A small design studio in Stockholm
Jonas Wagell is a Swedish architect and designer born in 1973. Wagell’s studio JWDA was founded in 2008 and is based in the Hornstull area in Stockholm, but his recent collaborations reach as far as China, Taiwan and North America. The studio’s work is known for simplistic playfulness and clever compact living.
Jonas Wagell is trained in graphics and print, marketing, product design and architecture at schools including Konstfack, Beckmans and Berghs in Stockholm and Parsons in New York City. In addition, he has a seven years work background in strategic project management and communication.
Today the studio’s architecture work is mostly known for the prefab house concept Mini House which early was recognized by Wallpaper* Magazine which named him one of The world’s 50 hottest young architects in 2008.
More recently the studio designed an extensive range of small cabins for sauna and well-being in collaboration with a Swedish house company and Finnish performer, writer and sauna enthusiast Arja Saijonmaa.
Wagell started his design career in 2008 by founding the in-house design label Hello Industry and the prefabricated house concept Mini House. Today however, the studio’s work is focused on furniture and product design as well as art direction for Scandinavian and international clients.
Awards and merits
2015: Wallpaper* Handmade Milan in collaboration with Kettal
2014: Belgrade Design Week, keynote lecturer – watch lecture here!
2014: Elle Decoration Swedish Design Awards, Lamp of the year
2008: Wallpaper* Directory, “World’s 50 hottest young architects”
2008: Swedish Chamber of Commerce London, “Innovation Award”
2008: 100% Design London, First Prize “100% Futures Competition
What inspired you to join the world of design?
When I was 20 years old I studied graphics and print in my hometown in Sweden and got an internship with an advertising agency for a few months right after working in the atelier. This was a whole new world opening up to me and I loved the creative atmosphere. I’ve must have been doing something right because although I was lacking experience, I was offered a job as a project manager. Seven years and 150 projects later, after establishing a company office in Stockholm and conducting part time studies in strategy and communication, I suddenly found myself stuck in development. Despite a successful career, I decided to go back to school and find my roots with design. I got in to Konstfack in Stockholm and studied interior architecture and furniture for the following five years.
What was the founding idea behind starting your own studio JWDA?
Just a few days after receiving my Master degree in interior architecture and furniture design I started working for an architecture firm here in Stockholm. It’s a great office with exciting projects and fun coworkers. Nevertheless, after some time I started to long for the hands-on approach that is involved in creating products and furniture. I missed building mock-up and models and to see an object develop from sketch to physical form.
Working with furniture more or less requires you to start you own business, since there are very few practices in Stockholm – or in the world, really – that are big enough to hire furniture designers. Moreover, I had seven years of experience running an independent project group in a similar design field, so starting up a small business was a comfortable thought.
Does your graphics knowledge have any impact on your designing process?
The fact that my interest for design and architecture started with graphics has definitely shaped my approach to design. The most frequent words I’m using to describe my work is probably clean and simplistic. I use these words with the intention to describe something that is simple and clear, but with a sense of refinement and quality. I have realized other designers understand these words better than many consumers and therefore I will try elaborate on the meaning.
When I studied graphic and print in the 90’s it was considered a means of communication. Since then, the clear and simple have always been a preference to me, since it promotes understanding, intuition and functionality. In my opinion, the purpose with simple form is not be scarce or stylistic, but to enhance a strong aesthetic expression.
When I started studying architecture 10 years later everyone was talking about minimalism, but I believe only a few truly grasped the full meaning of the word. Architecture and design with reduced, minimal form often becomes poor and weak, since it lacks character and personality. I believe in simplistic form that is reduced from clutter and unnecessary details with the purpose to communicate and emphasize something else, such as a function or a beautiful form.
Between furniture and interior design, which do you enjoy more?
I’m really passionate about both disciplines, but two years ago I decided to focus on design rather than architecture. It’s very difficult to get time to do both successfully as a small design studio. Also, I believe there is a truth to the saying that you need 10,000 hours to be really good at something. Becoming a good designer surely requires talent, but also hard work, practice and plenty of time for mistakes to achieve some sense of experience.
Furthermore, from a business perspective I think you need to focus and be committed, otherwise it’s difficult to get the the most challenging and rewarding projects that will bring the business forward.
Tell us the concept of your Mini House design project!
Mini House is a prefab house concept that started as my Master project in 2007 and continued in collaboration with a Swedish house company. It conceived a small house with customized interior with bathroom, kitchen, beds and storage on not more than 15 sqm (approx. 160 sq ft). Mini House was presented as a response to a change in the Swedish building code and was really designed for the Scandinavian market, but to my surprise proved relevant far beyond the Nordic boarders. >>>
At the time, the concept had a rather unique approach to look at architecture as product design in the sense that the buyer should be able to choose interior solutions and functions among a few perfectly customized add-ons. Solutions for a compact kitchen, a bathroom unit, bunkbed and storage unit and more was available.
As a pioneering project in this domain of compact living and sustainability it was early noticed by Wallpaper* magazine which included me in the listing of “the world’s 50 hottest young architects” in 2008 and since then the project has been included in a tenfold of architecture books and countless magazines. In fact, it’s still possibly my most renowned project.
JWDA Concrete lamps, JWDA Metallic lamps and JWDA Pendant Lamps – share your thoughts on this series!
The latest addition to the JWDA range is the pendant lamp which is a development of – or is literally a twist on – the Concrete and Metallic table lamps introduced in 2015 and 2016. The inspiration for the lamps lie in materiality, rather than form, and is an exploration of the contrast between the fragile, shimmering glass and the raw expression of concrete and metal.
Turning the table lamp version into a pendant requires some technical modifications, but visually we have simply turned the lamp up-side-down to let it hang in its cord. Keeping the concept simple adds some cleverness to the product.
On a practical level the pendant lamp will provide dimming of the light by turning the knob on the base, just like on the table versions. This is really practical and a rare function on pendants and it correlates back to the original inspiration of traditional oil lamp.
When designing products and furniture I am mainly concerned about creating products with good proportions and refined form and to create objects that will work and be relevant for many years. I always try to reduce details and search for the essence of a form or concept. Through this process with many small amendments a strong character will eventually emerge.
The JWDA lamp range has been a lot about materiality, which is not common for my work. I typically refrain from conforming to specific materials or colours, as I believe good form must be justified without specific coating or surface finish. However, for the JWDA lamps the concept is based around contrasting materials, delicate and raw. This idea persists between the different version.
Give us some details about the newly launched Pod Chair.
When we were asked to create a small and affordable chair for Zaozuo in Beijing, we wanted to originate to concept on the tradition of the Scandinavian “Pinnstol” (translates to “stick chair”), a simplified Windsor chair typology. This chair is typically made of solid wood with tapered legs and a back made of “sticks” pierced into holes in the seat.
For Pod Chair we have started from this concept, but we wanted to simplify the expression even further but using a solid back, giving the chair a clear and graphic look. The form is reduced to three essential parts; the round and curved seat, tapered legs which attaches directly below and the slightly oversized back which seemingly balances on the edge of the seat. The simplified – almost naivistic expression – is made possible with a steel reinforcement bracket integrated between seat and back, providing the chair with a light, friendly and unique expression.
What type of projects can we look forward to in 2017 from you?
In January 2017 we are releasing the second collaboration with Design Within Reach in the US, the Jonas Sofa Collection. It’s a full seating range and something I’m very excited about. During the last year we have also been commissioned by the new design brand From the Bay to do brand strategy, art direction and design of the first range of furniture, lighting and accessories which will be released during the year.
In addition, I’ve been working on new projects for Menu and Normann Copenhagen in Denmark as well as some new work for Swedish clients and currently we’re working on a sofa range for a new Italian client. It’s really fun and exciting times!
What kind of message do you want to deliver thorough your design?
I don’t have a political agenda with my design, my focus is to create beautiful and timeless objects that people hold on to rather than throw away or replace. 99% of everything that is manufactured is poorly designed, so there is plenty to improve.
As a product and furniture designer this is something you have to consider and think about all the time and not just for specific objects. You have to consider which type of products you design, which clients/producers to collaborate with and how (if) you can affect which factories/manufacturers your clients work with and if this is a sustainable process.
In a long-term perspective, what is your ideal image as a designer?
I believe I have matured as a designer, with experience and age, but my approach is really quite simple. I try to create beautiful objects that have a unique aesthetic expression and are not depending on trends, but can be justified, used and appreciated for many years to come. I’m drawn to the ordinary and simple, rather than the extraordinary and extravagant, but put a lot of emphasize on form and proportions.
Where does your inspiration come from?
I find inspiration in many things not immediately connected to design, like food, travelling and music. Essentially, inspiration is not something direct, but rather an abstract force that generates creative mood, ambition and drive.
However, on a more direct level I’m deeply fascinated by craftsmanship and industrial manufacture. I find the process of refinement very inspirational, how a simple piece of wood or plastic can take on a form which suddenly emerges emotions and affections. Cutlery or glass are good examples, where the materials are the same but can become so much more with consideration to form, craftsmanship and attention to detail. In fact, this can be applied on many creative expressions, such as photography, painting or cooking. This is the essence of design for me.
Could you briefly describe the biggest challenge in your design career?
It takes time and effort to become a good product and furniture designer. Talent is a requirement, but experience only comes from practice, trial and error. I believe the biggest challenge as a young, unestablished designer is to stay true to yourself and establish your own personal aesthetics, instead of following trends and short-term concepts and expressions.
Could you tell us what is characteristic with your design work? The material, technology, social responsibility, etc.
I’m really not very interested in technology, at least not in the visible sense. I like what it can provide, but prefer to conceal it. For instance, the JWDA Metallic lamp for Menu has a dimmable halogen or LED light, but I wanted an analogue dimmer switch to mimic the intuitive functionality of an oil lamp. I always try to create simplistic and clear objects, reduced to its essentials. In my opinion technology can create great functionality and provide solution for good design, but technical products almost always disappoint me aesthetically.
In my design work I try to reduce unnecessary details and clutter, but not reducing to nothing. There is always a reason – a problem solving involved. I strip off fuzz in order to bring out the essence of a product. To highlight an expression or function.
Regarding one of your latest projects, could you explain the main concept?
The last two years I have designed a number or pieces for the new Chinese brand Zaozuo. The fifth and latest product to be released is Pod Chair, a simple wood chair based on Nordic traditions, but reduced to its essential parts. The chair is small and minimal, but has a clear and graphic expression.
This typology of traditional Scandinavian chairs originate from the Windsor chair and is entirely made of solid wood. The thick seat and has holes for round wood legs at the bottom and a number of wood rod create a backrest. The create a light and clear expression Pod Chair has seat and back of thin laminated veneer and is attached with an integrated steel reinforcement bracket. The solution is rather technical, but the chair appears simplistic and has a clear and graphic expression.
Do you have a favorite product which could be considered a milestone in your design career?
Three quite different project come to mind. My first break-through product was a porcelain tea set for Danish company Muuto in 2011. Another more recent project is the JWDA lamp range for Menu which was first released in 2014 with new versions the following years. The third project is a complete sofa range I have created for Design Within Reach in North America which will be released in January 2017. It has been a great project to work on and I feel excited to see how it will be received on the US market.
Have you ever reached out to other countries for your business? Please give us some example!
Since I started my design studio in 2008 I have strived to work with a wide approach to architecture and design. This is surely not the fastest way to grow a business, but the opportunity to learn about new markets and industry and apply our design approach in new contexts is fascinating and a great learning experience. Today our work includes everything from tableware, lighting, furniture, upholstery to small houses, interiors and art direction. This also means we have established a wide range of clients geographically. The last three years the studio has started collaborations and designed products and furniture for new clients in Europe, America and Asia.
In order to reach new experiences we sometimes approach a specific company, but most commonly today we receive requests for collaboration from new clients around the world.
What’s your opinion and expectation of approaching the Chinese market? What is your major concern?
The Chinese consumer market is young compared to Europe and USA which means there is a huge business potential without such fierce competition. In business development rhetoric you talk about delivering the “right quality”, meaning just high enough for what is expected. This is the right thing to do from a business perspective, but perhaps not from an ecological and sustainable point of view. Since the Chinese market is developing in such a rapid pace it’s a concern that this will cause a massive, unsustainable “throw-awayism” in search for something newer and better.
Describe your most recent project and how it was made.
It’s always difficult to say which project was the most recent since they always overlap and the time from idea to market can vary from 12 months to three years. Having said that, one of the most recent to be launched is a wine carafe and glasses for German company WMF. I suppose my work is known for being rather playful and colorful which is quite far from the classic and elegant expression of WMF. As a designer it’s a challenge to find a middle ground, to adapt to a new context without losing your own personal DNA. I received the final factory samples last week and I feel really happy with the result. It has been a long process stretched out over almost three year, but now finally, the first parts of the range will be launched at Ambiente in Frankfurt in February 2015, something I really look forward to.
Another project that I’m super excited about is a table lamp I have designed for Design Within Reach in the United States this year. I hope we will see the final product sometime early next year. Except for this there is also new project in development with Normann Copenhagen, Menu and more.
Describe your next project and how you’re currently making it.
For the last year or so I have been discussing opportunities with an American company with ties to Taiwan and with long experience of manufacture and supply the design field. We have decided to create a new small collection together with simplistic, functional and beautiful object. I will contribute with design, strategy and creative direction for the brand. It’s a great challenge that will require hard work since we are basically starting from scratch, but its great fun too! I enjoy this type of work since a big part is about communication, something I was working with for almost a decade before going back to school to study design and architecture. In that sense, the project ties together all my knowledge and experiences. We want the collection to have the optimism of the American fifties and the humble aesthetics of the Scandinavian north. However, at this stage it’s more about establishing a framework and strategic platform than hands-on design work, but we are planning to show the first small collection already next year.
Tell us one thing that’s been inspiring you lately and why.
The single most inspiring thing for me is to travel and meet new people. And it’s been lots of traveling lately. A couple of weeks ago I was one of the keynote lecturers at Belgrade Design Week. The organizers are famous for their generous hospitality and superbly arranged event. This year was no exception and for five day (with not much sleep) we took part of numerous great lectures and made many new friends from all over the world. And then last week I visited the Dutch Design Week in Eindhoven and the Biennale Interieur in Kortrijk in Belgium where I was also a part of the exhibition and book release “Scandinavian Designers at Work”. The book is portraying a selection of designers in their studios and focus on how they work and from where they gain inspiration.
I believe most designers are hard working and after a few years you kind of establish a specific expression and a personal way of working. Therefore, just meeting and hanging out with other creative spirits is super fun and a great inspiration. Inspiration is energy, and energy is everywhere!
Show us your studio and tell us what you like about it.
Well, the space is an old milk shop in the ground floor of an apartment building from the 1940-ties. It’s divided into three rooms with a quite office space with large shop window towards the street. Here, there is a soft grey carpet on the floor and low wall-mounted cabinets along one side covered with rows of books, piles of magazines and random paper mock-ups and prototypes. One wall is covered with sketches, ideas and drawings of ongoing projects and in the middle of the room there is a large table with computer work stations.
Two steps further down is the kitchen and meeting room. A dark blue cabinet wall covers one side of the space and contains fridge and all kitchen utensils, but also a big collection of colored paper sheets and cardboard, color printer, material samples, 3d printer and more. The whole room is painted grey including a zig-zag of tubes and pipes in the ceiling.
Next to it, with a window towards the back yard, is the workshop. It’s a tidy space with an overload of tools and gear properly organized in drawers and build-in cabinets. Timber slats and MDF boards are crowding a corner together with cardboard sheets, some furniture prototypes are hanging from the ceiling a few left-over cases of exhibition beer sits on top of a cabinet. Today, the work in the shop is mainly with paper and cardboard rather than wood and metal and the space is also used to store a small stock of the in-house Hello Industry collection piled up in neat stacks with colorful labels.
An interview with Jonas Wagell for Furniture Magazine.com
By Mary Gomes – Furniture Magazine.com, Feb 25, 2014.
How did you decide to become a designer?
I have always been intrigued by graphics, topography and graffiti since I was a kid. I studied graphic design and ended up working as a project manager for an event agency creating exhibitions. This was a great school for spatial design and communication. However, I wanted to develop more and after seven years went back to school to study a master in interior architecture and furniture design.
Tell us about yourself!
I’m productive and driven as a person and like to keep myself busy. Also, I’m freakishly organized which frankly is a bit in-productive at times. But most of the time I’m quite a nice guy. I like to run and enjoy good food.
How would you define your perspective of the profession as an industrial designer?
There is a tendency in the world to consume and throw away. As a designer you need to be contemporary and up-to-date, but not trendy. You need to create work that is relevant for more than a few years.
How do you keep up to the concept of sustainability?
Sustainability is something that has to be a prerequisite today. It’s not a trend. As a designer you have to influence producers to use sustainable manufacturing methods and materials. But it also about creating work that is not trendy, but has true long-term qualities and will stand the test of time.
How would you define your designs?
I want my products to be simplistic, intuitive and easy to understand. Perhaps this has to do with my relation to graphic design. I try to reduce unnecessary details and emphasize a function or main character, which often results in simple but expressful objects with soft shapes – and sometimes over-sized, playful details. I have come to call this a type of ‘generous minimalism’.
How long does it take to complete a product/design?
Of course, there is not just one answer to that question. But usually I find the idea process to be fairly quick. I tend to contemplate and process a concept for a while and when I finally have time to start several ideas come easy.
What are your future projects?
I have recently designed a lamp for a large American company and feel super thrilled about that. We’re going to China next month to review samples. Also, I have several ongoing projects with WMF in Germany. We’ve been cooperating since two year back and will finally launch the first product – a wine set – later this year. Furthermore, I’m involved in various furniture and products with Swedish and Danish companies, but also recently launched a range of tiny functional houses – Arjan Sauna – in collaboration with a Swedish house company. We’re re-launching a prefab house concept called Mini House this summer as well.
Tell us about a design that was very special to you?
As a designer I think it common that you are most excited about the new thinks. The products that you still have not seen finished. A have a lot in the making right now. However, my pendant lamp Cloud for Bsweden recently received Elle Decoration Swedish Design Awards – Lamp of the Year 2014. That’s nice of course!
When did the Jonas Wagell Design & Architecture studio form?
I graduated from Konstfack University College in Stockholm in 2007. I worked for an architecture office for a year and started my own studio in 2008.
Who are your favorite designers? Which designs do you like the most?
I really like the analogue and playful work of Ettore Sottsass. All things do not have to be functional. In fact, beauty is also an important function!
What is the relevance of awards in your life?
It is of course a pleasure and an honour to be awarded, but most of all it has relevance from a work perspective since it creates recognition and reputation.
Which product design has been most challenging for you?
One of the most complex projects to date is the prefab cabin range Arjan Sauna. Obviously, this is architecture, but my perspective has always been to look at the concept as product design with add-ons and customized solutions. Tailor made and turn-key. The concept appears simple but has been challenging to solve with regards to building code, production synergy, transportation restrictions and more. See the full range at www.arjansauna.se.
Tell us about some of your award winning designs!
The most recent was the Cloud pendant lamp for Bsweden in 2014, but also the prefab house concept Mini House from 2008 has received some awards including that I was named one of ‘the world’s 50 hottest young architects’ by Wallpaper magazine in 2008.
What is the most important aspect of designing?
I believe the most important is simply to create objects that people care about and crave for. That way things will not be thrown away so quickly, but saved and passed forward.
What inspires you?
It not looking at things really, which may have been logical. Actually, for me it’s about having time to do things I like. Travel, culture, running and food. When I’m relaxed and feel good I’m at my most creative spirit.
Tell us about a design that was recently launched!
I was selected to be part of a new exhibition called ‘Twelve – established Nordic designers’ during Stockholm Design Week in early February. I was previewing a range of new table for Swedish company Mitab, but also four new prototypes that we have been working on in the studio during the winter. These include a small table mirror, a desk lamp, a tiny LED pendant and a set of serving cutlery in plastic.