Those who know Stockholm would most probably agree it is one of the most elegant cities on the planet. The streetscapes are elegant; the architecture is elegant; the fashion is simple, but elegant; the Swedes riding bicycles are elegant. Hell, even the tattooed hipsters are elegant. It’s a cool and very quiet sophistication that seems to have permeated the very DNA of the city, which glistens – elegantly, of course – across an archipelago of fourteen islands in the Baltic Sea.

If the founding of this particular brand of Swedish chic were to be traced back to any one individual, it would no doubt be Gustav III. Like most 18th-century monarchs, Gustav was a Francophile – so much so, in fact, that when he ascended the throne in 1771 he was not even in Sweden but at Versailles, imbibing all the gilded delights of the French court – a pared-back, Nordic version of which he would take, and recreate, in Stockholm. His reign was ultimately cut short when he was assassinated, at his own masquerade ball in 1792 but the light-as-a-feather, neoclassical style that came to bare his name – ‘Gustavian’ – has formed the cornerstone of Swedish style ever since.

What Gustavian was to the 18th-century, Swedish Grace was to the 20th when, for the briefest moment, architects and designers such as Gunnar Asplund and Axel Einar Horth expressed modern design – what came to be known as Art Deco – according to their country’s restrained, neoclassical heritage, resulting in one of the most magical design movements of the 20th Century. With such a rich heritage, which the Swedes seem to be particularly adept at nurturing, it’s perhaps no surprise that Stockholm is home to some of the world’s finest antique and 20th-century dealers.


When 20th Century Swedish design leapt elegantly onto the world stage at L’Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs et industriels modernes in Paris in 1925, its style was considered to be so graceful that it became known as ‘Swedish Grace’. One of the most exquisite, and indeed unique examples of this fleeting style was an Egyptian-inspired cabinet and pair of chairs designed by Carl Hörvik for the Swedish pavilion. Made in oak inlaid with other exotic timbers, the otherwise austere cabinet opens on pewter-plated hinges to reveal a resplendently gilded interior – in much the same way as Stockholm reveals itself to the visitor.

The Hörvik suite is just one example of rare Swedish design to pass through dealer, Andrew Duncanson’s hands since he opened the Modernity gallery in 1998. And while the vast majority of his sales are for export, this particular trio is destined, fortuitously, to remain in Stockholm, having been purchased for the Nationalmuseum.

“Our most recent sale was of a very rare and unique Josef Frank Flora cabinet to the Dallas Museum of Modern Art but we’ve also sold to MOMA, The Cooper Hewitt, SFMOMA and the Nationalmuseum here in Sweden,” reveals Duncanson, who began his career selling contemporary design in his native Scotland while collecting vintage pieces for himself. “When I moved to Sweden I realised there was a market for it and worked for one of the largest auction houses to gain a deeper understanding of Nordic design. I went from being a collector to opening my first gallery with my own collection; I had to deal with selling my best pieces, most of which sold on the first day.”

Modernity focuses almost entirely on 20th Century design from Denmark, Finland and Sweden although during my visit to their gallery on Sibyllegatan, in the centre of the Ostermalm design district, contemporary pieces by British designer, Ilse Crawford sat side-by-side with what is otherwise a richly eclectic array of Scandinavian design. Can’t find what you’re looking for in the gallery? Play your cards right and Duncanson may just take you to his Wunderkammer of a warehouse – think rare chairs by the elusive Dane, Peder Moos alongside chunky, Axel Einar Horth pine tables and other sexy, Scandinavian gems – located in an historic, early 19th Century stable complex just a few minutes walk from the gallery.


While the name ‘Jackson’ may be relatively commonplace in the Anglo world, when it comes to Stockholm’s 20th Century design scene it’s a byword for the superb. In fact, ever since Paul and Carina Jackson set up shop in the Swedish capital in 1981, their passion for, and collection of vintage Scandinavian design is internationally renowned. “A lot of attention is paid to patina and originality,” explains Paul Jackson, who describes himself as an autodidact on a journey of exploration. “Our inventory is primarily Scandinavian but also includes quite a lot of Italian lighting, as well as other design pieces by architects from different countries. After all these years, we understand what is rare and important in these areas.”

Jackson’s clientele stretches from the Swedish capital to France, the US, Brazil and beyond and includes museums, collectors and, according to Jackson, clients who simply want to buy a nice piece for their home. They are currently working on an acquisition to a museum in Hong Kong and have just sold an important brass inlaid pewter dining table and screen, commissioned from Svenskt Tenn in 1928, to the Nationalmuseum.

Three characteristics, according to Jackson, define Swedish style: a great neoclassical period from the 1920’s, detailed, quality craftsmanship, and the reduction of decoration. “The Danes are famous for their cabinetmaking but so are the Swedes. I think all of the Scandinavian countries share in their attention to quality and detail but Sweden is more famous for its textiles and hand woven carpets, such as those by Barbro Nilsson and Märta Måås Fjetterström, and certainly glass.”

And what is the difference, design-wise, between these Nordic countries that share so much culturally? “Denmark has a close relationship between the cabinetmaker and architect. Sweden, a country of great power in the past, shared connections with France through the royal family and this is definitely demonstrated in many instances of their design. Finland never had a monarch; their only monarch was nature, and it’s nature that predominates in Finnish design. I think this is a good description.”


Forty years ago, Leif Jansson designed for his own fashion boutique in Stockholm, often using antiques as props in the windows. Over time, there was more and more interest in the antiques et voilà – Svenska Rum was born. Located on the elegant Nybrogatan, Svenska Rum Antik specialises in exceptionally pretty, and quintessentially Swedish painted furniture. It’s the sort of place in which you just know you’re going to discover something wonderful, such as a pair of voluptuous, 18th-century bomb commodes or a wonderfully lyrical Mora clock – a long-case that takes its name from the town of Mora, in central Sweden, where the clocks were made during the Gustavian period.

“The late 18th-century is considered the peak of Swedish cultural life, mainly because of Gustav III’s connections with France,” Jansson explains. “But Swedish design has always kept its own unique character through its feeling for simplicity and natural materials and the need to bring light and warmth into the home. This, ultimately, is what defines Swedish style.”


Sjöström Antik is probably the most eclectic of the Stockholm dealers. In fact, while its inventory includes much Scandinavian design, from the elegant 1920’s right through to the classic mid-century period, don’t be surprised if you find some Willy Rizzo or Karl Springer, or even ancient-looking sculpture. It has a flair that feels decidedly international – one equally at home in London or Los Angeles. Proprietor, Johan Sjöström is drawn to pieces no one else has: “I like things that are big, strange and eclectic. We have some antiques, Some Swedish Grace and a lot of mid-century Scandinavian design. But what we’re missing here in Scandinavia is bold lighting so now I also mix in big and rare Italian lamps – the bigger the better.”

Sjöström began working in a second hand shop in a town outside of Stockholm when he was 19. Later moving to the capital, he had to spend his nights cleaning offices in order to work “without salary” in an antique shop during the day. He started buying pieces at flea markets to resell, and the rest is history. Does he have any advice for prospective clients or collectors? “Buy quality. Save money and buy one thing instead of ten.”


You could say that Mikael Skaj has ‘antiques’ in his blood. His great-grandfather, Filip Skaj fled Lithuania, then part of Russia, for Sweden at the beginning of the 20th Century and started the family business by riding his bicycle around the countryside looking for antiques. “His sons, Max and Simon took over the business and really developed it into what it is today,” explains Michael, the current custodian of Skaj Antikhandel. “They were both ambitious and energetic, also starting shoe and clothing shops. After a time, Simon took over the shops and Max, my grandfather, took over the antiques business.”

While the firm’s origins may have been humble, today, Skaj Antikhandel is slick and sophisticated: a pair of late 18th-century part-gilded, part-painted neo-Egyptian console tables rub shoulders with various versions of master furniture maker, Ephraim Stahl’s generously proportioned Klismos chairs – but – juxtaposed with contemporary art. “This is what I’m most passionate about – the combination of antiques and contemporary art, which is very much how I have it at home.” Skaj explains. “It’s important to live as one learns.”

He began working with his father, Curt in 1993, following his obligatory military service, “on horseback, guarding the royal castle”, a year at Sotheby’s school in London and a stint in Paris as a trainee at the auction house’s Impressionist department. “My education ended in Munich working at another auction house, Neumeister, and learning German.” He then took over the business from his father in 2006 and works with his wife, Louise who is now an integral part of the business. “We have international clients but the majority are from Stockholm. In fact, most of them live on Strandvägen, just around the corner,” Skaj explains as he points toward the city’s most elegant, waterfront boulevard. “The market has changed a lot: in the 60’s and 70’s we had the industrial leaders who were really big collectors and bought hundreds of pieces. Then in the 80’s it was the finance people who bought a lot. Now it’s shifted from collecting to home styling, but the interest is big.”


In 1924, a 30-year-old art teacher named Estrid Ericson took the small inheritance she’d received from her father and started a company called Svenskt Tenn, or ‘Swedish Pewter’, in which she made and sold modern pewter objects alongside established artist, Nils Fougstedt. Her timing was perfect: with great success at the Paris World Exhibition in 1925, where the Swedes won more gold medals than any other visiting nation (including one for Svenskt Tenn), and an exhibition of contemporary Swedish decorative arts at the Metropolitan Museum in New York two years later, design-wise, Sweden was set to take over the world. Ericson moved to larger premises on Strandvägen in 1927 and having expanded her repertoire to include furniture – and not all in pewter – her enterprise fast became the most fashionable interior design store in Stockholm. What’s truly amazing is that not only is Svenskt Tenn still going – it now belongs to the Kjell and Märta Beijer Foundation with all profits donated to research in the fields of environmental sustainability and biomedicine – it’s still at the same Strandvägen location.

If anything, however, formed the cornerstone of the company’s enduring success, it was Ericson’s four decade collaboration with esteemed Austrian architect, Josef Frank after he fled Vienna (Frank was Jewish) for Stockholm in 1933. The company’s archives include more than 2000 of Frank’s furniture sketches and textile prints, around 100 of which are in production today. Creative director, Thommy Bindefeld describes the current aesthetic as a continuation of Ericson and Frank’s work in combination with contemporary design, almost all of which is made in Sweden. “Very few companies today have the opportunity to stay so true to their heritage but we can, and must do this as we have such a unique owner that looks at the business with a very long-term perspective. It allows us to always put quality and craftsmanship first.”


Lundgren’s Antikhandel is a third generation family business now steered by bothers, Theo and Ian Lundgren who took over from their father, Bo in 1984; their grandfather, Carl Helge Lundgren started the business in the 1930’s. Although modest in size, their shop on Arsenalsgatan, on the Blasieholmen peninsula packs an elegant punch, hung with a kaleidoscopic array of the most magnificent 18th and 19th Century Swedish chandeliers. With the hours of daylight in Stockholm dropping from almost nineteen in June to only six in December, the concept of ‘layered lighting’ takes on a whole new meaning. “Anything you can put a candle in is very good in Sweden,” proclaims Theo Lundgren. “With six months of darkness, we need candlelight to create that feel-good environment.”

The inventory is predominantly 18th and 19th-century Swedish (and European) furniture, lighting, objects and art. “Over the last few years we’ve shifted away from furniture, instead focussing on objects such as gilt-bronze pieces, candelabras and candle sticks, chandeliers and decorative sculpture. We also have some pieces of Swedish Grace, from the 20’s and 30’s, which is very popular,” says Lundgren. “But it’s for our chandeliers that we’re well known.”


Visiting Polstjernan for the first time can be a rather dizzying affair: just as your eyes settle on one dazzling object, a host of others sneak into your periphery vision, confounding, so to speak, with their brilliance. A veritable jewel box of the finest French, Russian and Swedish antiques – interspersed with the odd wonder from England and Italy – Polstjernan occupies the ground floor of a late 17th-century palace also on Arsenalsgatan, between the Kunsträsgården, or Kings Garden, and the Nationalmuseum.

Mikael Madestrand credits his father, Lennart, who opened Polsterjeran in 1978, with his education. “I’ve always been around my father when looking for antiques as well as in museums around the world, and have always been interested in history,” he says. “I studied for a short period of time but I believe my father is one of the best teachers in this area. He taught me to understand what’s real, and not copied, and the different techniques used to form the best objects.” Swedish style, for Madestrand, is “simple and easy but sophisticated,” particularly from the late 18th Century. “Gustav III was extremely impressed by the French architecture and design of Louis XVI. He was largely responsible for the beautiful buildings and antiques we have here in Sweden, especially in Stockholm.”


With such an abundance of Grand Canal-like vistas, it’s easy to see why Stockholm is touted as the ‘Venice of the North’- a point surely no lost on German architect, Friedrich August Stüler when he designed the Nationalmuseum, which opened, to great fanfare, in the summer of 1866. While outwardly magnificent, with its ornamented, Neo-Renaissance façade, the building was in dire need of an overhaul. However, closed for the past five years for what has been its first, truly comprehensive renovation since 1866, the museum is once again set to open its doors and catapult, so to speak, into the 21st Century. Windows have been unshuttered for the first time in 150 years, allowing natural light into the enfilade of galleries, which have in turn been made over in the most exuberant array of sherbet-like hues – the perfect, romantic-yet-contemporary background for the six centuries of treasures contained within the museums collection of more than 700,000 works.

The Nationalmuseum reopens on October 13 with an exhibition of paintings by John Singer Sargent.


Occupying a majestic Art Nouveau building that was once an all-girl’s school, the quietly luxurious Miss Clara provides the perfect vantage point from which to explore Stockholm’s myriad of antique and 20th Century stores. Many of the hotel’s 92 rooms feature high ceilings, parquet floors and large curved windows, typical of the period, overlooking one of the city’s most cosmopolitan boulevards.