Few designers were as devoted to the culture they were brought up in as Carl Malmsten was. A designer and architect extraordinaire, he spent his entire career promoting Swedish aesthetics.
Malmsten was born as Charley Per Henrik Malmsten in 1888. As a son of a prominent doctor and grandson of a royal physician, young Carl was expected to follow his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps. He was always an artist at heart, but agreed to continue his education in order to please the family. While doing his military service in Egypt, Malmsten started to suffer from health problems, which left him unable to continue. He used the time away from service to develop his artistic talents and understood that living to meet the expectations of other people wasn’t for him. When Malmsten returned to Stockholm in 1909-1910, he started an apprenticeship for a local carpenter. A year later, he started working in the architect’s office where he continued to educate himself about the craft. In 1916 he won both first and second prize in a competition for furnishing the Stockholm City Hall, which was his first major work. Shortly after, he married Siv Munthe, with whom he had five children.
Malmsten’s career started to develop rapidly. His works were exhibited in such notable institutions as Liljevalchs art gallery and Röhsska Museum in Gothenburg. This allowed him to get the attention of the Swedish public, which fell in love with his furnishings. The secret to his success was a great care put in every item as well as hiring the best craftsmen in the area. Some of his workshops are still active even today! He would often give the furniture characteristic names, inter alia Samsas, Hemmakvällar, Herrgården, Lata Greven och Jonas Love, which picked the interest of his vast clientele. Malmsten’s last exhibition, summing up the decades of his career was held in 1969 in Liljevalchs, when the artist was eighty years old.
Carl had something of a teacher in him and gladly gave lectures on his personal philosophy. One of the basic principles of his teaching suggested that child’s dreams and desires should be encouraged from the very first years of education in order to ensure later success in life. Initially he taught at Olof School and the Carl Malmsten Workshop, but in 1957 he bought a farm in Vickleby village on Öland where he started his Capellagården, a school which offers training in design of furniture and interior carpentry, textiles and ceramics.
As a designer, he was a strong supporter of the Swedish classicism movement founded in 1920. He rebelled against the idea of functionalism, the principle that architects should design a building based on the purpose of it. He even described it as “undistinguished, imported, anti-traditional style, mechanically dry and based on false objectivity” in his letter to the executive committee of Stockholm Exhibition in 1930. Malmsten’s works were profoundly influenced by the Swedish folklore and culture, which he actively promoted.
The designer died in 1972. His legacy was not forgotten and he still lives in the ingenious works produced in his workshops in Sweden.