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Studio Schalling showroom as seen in Effect Magazine

Studio Schalling on the joy of trading rare mid-century Scandinavian design

Swedish furniture dealer Claes Schalling, founder of Studio Schalling, specialises in finding and restoring rare Scandinavian mid-century design – and he artfully walks the line between passionate collector and dedicated dealer.

Just over a decade ago, Claes Schalling was an aspiring graphic designer working as a photographer for a furniture dealer in Malmö. Today, he’s the founder of Studio Schalling – one of Sweden’s most prominent dealers of Scandinavian mid-century furniture.

Schalling’s fascination with the furniture world began when he saw how the established dealer he worked for could drive to Paris and return with carloads of beautiful furniture to sell for impressive profits. So, when Schalling moved into a new apartment, he began scouring flea markets for vintage furniture of his own. During his search, he happened upon a pair of vintage chairs that he bought for €400 euros and quickly sold for €1000 – and with that, he was hooked on the thrill of flipping furniture. “It’s all about the love for the business,” he says. “It’s like dealing with stocks – you try to buy as cheaply as possible and sell it for as much as possible. I also get an ego boost when someone likes my products.”

Schalling’s graphic design portfolio website – which already bore the name Studio Schalling – was soon transformed into a platform for selling furniture. In 2012, when the business was in its infancy, showcasing furniture online in this way was still something of a novelty and Schalling saw an opportunity to differentiate himself from the major players in the Swedish market, such as Jackson Design and Modernity, which had been leading the way for decades. “I would have been so limited if I were only looking for clients in Malmö,” he recalls. “Because I was online, I had the whole world as my potential clients and we grew really quickly.”

Claes Schalling, founder of Studio Schalling

Within a year, Schalling was selling across Europe and the US, and he realised he could turn his newfound passion into a career. As well as selling directly to clients, he made a name for himself through wholesaling directly to other dealers, who were attracted by his keen eye for mid-century Scandinavian classics, from the distinctively joyful work of Austrian-Swedish architect and designer Josef Frank and the sharply realised minimalism of Danish designer Ib Kofod-Larsen, to the stalwarts of mid-century design such as Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, and Hans Wegner.

“I’ve created a niche for myself, and I do think it’s best to stay there,” he says of his focus on this period. “Most of the design produced in Scandinavia during the post-war era is very playful and also quite delicate and petite, with excellent craftsmanship and a wide appeal.”

Today, Schalling has retained the straightforward business model that first attracted him to the industry, but is now even more focused on quality over quantity. “It’s very simple,” he explains. “You buy, fix, photograph, publish, and wait for a client. Then, you ship it away. I enjoy the whole process. While in the beginning it was more about quick sales, now it’s about finding the best pieces that I possibly can.”

He stores his finds in two warehouse spaces – one for furniture and another for lighting, ceramics, and carpets – in an industrial building in Malmö, and has styled a 250-square-metre showroom for client meetings. “It’s also for myself – it’s a bit of a shame to have this kind of expensive furniture just sitting on a shelf,” he admits. “This way, I also get to enjoy it!”

It’s a very tricky balance to find between being a collector and being a dealer – but the buying and selling is just so fun.”

Claes Schalling, founder, Studio Schalling

He also restores much of the furniture he finds to its former glory, repairing the damage wrought by the years – which can be anything from scratches to seemingly devastating ink stains. The in-house restorer, who had been with Studio Schalling since 2015 and a good friend of Schalling’s for many more years, sadly passed away earlier this year. Since then, Schalling has been working with a freelance restorer and he hopes to bring one in-house again in the near future. “Restoration is a very rewarding process – particularly when something has been damaged,” he says. “To give furniture a second life is so rewarding.”

The Studio Schalling warehouse in Malmö, Sweden
The Studio Schalling warehouse in Malmö, Sweden

Alongside the mid-century pieces with which he made his name, Schalling has begun to buy more contemporary design work. A particular favourite is Swedish designer Mats Theselius, whose work is defined by its creative extravagance – think armchairs wrapped in patinated brass panels, or rare, limited edition easy chairs perched on sinuous legs that appear on the verge of wandering off. Although Schalling admits the contemporary pieces are a bit harder to sell, he enjoys working with pieces that he is personally engaged with.

“I love the craftsmanship, materiality, and interesting shapes of these pieces,” he says of Theselius’ work. “They have been selling at auction for almost 20 years and are starting to get quite a following.”

As Studio Schalling moves into the future, Schalling plans to continue to keep things as simple as possible. He hopes to grow his team and to take part in more fairs, but ultimately wants the dealership to remain a small business. As a self-described control freak, he also has no intentions of putting down the camera. “As a photographer, you need to have a good eye for what looks beautiful in a piece of furniture,” he says. “Understanding the furniture like that is one of the key advantages I have.” Another advantage is his dedication to the art of dealing. He recalls an artwork he bought in the beginning of his career, which he remembers as a stunning example of the concrete art movement, a form of abstract art that is free of any connection to reality or symbolic interpretation. Two years after he purchased it, he sold it through the Studio Schalling website. “I still wish I hadn’t sold it,” he says. “Nowadays, if I buy an artwork I think very carefully about whether I actually want to sell it. It’s a very tricky balance to find between being a collector and being a dealer – but the buying and selling is just so fun.”

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