Stockholm’s enduring style
Streetside cafes on Stortorget, the main square of Gamla Stan. (David De Vleeschauwer)
Stockholm seamlessly blends the traditional with the modern, from time-honoured crafts and medieval architecture to globally recognised cuisine and cocktail culture.
An eye for design
Housed in a disused fire station in Stockholm’s hip Södermalm district, a retro reclamation store is stacked literally floor to ceiling with desirable stuff: artfully shabby lamps, antique jewellery, battered paintings and distressed dressing tables. This is Brandstationen – called a ‘toy shop for grown-ups’ by owner Christian Quaglia, it’s one of Stockholm’s many vintage stores. Just inside the doorway, a besuited gentleman tries out an old leather armchair while a couple in vintage Ray-Bans chats animatedly about the aesthetic merits of an angle-poise lamp. The shop is doing a roaring trade.
Strolling along the stately boulevards, it doesn’t take long to realise that Stockholm is obsessed by design. From the upmarket stores of Östermalm to the jumbled bric-a-brac shops of Upplandsgatan, this is a city that has style hard-wired into its DNA.
Some of the most memorable examples of 20th-century Scandinavian design are on show at Modernity, lodged amongst the flashy boutiques and busy department stores of Sibyllegatan. Founded by Scottish ex-pat Andrew Duncanson, the shop showcases work by illustrious names such as Stig Lindberg, Sweden’s master ceramicist, and Axel Larsson and Bruno Mathsson, famous for their sleek and strictly functional furniture. Light streams through the shop’s arched windows, illuminating its collection of curvy coffee tables, futuristic sofas and sinuous armchairs, all arranged with the punctilious precision of museum pieces. Inevitably, price tags tend to match the provenance.
Few Stockholm stores have greater heritage than waterfront Malmsten, founded by one of Sweden’s most celebrated furniture makers, Carl Malmsten, and now run by his grandson. With its pine floors and stark white walls, it’s closer to an art gallery than a shop. Slate-grey armchairs and blonde-wood cabinets are arranged around the half-empty showroom, picked out by spotlights, and with plaques detailing the genesis of each design.
Known for traditional materials and impeccable craftsmanship, Malmsten’s furniture encapsulates the key values of Swedish design – beauty, elegance, functionality and, above all, simplicity. ‘My grandfather understood that good design isn’t simply a case of creating beautiful things,’ explains Jerk Malmsten. ‘It’s about the perfect combination of function and form. In Sweden, we love things that look good, but which serve their purpose too.’ For Jerk, it’s imagination and ingenuity that keep Stockholm’s design scene feeling so fresh. ‘Of course we have a wonderful heritage to build on,’ he explains. ‘But it’s important to keep innovating. Design never stands still, and neither does Stockholm. That’s what makes the city such an exciting place to be.’
Learn to fika like a local
One thing guaranteed to get Stockholmers chatting is a strong cup of coffee and a thick slice of cake. Coffee has been lubricating the wheels of Swedish society since the late 17th century, and the country now drinks more per capita than practically every other nation on Earth (only Finland’s consumption is higher). The humble coffee break even has its own word, fika, which describes the act of sharing a coffee and something sweet with friends, in as snug a setting as possible.
If there’s one place that understands fika, it’s Vetekatten. Founded in 1928 on Kungsgatan – Stockholm’s former red light district, now a busy shopping street – this historic café has been in the same family for 40 years. Deliciously old-fashioned, its grand, high-ceilinged rooms glimmer with polished brass and porcelain ornaments. Aproned waitresses hurry past with platters of sticky pastries and steaming coffee pots, while glass windows in the kitchen wall reveal bakers adding the final touches to trays of kanelbulle (cinnamon rolls) and kaffeebrod (coffee bread). Each time the door opens the shop fills with enticing aromas – including caramelised sugar, buttercream and freshly baked dough – and the sound of clanging pans mingles with the buzz of conversation and the chink of china plates.