An American friend who lived in Stockholm for three years described the Swedish aesthetic as "minimalism with stand-out, purposeful features and a focus on maximizing natural light." Photographer Paul Stolberg, discussing his and Christopher Makos' collection of Swedish scenes, Tattoos, Hornets, Fire, said the people were "cool," "progressive," "forward-thinking" and "enlightened," all adjectives that could be used as sketches of Swedish design, too. Another, design-specific summation says that Sweden's national look is "full of light and fresh air, yet restrained and unpretentious."
That last one comes from the website of IKEA, the home goods store that dispenses what Bill Moggrich, the director of the Cooper-Hewitt Design Museum in New York, called "global functional minimalism." He's definitely got the global right: according to brand ranking agency InterBrand, IKEA's $12.8 billion value makes it the 28th most valuable brand in the world, ahead of Budweiser, HSBC, and Gucci. (Fellow Swedish company H&M ranks 23rd most valuable global brand with a $16.59 billion valuation.)
But there's more to Swedish design than just IKEA's disposable wares. Mikaela Willers' royal vase above, for example, and colorful wooden boxes from Monica Förster. Both are included here, in a review of Swedish designers and shops that embody the simple elegance that makes the nation's style so universal.