Who knew I would have the pleasure of meeting with Swedish design royalty at his home and workshop to share his life’s work over dinner? Due to a special opportunity as an ASID Board Member, I was able to be a part of a quick and beautiful boat ride through the Archipelago, then off through the woods to meet Åke Axelsson. ⠀
Åke Axelsson has a long experience in furniture-making. At an early age, it was clear that he had a talent for craft and was sent to summer classes in cabinetmaking. In 1951 he graduated from Visby School of Woodwork and went off as a journeyman to work in Munich.⠀
Back in Sweden, he studied furniture and interior design at the University College of Arts and Crafts and Design (Konstfack) and soon set up his own office. Interior design has been the primary profession of Åke Axelsson, but it is the designing of chairs that have been his great passion.
In the early 1960s, Åke Axelsson designed his first chair for Gärsnäs. It was the beginning of a significant and lasting collaboration that has resulted in many design classics and new models. Their philosophy is based on long-termism, sustainability and that the details make up the whole.
As the main designer and co-owner of Gärsnäs, he is a strongly engaged in preserving industrial knowledge in the country. At the age of eighty, however, he felt the need to take one step further: ”In the Sixties, I dreamt of making and selling my furniture directly to the customers from my own workshop – but I was being too romantic and it didn´t work at that time. Today, with my own webshop and a team of young independent cabinetmakers, this dream is coming true.”
As I reflect on all of our interior design factory tours in Sweden, Gärsnäs was truly on the top of my list. One of my favorite furniture pieces in their line is, Madonna, named after a saint and a pop star, “she” is a tribute to the Italian Chiavari chair, uniting and personifying classic and modern in a piece of craftsmanship in beech.
Beyond meeting Åke, I was also able to meet lovely members of his family, his staff and his incredible design team at a private dinner where they shared the furniture pieces they have made for the company. We also toured his innovative factory and personal workshop to see where all the magic happens.