• Magnus Englund of Skandium

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Q&A: Magnus Englund

The co-founder of Skandium on changing tastes, young designers and why Scandinavian interiors aren’t all minimalist

Interview: Ellie Costigan
Portrait: Joseph Fox

Your background is in fashion—what brought you to the world of interiors?
I set up a store in Stockholm in 1991 which was kind of a reverse Skandium, in that it sells British menswear. I moved to London with Christina Schmidt, co-founder of Skandium, in 1995. At that time Christina was a successful fashion photographer, but we were both a little fed up with the fashion world and were increasingly drawn to architecture and design, particularly the 1930s Scandinavian classics. There were also a lot of new designers coming out of Scandinavia. Looking around, we realised there wasn’t really anyone in Britain that was representing that.

What’s your role?
I’m chairman nowadays, so I do less of the day to day firefighting and more long term planning, but I also have a hands-on role in product selection. So the more fun part, really!

You set up shop in 1999. Has Skandium changed much over the years?
Scandinavian design doesn’t stand still. In the world of interiors, 16 years is a very long time. The wider trends change a lot. In the last three or four years, for example, we’ve seen a lot of marble, copper, brass, and at the moment there are a lot of deep greens and blues. That’s been picked up in Italy and to some degree in Britain, as well as Scandinavia.

What about your customers?
The British public have definitely changed. They have much more knowledge than when we started. We can bring in fairly obscure pieces and we have customers out there who will understand and appreciate them. When we started it was like we had landed from another planet. Even people like Arne Jacobsen, Fritz Hansen, Aino Aalto, big designers, classics, we had to explain who these people were. Our customers were mainly retired architects. Now there’s a new, younger generation who are really interested in design.

What do you look for in a designer?
It’s really just a gut feeling. If we don’t personally like it, we probably won’t buy it in. What you see in store is the taste of our non-executive director Christopher, Christina and me. That’s the beauty of running a design store—what you can’t fit in your living room you can have in the shop. We very much buy with our hearts.

You often feature lines from up-and-coming designers...
Yes, in fact sometimes we are the only people representing them in the UK. We’ve been a stepping stone for lots of smaller brands to get into the UK market. We get a lot of pressure from Scandinavian designers for us to feature them. If you’re a Scandinavian designer and you’re not in Skandium, there’s probably a reason! 

Are there any you particularly like at the moment?
Oh wow, there are so many! There’s a big movement in Denmark at the moment—right now it’s the most exciting of the Scandinavian countries. Copenhagen has become the centre of design. When we started it’s where the least was happening, because they were so dedicated to the classics. Now there are lots of new, young designers popping up, and the designs are very much contemporary. I can’t put my finger on a particular designer, which is a good thing in a way. It’s a whole movement.

Scandinavian design is often described as minimalist. Do you agree with that description?
To talk about Scandinavian design as though it’s one entity is not really accurate. Danish design is quite Japanese-y; quite minimal, whites and woods with very little colour. Danish design is much warmer, you can see they’re closer to the continent. They tend to use darker woods, more colours, softer shapes. Marimekko, the Scandinavian textile brand, is famous for its colourful wallpaper and prints. So it’s a little bit of a cliché.

Any decorating tips?
London properties tend to have smaller rooms—if you have lots of money you might have many rooms, but they’re still small! A common mistake people make is to buy large, Italian leather sofas, which actually make the room look smaller. We have a range of two-and-a-half seaters, which will help the room breathe. Often they’re cheaper, too.

Wall TVs are not our favourite, either. They are not a nice focal point. If you want a big TV you should find a way to hide it, behind a cabinet perhaps. I think adding colour is an affordable way to transform a room: maybe just by painting the chimneybreast in a contrasting colour, or wallpapering one of the walls.

The other thing I think looks good are little tables and side cabinets. It’s not always about the big pieces. But make sure it’s something functional that you can live with every day. I think that’s a very Scandinavian approach; it has to be functional as well as beautiful.

So after 16 years in the business, are you still enjoying it?
Meeting with designers, visiting production sites, going to furniture and glass-blowing workshops, is just amazing. People today think objects spring out of a far-away factory, from a machine, but the pieces we sell are glass that’s been blown in Europe next to a furnace, chairs that are handwoven with wicker in Scandinavia. To see it in action puts a completely different perspective on the pieces. But also, when I walk into the store and I see something is not right, I have to move things around. It gives me such satisfaction to see these objects in such a beautiful surrounding.