This month I had the pleasure of visiting Iceland for the first time. And what better occasion could there be than DesignMarch, Iceland's annual design showcase event in Reykjavik?
I had no idea what to expect. I haven't heard much about Icelandic design. I've been so busy taking in the active design landscape of Iceland's prolific Nordic neighbors that I just hadn't turned an eye westward. Until now. And boy were my eyes opened in a really wonderful way.
Icelandic design is hard to categorize in a word or two. For one, there's hardly any wood- the defining material characteristic of other Nordic design. Iceland is largely a big barren rock. You don't see many fluffy green trees and cuddly things like that. Except maybe its Icelandic ponies, which do look pretty cuddly. (These pictures by Lisa Congdon, need I say more?)
There also isn't a long design tradition like you see throughout Scandinavia. Before 1998 when the Iceland Academy of the Arts was set up, there was no design school. Design as a discipline just wasn't much valued.
On top of that, Iceland is (to be blunt) a tiny remote island near nowhere; with an entire population that's about the size of St. Louis. So in terms of finding local manufacturers to make the brilliant things you design… well I guess you could say it's kind of a make it work kind of place.
Putting all of these factors together, what kind of design scene do you get?
A brilliant one! That's what kind.
The ideas I saw were colorful. Fresh. Sometimes a little off kilter, sometimes in an interesting way. Best of all, the mood of the place was like creative crack. The Icelandic designers I met were so excited to be designers. To be creating. To be doing what they loved. And it showed.
Here were some of my favorite discoveries...
1 - One of downtown Reykjavik's fantastic public artworks is this mosaic wall by Gerður Helgadóttir, finished in 1973.
2 - These fish necklaces were just one of many memorable jewelry concoctions by Steinunn Vala of Hring eftir hring.
3 - Papageno blanket by Vik Prjónsdóttir.
4 - Playful furniture by Krukka made of recycled pieces.
5 - Something Fishy play and model sets made from actual fish bones by Róshildar Jónsdóttur.
6 - Herdubreid mountain pillows by Markrún, named after Iceland's national mountain.
7 - Bended Sofa by Gulleik Løvskar. A new kind of office sofa to encourage creativity through stretching and lounging.
8 - Metamorphosis clusterable wall hooks by Anna Þórunn Hauksdóttir and Ingibjörg Hanna Bjarnadóttir.
9 - Keilir candle holders by Gu∂rún Vald.