When they founded design studio Front, Swedish designers and university friends Sofia Lagerkvist and Anna Lindgren set out with an ambitious wish list. Now, 15 years later and having ticked off an impressive number of items, they are planning to go back to their roots of self-initiated projects.
by Alyn Griffiths
Sofia Lagerkvist and Anna Lindgren are very excited, because they’re about to tick off something from their bucket list. It’s early April 2018, and the two designers heading up Swedish studio Front are preparing to present a collection of prototypes for Vitra at last month’s Salone del Mobile. For many designers, working with the revered Swiss manufacturer is a career-defining achievement – and it is something Front targeted from the very beginning. “When we started out, we made a wish list of things we wanted to do which included exhibiting at MoMA and working for Vitra,” Sofia Lagerkvist tells me on the phone from Stockholm. “At the time, some of those things seemed almost unachievable – but happily, we’ve already done many of them.”
It’s taken over a decade and plenty of hard work for Front to reach these dizzy heights. The group started out as a foursome, established by Lagerkvist and Lindgren along with Charlotte von der Lancken and Katja Pettersson. The four friends met while studying on the industrial design course at Stockholm’s University College of Arts, Crafts and Design (Konstfack), from which they graduated in 2004. Beginning with self-initiated projects, they gained a reputation for experimental products that often told a story about how they were made or the materials they were made from. Notable works included one project for which the designers assigned part of the design process to animals, computers, or explosions (the Design By series), while the innovative Sketch collection combined motion-capture technology with 3D printing to produce functioning furniture from free-hand sketches.
It was around this time the list Lagerkvist refers to was compiled. It would have been hard to predict then that their work would eventually be collected by institutions such as MoMA, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Germany’s Vitra Design Museum, and the Centre Pompidou. Pettersson and von der Lancken left the group in 2009 and 2014, respectively, to work on their own projects – but despite Lagerkvist living in London for much of the past decade, the two remaining founders have continued their collaboration. “We spent a lot of time on Skype,” Lagerkvist says. “We got really good at knowing what things we like in common, and developed a way of describing things that we both understood, even if we were not in the same room.” The duo have been reunited since she returned to Stockholm in 2017.
Collaboration has always been central to Front’s way of working. At every stage of the creative process, ideas are bounced back and forth until there is a consensus on the right direction for further exploration. Good communication is also key when it comes to the designers’ relationship with clients – especially now that the studio is often working on as many as 20 projects simultaneously, for a variety of manufacturers, local authorities, institutions, and charities. “When you find people you work well with, it’s a pleasure to develop things together,” adds Lagerkvist. “Doing really high-quality work with good people has become more important to us than just trying to build up a great CV.”
Fortunately for Front, the studio is now in the privileged position of being able to select which clients to collaborate with. It has tended to choose more experimental brands, such as Moroso, Moooi, Established & Sons, and Materia, which afford the designers the freedom to explore their singular direction. Ahead of the Salone del Mobile, Front was also looking forward to presenting a project for a Danish brand called Really, which transforms discarded fabrics into new materials. The company is partly owned by textile giant Kvadrat – another firm Lagerkvist and Lindgren have had their sights on for several years. Front was among a group of designers and studios selected to develop a product using the company’s Solid Textile Board. Front’s contribution is a wardrobe with a pair of undulating doors resembling draped fabric. “We wanted to make an object where you can see it comes from textiles,” Lagerkvist explains. “It’s as if the material has gone back to its origins.”
Front’s new pieces for Really and Vitra retain the playful and narrative-led sensibility that has been a consistent factor since the studio’s earliest projects. In addition to the excitement around the unveiling of these latest collaborations, Lagerkvist reveals that, in the coming years, the studio will also be focusing more on self-initiated projects alongside its client-led work. The outcomes are likely to be gallery pieces which, she says, will allow them to work in a way that is less constrained by commercial pressures. “It’s something we’ve wanted to do for ages, but it’s hard to work on your own ideas when there are so many fun projects to do for clients. We can finally afford to spend some time doing research and developing ideas like we did when we first started out, with no clients and no brief. In a way, it’s as if we’ve gone full circle.”