Bold as Brass:
Skultuna x The Line
by Thomas Sweeney
Photographed by Jonathan Hokklo
For a country whose design aesthetic is inextricably linked to strictness and achromatism, Sweden is, perhaps surprisingly, home to a decorative-arts company with one of the most colorful histories. Called Skultuna, after the lakeside town where it was founded, it is a brass manufacturer that has been purveying heirloom-worthy objects for the world market since 1607. And while the company may be one of the oldest in the world, its contemporary offerings—conceived by a roster of internationally celebrated designers, including GamFratesi, Richard Hutten, and Claesson Koivisto Rune—are anything but fusty nods to the past. As Skultuna’s chief account executive, Josefine Hjärpe, explains, “The focus is timeless design with a clear link to our 400-year-old brass-production heritage. The goal is to make tomorrow’s antiques.”
Founded by King Karl IX of Sweden, Skultuna was originally conceived as a bulk-brass foundry to minimize imports of the alloy and to increase revenues from exports. The town of the same name, located 65 miles from Stockholm, was the epicenter of the venture due to a brook that offered consistent water power, an abundance of trees for charcoal, and its proximity to the copper mine of Falun, which, at the time, was the largest in the world. Though the initial focus was production of non-decorative rods for German and English clients, Skultuna quickly developed a domestic and international reputation for its ornate chandeliers.
The most important production techniques we continue to use are sand-casting, pressure-die casting, and metal-turning and spinning. The surface is worked with blasting, sanding, grinding, and brushing techniques until a golden, mirror-like finish is reached.Josefine Hjärpe
By the late 19th century, Skultuna had become fully committed to decorative arts, mostly to accommodate a housing boom in Stockholm. In 1895, the designer Carl Hjalmar Norrström was hired to create items in classical and neoclassical styles, and later Art Nouveau. (One of his baptismal fonts, which won the gold medal at the 1900 World Expo in Paris, can be seen at Skultuna’s company museum, an international tourist attraction located on the foundry site.) But it wasn’t until the 1960s that the company began crafting objects in the sleek, quasi-minimalist style it’s associated with today. “When Pierre Forssell was employed as an in-house designer, that’s when we started to work actively toward developing a contemporary style,” says Hjärpe. “His pieces, including the tulip candlesticks we still sell, have been some of the most influential and recognizable.”
Forssell’s shift toward Modernism, which gave his objects a cross-cultural appeal, propelled Skultuna to partner with more and more contemporary designers—a strategy that continues robustly today. “Our philosophy involves reaching out to leading designers, both local and international, to do collaborations,” says Hjärpe. “We’re also open to designers reaching out to us with their ideas of how to create new, interesting pieces using our production techniques.” Available at The Line, for example, are spun Karui trays by the Copenhagen-based duo GamFratesi, starkly elegant candleholders by the Dutch designer Richard Hutten, spherical Boule vases by Olivia Herms, and an oak-handle dinner bell by Olof Kolte, who was once awarded an Utmärkt Svensk Form. The silhouettes may be variegated, but each object possesses a certain functionality, and gleams candlelight-style from Skultuna’s proprietary blend of copper and zinc.
Exclusive to The Line is a three-piece set of bead-shaped vases, developed in collaboration with the store’s in-house lifestyle collection, Tenfold. “They’re inspired by a set of vintage vessels that had been curated through Collected by The Line,” says Hjärpe, who took part in the creative process. “I fell in love with them, and the collaboration proceeded from there. The resulting vases are both sculptural and functional, and each is crafted by metal-spinning, one of the most important techniques used to produce Skultuna products.” The vases, adorned with a co-branded engraving, make as much of an accent when dispersed as they do when grouped together, which gives the appearance of a gilded abacus.
The collaboration is just one example of Skultuna’s commitment to finding inspiration from disparate sources, and to presenting its time-honored approach before new audiences. But, Hjärpe says, for every Skultuna exhibition at Maison et Objet or for every Wallpaper* award collected by its designers, quality is what ultimately keeps the company an industry leader. “The golden, shimmering brass we’re known for is a unique mix, and our craftsmanship is of the highest degree. Even after so many brass factories have shut down, we’re still standing—400 years later.”
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