea! Only Norwegian designs are probably not among them, right?

Why is that? Houzz asked Norwegian design and architecture experts to reflect on the past and future of Norwegian design.
In the picture: deck chair by the Norwegian designer Edvin Klasson
  • Reason 1: importance
    The fact that Norwegian design culture is less well known than that of its neighbors is a matter of priorities. One reason why Norwegian design is not so much in the limelight is the country's longstanding focus on raw materials and natural resources: first on agriculture and fishing, then, in the last few decades, on gas and especially oil. “Norway is an oil country. Everything is geared towards the oil industry. It's what made the country extremely rich, ”says Louise Byg Kongsholm, trend researcher and CEO of the trend consultancy PEJ Group. She adds: "Design has never been a priority in Norway."
In the picture: “Connect” sofa system by the Norwegian design duo Anderssen & Voll for the Danish label Muuto
  • Reason 2: Bad Marketing
    According to Tor Inge Hjemdal, CEO of the state-sponsored organization Design and Architecture Norway (DOGA), marketing is also capable of development: “In Norway we develop products that are really good and of very high quality. But when it comes to advertising, marketing and selling we are lagging behind. ”In his opinion, this is one of the main reasons why Norwegian design is not world famous. Changing that is a cultural challenge. Because: “Norwegians think differently. They simply trust that a product will automatically be discovered by others as long as it is good, ”says Hjemdal.
In the picture: Spiegel also by Anderssen & Voll for Muuto

“It's the Norwegian way of not being noticed, being different or being loud, and that's a problem. We need the younger generation of designers to balance that out and be bolder, ”says Marie Aune, a Norwegian interior designer and Houzz professional.
In the picture: “Maya” cutlery series, designed by the Norwegian Tias Eckhoff. Originally produced in 1962 by the Norwegian manufacturer Norstaal. The cutlery now bears the logo of the Danish brand Stelton
  • Reason 3: Design follows function
    At the same time, Norwegian culture is focused on making things useful, notes Hjemdal. While aesthetics and design are firmly anchored in the cultural identity in Denmark and Sweden, these aspects are perceived differently in Norway. “With Norwegian products, functionality always comes first. Aesthetics are of secondary importance, ”says Hjemdal. "Aesthetics are perceived by many Norwegian consumers as something elitist that only costs extra money, is not necessary and is therefore superfluous."
The Norwegian architect and Houzz expert Einar Wahlstrøm agrees: “Creative professions (film, music, design and architecture) are viewed with skepticism in Norway. In contrast, both Swedish and Danish politicians have promoted their countries' creative professions well. "
Design history in Norway
On the other hand, the design expert Mats Linder points out that Norway also has a long history of design. Linder is Swedish but lives in Norway and has been researching Norwegian design for more than 20 years. Yet hardly anyone knows Norwegian designer classics. The best known is the Tripp Trapp high chair designed by Peter Opsvik for Stokke (photo above, chair at the front), which has been sold more than 11.5 million times since its introduction in 1972.

“Norway definitely has an interesting design history, especially from the 1950s and 1960s, when the most famous Danish design classics emerged. But unlike its neighbors, Norway has been incredibly poor at communicating and disseminating its design history, ”says Linder, who has written six books on Norwegian design.
In the picture: table linen by the Norwegian designer Andreas Engesvik for the Danish brand Georg Jensen Damask

Mats Linder emphasizes that young Norwegian designers have shaped leading design companies - but often outside of Norway. “We have a large number of young Norwegian talent. Unfortunately, the current industry is not ready for change. That is why Norwegian designers work very successfully for foreign brands such as Knoll, Panasonic, Muuto, Hay or Luceplan. That of course means that the value creation from Norwegian heads takes place outside the country. "
In the picture: Furniture by the Norwegian Sverre Uhnger, one of the founding members of the Klubben design collective

Together instead of everyone alone
On the other hand, some of these difficulties have welded the country's design industry together. “Cooperative work is typical of Norwegian design. Many young designers have recognized that they gain more by working together in groups and collectives than by doing it alone, ”says Røijen. She refers to the Klubben collective, which consists of more than 30 Norwegian designers and regularly shows their work at the Milan furniture fair. "I was approached by colleagues in Sweden who find it refreshing and visionary that Norwegian designers are not competing with each other, but have instead built a strong community of designers."
In the picture: “Tiki” sofa by Norwegian designer Andreas Engesvik for the Swedish brand Fogia

Is Norway the new design hotspot?
So will Norwegian design continue to eke out a shadowy existence or wake up from its slumber? The first good steps have already been taken.

Ida Aandal Røijen, who also works for DOGA, points out that since 2003 Norwegian design has been presented at the London Design Week under the name “100% Norway”. During Miland Design Week there is the Norwegian Presence Exhibition. “We are now experiencing what I would call the beginning of a new golden age for Norwegian design,” says Røijen. "It started as a small underground movement in the early 2000s with young design collectives led by Norway Says and the design talents Andreas Engesvik, Torbjørn Anderssen and Espen Voll."
In the picture: vases by the Norwegian Kristine Five Melvær

From the point of view of an interior designer, the future of Norwegian design also looks positive: “I think that Norwegian design will get more international recognition in the future,” says Houzz expert Alexia Lundgreen, who comes from Belgium and Germany, in the Netherlands, the USA and France studied and worked and has lived and worked in Norway since 2015. “I've only been living here for a few years. But in the short time I can see how the design and interior architecture scene in Oslo is gaining momentum, ”she says, adding,“ there is also a new generation of designers who are very promising. ”These include, for example, Daniel Rybakken, Martin Høgh Olsen, Vera & Kyte, Kristine Five Melvær and Edvin Klasson.
In the picture: living room in an old farmhouse in the Norwegian forests, lovingly renovated and designed with decors and colors typical of the country

Trend researcher Kongsholm predicts that Norway has a good chance of an international design breakthrough in the coming years. But emphasizes that the country must understand the value of its design history and sell it. “You have to look for the gold pieces in the design archives. Because there is both old, classic wooden furniture and a classic approach to products made of ceramics, glass and wool. A lot can be discovered there. But it has to be presented in such a way that people abroad want to buy it, ”she says.
The Norwegian manufacturer Fjordfiesta has already started this. The “1001” armchair by Sven Ivar Dysthe shown here is a reproduction from 1960 and is handcrafted in Norway.
In the picture: The Røros Tweed brand presented itself for the first time in 2019 at the IMM in Cologne. The colorful blankets and pillows are all made in Norway from the sheep to the last stitch
Norway's great opportunity
Perhaps Norway's greatest asset was shown at the “Rethink” trend exhibition during the Oslo design fair: sustainability. The modern, cubist exhibition modules made of wood, which were created in collaboration with the architecture studios Vardehaugen and Aslak Haanshuus, will not be thrown away after the fair, but reused. They will be moved to Træna in Northern Norway, where they will be integrated into new construction projects.
This is a good example of how architects and designers think about new, sustainable solutions. This current global issue could be the breakthrough for Norwegian design, as Røijen also emphasizes: “Sustainability has always been a basic Norwegian need long before it became a lifestyle. We grew up with the idea that products should be of good quality and last a long time. In Norway we don't have the same culture of use and throwaway that prevails in many other places. "
In the picture: Large amounts of Kebony, a modified type of wood, were used in the construction of this summer house from Norway, which is used as a sustainable alternative to tropical woods. You can find out more about Kebony wood here

Kongsholm sees the sustainability boom and anti-plastic culture as a unique opportunity for Norway. “What Norwegian designers are really good at is dealing with wood and natural materials. That is what they should concentrate on, ”says the trend expert. “At the same time, modern consumers demand that everything be connected to nature, tranquility and hiking. In this respect, Norway has something very different to offer than the other Nordic countries, ”she says, adding that the Norwegian mountains and diverse nature are something special, for example when compared to the flat Danish landscape.
In the picture: Bar trolley "Loud" made of oak with mirrored doors from the Norwegian brand with the appropriate name Northern.no

According to Linder, the fact that Norwegian design is so far relatively unknown can be an advantage. “Norway as a design country is unknown and exotic for many,” he says. "If we succeed in marketing the products with their good quality and great design, then I think that we will experience a Norwegian design boom in the next few years."