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”I feel like whatever I do, I can’t do it halfway”

Since launching in 2016, Swedish textile and furniture brand Magniberg has intrigued the industry with its new take on interior, introducing influences from fashion, midcentury architecture, and traditional allmoge. Magniberg co-founder Bengt Thornefors has a long track record as a designer at Acne Studios, Hope, Ganni, Sunflower, and Saint Laurent Paris. Fellow co-founder, Nina Kim Charlotte, has a background in floristry and graphic design. Here, editor-in-chief Konrad Olsson speaks to Bengt Thornefors and his longtime collaborator Martin Gjesing, cofounder of Space Magazine and creative agency Moon, about their recent Magniberg exhibition at Bukowskis in Stockholm, how to build a new type of modern lifestyle brand, and the future of interiors.

In conversation with Martin Gjesing and Konrad Olsson
Photography Fredrik Pettersson

Nyköping, Sweden

KONRAD — To begin with, I’d like to hear your take on the world of interiors, because to me, it has stagnated. And Magniberg stands for something new — a new direction, a new take on interiors that marries the old with the new, and fashion with interior. Was this part of your thinking when you started Magniberg? To challenge the world of interiors?

BENGT — I’ve always been a person who liked to challenge myself. It started from the idea of expressions, and I guess it’s linked to how you dress. When I was a kid I couldn’t really afford the things I wanted, so I had to go to Domus where I grew up. Do you remember Phärner? You couldn’t get Reeboks, so you got Phärner instead. I remember turning it around and feeling confident by wearing Phärner instead of the Reeboks I couldn’t afford. It started from there… a certain attitude to see the potential in things. I think the idea of Magniberg is actually an ambition to inspire the market, and if you aim to inspire, you need to question the market. The world of interiors needs to understand that everything does not have to be perfect. For example, what is good taste? For me, new design does not have to exclude the eldery. Magniberg is a brand with a viewpoint from a wider perspective on Scandinavian heritage. It is born out of an aesthetic idea to present Scandinavian living through new sets of eyes.

MARTIN — Working as a creative agency across fashion, furniture and design, you can see how far the interior and design world are behind the fashion world, both in terms of brand awareness and the initiatives that they do around this. When we started Moon five or six years ago we kind of realised that the world of interior was five to eight years behind the fashion world. We meet that a lot when we work with interior clients. They get afraid of people from the fashion side. The paradox is that the end consumer is right where the fashion world is right now, because that is the modern consumer and the millennials. You need to challenge the interior world because they’ve stagnated for years behind this kind of evolution of design and fashion, where everything’s melting together. That’s what’s interesting with Magniberg — it doesn’t have a past in the same way, which makes everything easier. You can just make it up as you go along. There are no restrictions to what we can do when shooting products or communicating the brand.

K — When you came on the map in 2016, you were a textile brand.

B — We still are. My background is from textiles. I have a lot of knowledge about textiles. Through my design career I’ve been like a ”ghost writer” for brands such as Saint Laurent Paris, Acne Studios, Hope, and Ganni. But it also goes back to my childhood. I think the ugliness of things can actually set you in a state of mind where you think: ”Can I make something beautiful out of this?” When I grew up, we had these bed-linens in colours such as baby blue and faded black, and somehow a yellow pillow. I mean, who has that? I grew up in Högdalen, a suburb south of Stockholm. We often used to go down in the basement with my mother, where I had to help her fold the laundry. Looking back at what I do today, it somehow has a connection.

K — To your childhood?

B — Yes. Our design and brand language are linked to many personal things. I bring with me all the good things from growing up in Högdalen. It’s an area that was invigorated by architect Sven Markelius’ contrasting ideals of abc social architecture. The architecture was quite cubistic. There was an energy there which formed my aesthetics. There was this mix of people, some had a bit of trouble, others were doing well, everything was represented. You had a bit of both worlds and that made me dream of living in a villa. I grew up in a home where there was an emotional idea about a chair. To live with it. We had a summer house, a typical red cottage — that aesthetic, together with a pair of Adidas track suits, is something I grew up with. The clash between Swedish allmoge and Adidas, there is something beautiful in that.

K — I think by now, people have realised that Magniberg is more than just a bed linen company. Previously, I think some might have viewed it as a side project. Did you know in the beginning that you wanted to do a full line of furniture?

B — Yes of course, I always see things holistically. And hopefully we’re going to do some other things as well… The bigger aim is to create a brand that brings a Scandinavian youth energy within the world of interiors. What we’re trying to create is a movement, a brand movement. Which is a big word, but you need to say it to aim there.

K — That’s one of the things that’s so inspiring about this. To me, the world of interiors has exploded so enormously in the past 10 to 15 years, with new brands and new magazines and these large events around the world. Naturally, when that happens, something becomes mainstream and there’s a certain type of aesthetic that gets a hold of the culture and becomes leading. Then you get these sort of spinoffs… these brands that only adhere to this ruling aesthetic. What you guys have done is — and I think this goes for the work you do with Space Magazine as well, Martin — you contradict that. That can be perceived as elite or perhaps challenging the norm. How do you see it?

M — It might be.

B — In a way, yes. But I would like to mention that we are not elite. We are very humble people who work hard. We see things differently and are often ahead of things. I am well aware that this is not always the easiest way to do things. But I see that other brands have studied our work and that is in a way flattering. It means we have a voice that others follow.

M — The main thing is just to do it on different levels. One of our biggest clients, that we do all the image material for, have a million plus followers on Instagram. For them, we do very commercial pictures, still with a kind of a progressive mindset. That’s what we bring into a conversation when we start looking at how we shoot for Magniberg — we want to do stuff that feels intriguing, but still, we want to sell a product. We do it in different ways, obviously. That’s kind of what we bring to the conversation.

B — If you want to inspire, you also need to be questioning the market. That might take time, but I feel like we have to. It’s the only way to do it. That’s where I come from. That’s what we have in common, even though you, Martin, have a more commercial view on things. But both of us are more commercial than people think.

M — I guess it’s part of the universe.

B — Yes, it’s a brand universe.The people that know about Magniberg at the moment are most likely well-oriented in the world of fashion and art. We have an audience coming from there, but we aim to do interiors. If you look back at our first look-book, we decided to include antique furniture from designers and architects like Axel Einar Hjorth, Carl Westman, and Eliel Saarinen, pieces which we borrowed from Paul Jackson, a dealer in vintage design. This, combined with flowers and our bedlinen, was shot in an art gallery and I am sure this made people curious. But most importantly, they hopefully got inspired.

K — Tell me about the name Magniberg!

B — Magniberg as a name is from Nyköping. It’s actually the name of our house, a building from 1769 where old carpenters used to live with their families. It where me and my wife Nina founded Magniberg. She has brought an organic feeling to the brand from her time as a florist, something that’s essential to our DNA.

K — Why is Nyköping so important to you?

B — Nyköping is where the iconic historical furniture company Nordiska Kompaniet produced a lot of its designs at NK verkstäder throughout the 20th century; something is very inspiring. It is also the city we moved to 11 years ago after a period in Berlin. For me and Nina it was important to understand more about how people live their lives in smaller cities. Not just to see things from a Stockholm point of view. Don’t misunderstand me, we love Stockholm. But there are other places in Sweden and other parts of the world as well… During my years working with international brands like Saint Laurent Paris with Hedi Slimane, followed by Ganni and Sunflower from Copenhagen, I have always stayed in Nyköping. And they had to accept that I live here with my family. I think they kind of liked it. It gave them a sense that I dared to give them real honest answers. People in fashion are often so scared about their position, so they mostly say yes… I often brought my family with me during these years of travelling. So we got the best from both worlds. And in the end, Nina and I have our platform here, where we can see the world through calm and clear eyes. There are also other reasons: the walks to the train station, the city view, the library with interesting interiors, and the old gymnasium where we spend time with the kids.

K — So, it is a source of inspiration as well?

B — Yes. One of the reasons why we made the steel furniture is that there is a lot of architecture and city planning in Nyköping that reminds me of Högdalen. Our furniture producer, OH Eriksson & Söner, is a well-known cabinet maker, located just 15 minutes from our home. They also produce for Svenskt Tenn. The CEO, Åke, is 84 years and has so many stories. We often end up hanging out there for hours. He says he knows more about Josef Frank furniture than Josef Frank did himself.

K — You recently had this huge exhibition at Bukowskis in Stockholm, where you showed your full range of products. It was bed linen, the wooden furniture and the all-new line of steel furniture, and then you married your work with pieces from Bukowskis.

M — It was amazing to be able to look into the archives of Bukowskis. It’s not that often that you’re allowed to pick and choose from any century and with no boundaries in terms of categories of design. What’s interesting with that, and what the outcome ended up being, is that Chinese porcelain then seemed very interesting next to a very strong design element in some of the furniture, and the balance of having flowers and textiles sitting next to the new cast iron furniture. Basically, without having a full A—Z plan for the exhibition, what it ended up being was very dynamic, with both high and low and soft and hard. It’s like a square and circle, all these different elements, all of which is within the design aesthetics of Magniberg. b — We are inspired by neoclassicism, a time and style where you look at classical elements and translate it. We like to use conservative elements, and recreate them again. Neoclassicism is like a beating pulse in our brand. The brand language also takes cues from the likes of Robert Mapplethorpe, David Hamilton, Carl & Karin Larsson, Bettina Rheims, and Wolfgang Tillmans… It’s worth mentioning that the Qing dynasty porcelain is something I grew up with. My mother used to bring me along with her to Bukowskis hammer auctions when I was a child and we often studied the Chinese porcelain.

K — One of the things that was striking about the exhibition was that you had prints from fashion photographer Casper Sejersen, you had ceramics from other designers, and there were elements of fashion in there. Some coats, and the signature cowboy boots. To me, this speaks to this collaborative aspect of what you do, and there doesn’t seem to be any real boundaries. You are not exclusively a furniture brand, or a bed linen brand, or a fashion brand…

B — You can compare it with other home textile brands. Take Lexington or Gant or Ralph Lauren. I don’t think that’s far apart from what we do. We just do it in another way. We created a brand universe. Ralph Lauren is good example of how he built an American dream through a physical universe. We aim to present a brand with a Scandinavian heritage combined with our personal aesthetics. This is what we did at Bukowskis. For instance some of these objects and furniture pieces I actually bought from Bukowskis earlier in life and brought them back for the exhibition. And yes, we like Cowboy boots.

M — The typical crowd that go to Bukowskis might be slightly older. But because it was during both Fashion Week and Design Week, we had a clash of people. It was super interesting to see some of the more senior people that came. Suddenly they would see an image from Casper Sejersen, where you would have the bed linen on fire, or you would have it hanging over a traffic sign. Just seeing them study those images, it was completely different from how a fashion-oriented person was seeing them.

K — How?

M — Just that they would look at it differently. They would look to kind of interpret it, and not just kind of eat it up with the same pace as a young person coming in for Fashion Week looking at it. That was some of the really interesting feedback, it was a very mixed audience. That audience gave a lot of elaborate considerations on the whole thing. It kind of ignites new things all the time. Whether cowboy boots and Chinese porcelain and flowers and burning bed linen might seem confusing to some, I think, for us, it makes sense. It also makes sense to not have a clear read on all the projects. Because hopefully, that means that you are more intrigued and interested. We’re not trying to be difficult, we’re constantly optimising and discussing what we can do. That hopefully means that Magnusberg becomes an interesting world to follow. At least it’s fun to work with. As long as it’s not boring, then we’re not bound by convention.

B — For me, the most interesting thing was the feedback we got from the older audience, the people with more experience. It was very positive. We shouldn’t forget that they have lived longer than us, so they can put things together in a different way. When I meet older people, I learn from them, they have certain things to tell.

K — Do you feel like the exhibition at Bukowskis has set Magniberg up for a new direction?

B — In my opinion, what we did at Bukowskis was actually a gathering of what we had done since the very beginning. We just showcased it on a bigger scale.

M — It was also a way of getting people up to speed, because a lot of what we have done hasn’t necessarily been seen by people. This was a way of handing it over to a wider audience.

M — What was amazing about the exhibition was that Bukowskis gave Magniberg free hands to do a lot of things. I think it is a lesson learned for Sotheby’s and all these other institutions, how to attract a new audience and to communicate with them. Because usually these auctions are mainly targeted towards an older audience with more spending power. The only thing is, their spending power is shifting and the younger generation are actually the ones that’s going to buy their products.

K — I want to talk about designing the actual products. What does that process look like?

B — Basically, a lot of it goes back to the path. Again, it’s like, me personally, I’ve always been surrounded with allmoge, this Swedish rural, folk aesthetic. I feel very linked to it, because the products are there to be used. I guess it’s the same with the clothing. You use them, and I think it’s the same with furniture or home textile. If you buy a Magniberg product, you should be able to use them, and that’s linked to allmoge. It’s like matching a pair of tailored suit trousers with your favourite worn in t-shirt. It’s about finding a balance. That contrast in itself is luxury to us, we offer a wardrobe. It’s like when you buy a shirt — you don’t just buy the shirt but rather the energy and emotions that are tied into it. That’s what we wanted to do; bring emotions into the home.

K — How do you translate that into a product? Do you draw them?

B — Yes, we draw, cut, color and visualize things both in our heads and physically. But first of all, the product is actually Magniberg, the brand. When you buy a physical product from Magniberg it is filled with emotions, which I think it’s very important to say. The fact that we meet our seamstresses and suppliers is built into our core values. Our products are strong enough outside of our brand dna, they are first of all great products. They are well made and handcrafted in Portugal and Sweden. But if you buy a product from Magniberg, you also buy something more than great fabrics and great craftsmanship.

K — Where do you draw inspiration from, in terms of the aesthetics.

B — Allmoge is a major source of inspiration. If you look closer, a lot of things have a path from that. We have a many important historical architects and designers from Sweden. If you look back at the period from 1900 to the 1950’s, that’s where actually a lot of things happened out of Sweden. People are becoming more aware of the great designers and architects from this era. For instance Axel Einar Hjorth, Uno Åhren, Carl Westman, Sven Markelius, Björn Trägårdh. We are transparent with the fact that we have studied the work of Axel Einar Hjorth and David Rosen for NK Möbler. And I am sure they studied Swedish allmoge. And Karin and Carl Larsson were ahead of their time.

Just look at how they lived their lives, today we see them as a source for inspiration. In parallel to that, we draw furniture based on things we see during our daily life, architecture and objects we have been and are surrounded by. For instance the cubistic ”funkis” buildings here in Nyköping and Högdalen. Things such as a small squared bus stop made of stoneware bricks. The metal mesh that you often see around a football field and industrial spaces. Or the white church building from the 60s that we pass on the way to our kids school and daycare. What we do is a type of allmoge, going from 2016 and forward…

M — The design aesthetics of Scandinavian furniture design over the last years has been very round, organic, and kind of soft. Even if it might not be fully the plan from the beginning, usually new initiatives are provoked by the status quo, what’s out there. In terms of doing something that is different from what’s out there on the market, the design aesthetic of Magniberg is also something that’s very different right now.

K — You work as a fashion designer as well. What do you bring from your work with the fashion industry?

B — The fashion industry has always managed to add emotions to the products and present it to wider audience. A shirt from Comme des Garçons is filled with emotional values that you bring with you on your body. To me, luxury can be a washed jersey together with Egyptian cotton and mother of pearl buttons. It creates a balance and is in line with what we are inspired by. A washed black t-shirt may not have been considered luxury, but to us it is. I often draw parallels with the wardrobe, it does not just consist of everything that glimmers. You want both the tie, the shirt and the fancy trousers. But also the t-shirt. Today, our time is precious, therefore experiences are luxury. It is as part of the privileges we have in this part of the world. We try to teach our children that if you buy something — appreciate it. We sell that energy through Magniberg. Quality is not just about how long it lasts, but what emotions that are linked to it. If you go back to my time at Acne Studios, I was surrounded by people who had this vision. Interior is lacking that.

K — So you think there is a chance to change people’s view on interiors?

B — Our generation wants to be touched on several levels and that’s where the idea of furniture and bed-wear arose. The approach that we bring to our work is similar to what we used to do in fashion. Take the bed-wear — it’s akin to clothing but for interiors. We looked around at our friends and noticed that they didn’t really care about what they were sleeping in though they spend a lot of time in bed. It made sense for us to translate our vision into something that’s such an integral part of daily life. We wanted to present home textiles in a new context, giving people the opportunity to combine textures to give it a more personal energy — in that sense, what we offer is a wardrobe.

K — What’s the difference between doing fashion and a piece of furniture?

B — It’s really the same process in my head.

K — Even if you work for a fashion company that’s not your own? It must be different from Magniberg because it’s your own creation.

B — In a way, yes, but I feel like whatever I do, I can not do it halfway. If I work for somebody, I can only do it as good as I would accept it for myself, because I think you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror. Martin and I have that in common, That’s also one of the reasons why we work so well together. You’re never better than the people you choose to work with.

M — I like that.

B — Very often, I meet people who are so talented, but I also feel like they’re scared of other talented people. If your voice is strong enough then you can work with other creative minds.

M — From our point of view, we like to work with people that have strong opinions and strong projects. That’s the interesting thing is in this project, it’s both a combo of Moon and me and Bengt’s friendship. For us it’s about supporting and enhancing and following the journey, and helping the journey of projects and processes and products along the way as well, so they hit an audience. For me, that’s the end goal for all the projects we do. That’s the fun part — taking it to the audience and to the end consumer. I come from a very commercial background in fashion and we worked with selling products. That’s what’s interesting for me doing eclectic projects. Our ambition is to take things from A to Z and with Z being the shop floor.

That’s what’s interesting.

B — For us, working with Moon, and Martin particularly, is a great thing. Working with other minds is fun and inspiring. There are a lot of people who helped us create the brand, and I’m thankful to them all. They are all part of this family that is Magniberg.

A rare Bengt Thornefors photo with eye contact. Wearing a tailored coat, a Magniberg sample, and black jeans from Sunflower.
Bengt Thornefors, founder of Magniberg.
The town hall in Nyköping, a source of inspiration for Magniberg.
Magniberg Bream Armrest Chair with Nyköping hospital in the background.
Mesh metal window cover in the kids’ gymnasium, ”a source of inspiration to our furniture”.
Entrance to The Town Hall in Nyköping.
Magniberg Wallstreet duvet cover in the Nyköping City Library.
Magniberg Pony chair, in Swedish pine and granite, in the supermarket.
A bus stop made of stoneware bricks on the way to Skavsta Airport.
A 60’s church: ”We pass it every day on the way to school and daycare.”
Nina Kim Charlotte in the kids’ gymnasium.
Magniberg Swedish Pine stools Cat in stained pink and stained yellow, at Nyköping harbour.
Bengt carrying Magniberg Nude duvet cover in washed orchid pink.
The old gymnasium.
Magniberg Herring chair in black lacquered metal and mesh.
Duvet cover Nude and a tailored coat.
Entrance at the gymnasium. Cottage Cushions.