In an increasingly standardized world, there is a growing call for original and unique items. The designer rug is one of the phenomena that can fulfill this need. Thomas Sandell, a leading Swedish architect who both designs rugs and international interiors, often uses of rugs in interior designs.

The designer rug has quite an established history in Sweden and across Scandinavia. From the 1930s, artists and architects were designing rugs for specific projects — for example, architect Gunnar Asplund designed special rugs for Gothenburg City Hall when it was built in 1937.

The search for, and acquisition of, designer rugs is a growing trend, and a number of designers are rising to international fame. Sandell cites Jaspar Morrison, the English rug designer. Also, he claims, a number of high profile people are starting collections of designer rugs — the fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld among them.

But why designer rugs?

Sandell believes having all parts of the interior environment designed in a consciously integrated and coherent way, with specific values in mind, clearly adds value to an interior — and a rug after all, can be a large and highly visible part of any space.

As a designer, Sandell explains, it is tough for him to say whether his rugs are specifically Swedish in nature. “It is much easier for people outside a culture to see similarities between the designs of people from one particular culture,” he suggests. “But it must be evident that all designers are influenced most by the values of their own culture, and by the natural environment in which that culture exists.”

International appeal

Whatever the cultural background of his rugs, Sandell's designs certainly have international appeal and his company — Sandell Sandberg, a partnership with Ulf Sandberg whose background is in the advertising industry — is currently engaged in a number of projects abroad, specializing in office interiors.

“We are carrying out an interior design for over 100,000 square meters (1,076,426 sq. ft.) of office space for the EF corporation in Boston, Mass. And then we are also working with the Internet company boo.com which has offices in New York, Munich and London. This company particularly wanted to have a consistent interior design in all three office sites.”

Overlapping disciplines

Sandell suggests his business is in many ways a combination of an architecture practice and an advertising agency. “There is an area in which these two disciplines overlap, for example in retail design and in the design of corporate headquarters that reflect corporate values and corporate image. This is very much the same principle that drives organizations to adopt a company logo.

The quality and consistency of the office interior is something that attracts people to the company — not least the employees — and the design forms part of the company's corporate communication.”

This thinking is very much in line with the philosophy of Sandell Sandberg's crossover between the worlds of architecture and advertising. It's not a new concept: IBM was using these techniques back in the 1950s.

Custom designs

A major recent project where Sandell was involved, illustrating this awareness of corporate design communication, was in designing the interior for Ericsson's new offices in London.

Here he used versions of the rugs he designed for Kasthall (the leading house for Swedish designer rugs).

“Everything in the physical environment communicates something. Architecture in many ways is the business of guiding the interpretation of this communication.”

Ericsson bought an office building in London in the late 1990s to relocate a financial department and departments for the Mid-East and Africa to London. Sandell Sandberg was involved in the contract to design the interior, which included a certain amount of re-building. For example, a new atrium was added. A special company was established to carry out this contract.

Inspiration

Sandell selected two of the rugs he designed for his collection with Kasthall for this project — one of which means ‘Outer Islands’ in Swedish.

“The design was inspired by Stockholm's outer archipelago. Anyone who has flown over this in the summer time knows what a spectacular site this is — one of the largest archipelagos in the world.

The different colors of the different islands are represented in the design of the rug, and the black dots convey the sense of seabirds flying between the islands.”

The other rug Sandell used on the Ericsson project was inspired by ice skating, says Sandell. “The lines across the rug [white on grey-black] can be seen as the tracks of ice skates across one of Sweden's frozen lakes in winter time.”

This particular rug, at Ericsson's London office, measures 8 metres by 5 metres (86.11 feet by 53.82 feet), and is used in a lounge just outside the board room. Sandell was given no specific brief by Ericsson about the themes or values of the design, but clearly both rugs very much represent pieces of Sweden for a very Swedish company relocating to London.

Appropriate anywhere

Another project for Sandell's rugs is in a designer hotel, the Birger Jarl, (open June 2000) in central Stockholm. The property is one of the new trend of designer hotels being opened around the world, and its market is controlled by premium pricing. The design is intended to be essentially Swedish. Sandell has decided to use the Sk⃤r design again in some of the larger guest rooms but this time in different colors — pink lines on a white background.

Steve Minett, PhD and Chris Taylor are Swavesey, Cambridge, UK based writers.

Sandell's story

Thomas Sandell was born in 1959, and after a formal education studied for his architect's qualifications from 1981 to 1985, at the architecture department of Stockholm's Royal Institute of Technology. After qualifying, he was employed by one of his professors — Jan Henriksson — in his architectural practice, where among other projects he worked on the new national bank building. He was also a member of the consulting group for the rebuilding of the Royal Library in Stockholm. In 1989 Sandell set up his own practice in partnership with Ulf Sandberg, whose background covers the advertising industry. The many projects Sandell Sandberg has worked on include interiors for advertising agencies, restaurants, furniture design and retail design. In 1995 the company was involved in the interior design for the new museum of modern art in Stockholm, completed in 1997. Ulf was also involved in interior design for the Swedish parliament in Stockholm. Sandell has won numerous awards for interior and furniture design as well as for more ‘conventional’ architecture. He is an assistant professor at the Stockholm Architecture School, and a teacher and guest lecturer at a number of design and art colleges in Stockholm, and one in Copenhagen, Denmark. Sandell is a board member of three design architecture organizations. Since 1996 he has been on the board of the Beckman school of design, and chairman of the Swedish Association of Architects.