Carl Malmsten (1888 – 1972) Swedish furniture maker

Ulriksdals slott. Vardagsrummet.
Ulriksdals slott. Vardagsrummet.

Carl Malmsten was a Swedish furniture designer. Inspired by Italian Renaissance and Swedish 18th-century forms, his work is typical of the new trends of the 1920s. He furnished the Stockholm Stadhus (city hall, 1916–23), the Stockholm Konserthus (concert hall, 1924–5) and Ulriksdal Castle (early 1920s), eschewing Functionalism in favour of crafted furniture in light or blackened birch decorated with intarsia ornament.

Education

Carl Malmsten studied at the Pahlmanns Handelsinstitut and Hogskolan, Stockholm in 1910. Between 1910 and 1912 he trained under the cabinetmaker Per Jönsson in Stockholm. Between 1912 and 1915 he furthered his studies in handicrafts and architecture under Carl Bersten in Stockholm. Malmsten said his teachers were two; Mother Nature and traditional Swedish furniture and interiors he saw in Museums.

Competition winner

Malmsten’s career took off when in 1916 he won both first and second prize in a competition to supply furniture for the ongoing city hall construction in Stockholm, hosted by the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design. The commission enabled him to open a workshop, and in the following years, he delivered many prized furniture suites to the Swedish Society of Crafts and Design exhibitions.

Cabinet with realistic inlay floral designs by Carl Malmsten
Cabinet with realistic inlay floral designs by Carl Malmsten. In The decorative arts of Sweden

He also wrote about beauty and comfort in the home in Ellen Keys’ spirit and co-operated with textile artists. In particular, with Märta Måås-Fjetterström whose carpets and fabrics in saturated earthy tones harmonised with Malmsten’s interiors.

Style

Malmsten is most famous for his unique handcrafted pieces influenced by the Swedish Gustavian and “rural rococo” style with modern, simplified elegance and function. 

Carl Malmsten | Chair | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Although Malmsten’s design for this chair refers to Swedish Gustavian-era neo-classical designs from the late eighteenth century, Munthe’s embroidered upholstery employs motifs updated from classical antiquity: the scepter-like Roman fasces—a bundle of rods bound together, symbolizing authority and strength in numbers—forms the center point for a trophy-like device with birds and flowers.

He pushed back against the extreme Functionalism of the rest of Europe, believing in the value of traditional craftsmanship in the spirit of Kaare Klint. Like Klint, Malmsten founded several schools and was an influential educator and mentor. His furniture was well made and durable and functional but exhibited a neoclassicism and less restrained expressiveness more typical of the Swedes rather than the Danes.

Recognition

Malmsten, in his later writings, had been recognised for his extensive luxury furniture and educational efforts. He started Malmsten’s Verkstadsskola (Malmsten’s Workshop School) in 1930 for the training of furniture architects and qualified cabinet makers.  

He was awarded and recognised for the following;

  • 1926 Litteris et Artibus Medal
  • 1945 Prince Eugen Medal
  • 1917 work shown at Blanchs Konstsalon exhibition in Stockholm
  • 1923 and 1956 exhibitions in Gothenburg
  • Swedish pavillion at the 1925 Paris ‘Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes’
  • 1939* ‘New York World Fair.’

His work has been a subject of a retrospective at the Stockholm museum.

Sources

Brunnström, L. (2018). Swedish Design: A History. United Kingdom: Bloomsbury Publishing.

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Hollingsworth, A. (2009). Danish Modern. (n.p.): Gibbs Smith, Publisher.

Mang, K. (1979). History of modern furniture. Harry N. Abrams.

Plath, I. (1966). The Decorative Arts of Sweden. New York.

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