Alexander Nordling of Stockholm gallery Nordlings is one of Sweden’s leading dealers of vintage Nordic design. He talks to Effect about his passion for discovering the unknown story behind an object, and for giving Swedish design the worldwide attention it richly deserves.
Despite growing up in a family of architects, Swedish vintage dealer Alexander Nordling wasn’t always interested in design—to him, a chair was just a chair regardless of how it looked. It wasn’t until he began working at his aunt’s Stockholm thrift store, Nordlings, which had been founded by his grandparents in 1973, that he began to understand the magic of good design. “I noticed that people would pay vastly different amounts for, say, two blue vases,” he recalls. “One would cost 50 krona and the other would cost 500 krona, but people were more interested in the expensive one. I realised I was missing something and soon became obsessed with design.”
Nordling continued to foster his understanding and newfound passion for design at his aunt’s store, and took over in 2007. With a change in ownership came a change of focus for Nordlings. He sold off all the old inventory to pay for a renovation and transformed the conventional thrift store into a design gallery with a focus on 20th-century objects, and later jewellery.
Today, Nordlings is located in an expansive 400-square-metre former garage on Danderydsgatan in Stockholm’s Östermalm neighbourhood, a street often called the city’s most beautiful. The showroom, which is open by appointment only and led by a small team that prides itself on personal customer service, bears few traces of its industrial past, and instead is something of a love letter to 20th-century Scandinavian designers, both renowned and lesser known.
Danish design has been world-renowned for a long time and you have huge names in Finnish design. We have amazing Swedish design too, but it’s not as well known yet.Nordlings founder Alexander Nordling
“We sell only Nordic design, but for me, Swedish design is the most exciting,” says Nordling. “Danish design has been world-renowned for a long time and you have huge names in Finnish design. We have amazing Swedish design too, but it’s not as well known yet. I think we have been a big part of introducing more Swedish design to the world and discovering the fascinating stories behind it.”
Swedish architect-designer Hans Bergström, for example, is one of Nordling’s favourite designers, and Nordlings has a larger collection of his lighting than any other gallery he knows of; and he regularly offers rare pieces from architect and furniture designer Carl-Axel Acking.
One such treasure that recently made its way to Nordlings is a pair of oak and red leather lounge chairs that were originally made in very limited edition for a Swedish hotel. Nordling acquired both the objects and their story from a collector in the south of Sweden. “When I started 15 years ago, these names were relatively unknown internationally,” he says. “Now, they are really famous.”
While Nordlings stocks pieces from the 1920s through to the 1970s, there’s an emphasis on pieces from the 1950s and ‘60s. It’s an era that celebrates the quality and modernist aesthetics that Nordling appreciates, as well as a new expression for everyday furniture. He is also fascinated by Swedish design created during World War II and the period immediately after. “Sweden was neutral during that time, and so there was a lot of Swedish design created when the rest of Europe had a limited production,” explains Nordling. “The pieces from directly after the war are very joyous, happy pieces that symbolise a belief in the future.”
I want people to find beauty in an accessible way, pieces that can fit into everyday lifeAlexander Nordling
This idea of joyous design complements Nordling’s belief that good design is the kind of design that elevates the everyday and brings warmth and comfort to a home: “I want people to find beauty in an accessible way, pieces that can fit into everyday life,” he says. This combination of aesthetic beauty and effortless functionality is something he believes Swedish designers have an affinity for, and it’s an approach that is fast becoming more popular with buyers in Sweden. According to the dealer, Swedish design has been leaving the country over recent decades at an enormous rate, but he has recently seen a growing appreciation for homegrown design. “More and more people in Sweden are starting to appreciate that what we have is very special,” he explains.
Testament to Nordling’s passion for the pieces in his collection, each object that comes through the Nordlings showroom is carefully brought back to life in the on-site workshop by the gallery’s restorer, Nicko Krüll, with the aim of preserving the original vision. Take, for example, the mid-century timber inlay cabinets that arrive in the workshop so sun-bleached that they appear monochrome. By the time they reach the showroom floor, the original colour of the timber has been restored to its former glory.
Alongside furniture, lighting and home decor, Nordlings also stocks an extensive collection of mid-century modern jewellery. Nordling became fascinated by the bold expression of vintage Nordic jewellery when he exhibited at a design fair in Stockholm alongside a jewellery-dealer friend. At the end of the fair, he bought everything his friend had remaining and began to find his own pieces to sell.
In the end, whether it’s a dressing table by Axel Einar Hjorth, an Argenta vase by Wilhelm Kåge, a Pago floor lamp by Pepe Fornas, or a strikingly graphic Olof Barve bracelet, there’s one thing that unites the objects found in the Nordlings showroom—a powerful story. Nordling finds it even more exciting when it’s the story of a lesser known designer, which allows him to contribute meaningfully to the greater understanding of the work he is so passionate about.
“When I started out in this business, I was very driven by the deal making, and the buying and selling was what I found exciting,” says Nordling. “That goes away with time, however, and you need other things to get excited by. Today, my driving force is finding rare Swedish pieces and discovering their stories. When I was 20, I had a new sense awakened, and that continues to grow. I am not getting blase about these pieces—rather, I’m developing more of a connection to the pieces and the stories behind them.”
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