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A Swedish Design Duo’s Eclectic 18th-Century Apartment

By Aimee Farrell

In the living room, an E15 sofa upholstered in Kvadrat x Raf Simons fabric and a Marc Newson chair beside a Magniberg Wolf table.
 
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In the living room, an E15 sofa upholstered in Kvadrat x Raf Simons fabric and a Marc Newson chair beside a Magniberg Wolf table.

In a country house on the Baltic coast, Nina Norgren and Bengt Thornefors, the founders of the textile and furniture brand Magniberg, have made a home entirely their own.

For Nina Norgren and Bengt Thornefors, the discovery of Magniberg, a commanding 18th-century Swedish manor house with gabled windows and a traditional lime plaster facade, offered an answer to a very particular set of needs. In 2017, the couple, who had been living in Stockholm on and off for decades, were craving more space, and a change from their happy but increasingly predictable routine of socializing and working in the Swedish capital, Norgren as a florist and gardener and Thornefors as a designer at Acne Studios. “We love our friends,” says Norgren. “But everyone goes to the same restaurants and sees the same exhibitions. We needed something new.” They found it a little more than an hour away in Nykoping, a harbor city on the pristine southeastern Baltic coast with settlements that date back to the Bronze Age. Here, in a quiet corner of town, surrounded on three sides by communal gardens inhabited by deer and the occasional white owl, and bordered to the east by a forest of Swedish oak and silver birch, was the place that would inspire — and lend its name to — the home textiles and furniture company that the pair went on to establish in 2016.

“There’s a real calmness here,” says Norgren. “You can follow the seasons and easily escape into nature.” It’s this sense of retreat that has proved transformative for both their family and brand. “It’s our own Bullerby children fantasy,” Thornefors says, referring to the protagonists of one of the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren’s beloved children’s book series, which depicts a nostalgic vision of rural Scandinavian life. On a recent weekend, the pair took their sons, Antoni, 9, and Adrian, 6, on the short drive to the coast to ice skate and picnic on the frozen sea. In the summer months, last year being an exception, they’ve kept an open-house policy, welcoming friends for crayfish parties and impromptu sleepovers. Norgren is happiest, though, when tending the garden, which in full bloom teems with honeysuckle, sweet peas, dahlias and hollyhocks that she transplanted from the nearby open fields. There are also radishes, rhubarb, carrots and herbs. And cut flowers frequently find their way into the house — and Magniberg’s visual campaigns — filling vases by the Finnish midcentury designer Alvar Aalto and the contemporary Danish glass artist Nina Norgaard.

Pia UlinNina Norgren and Bengt Thornefors, whose textiles and furnishings brand, also named Magniberg, takes inspiration from their home.
Nina Norgren and Bengt Thornefors, whose textiles and furnishings brand, also named Magniberg, takes inspiration from their home.

Built in 1769 as a three-story dwelling for the owner of a nearby sugar mill and brickworks, Magniberg became a retirement home for local craftspeople and their families in the following century. Eventually abandoned, it fell into disrepair and remained that way until the late 1980s, when it was carefully restored and split up into a series of private homes. “This house is full of stories,” says Thornefors. “We’ve been told that a biker gang used to meet up in the basement.” Today, Magniberg and the small cluster of buildings around it are home to 10 families. Norgren and Thornefors’s 1,570-square-foot apartment comprises the second floor of the main house, as well as a guest room on the floor below.

At the far ends of the space are three spare but inviting bedrooms. A pair to the east belong to Antoni and Adrian, and a third, to the west, to Norgren and Thornefors. The communal living areas make up the center of the home and include, in addition to a kitchen and living room: a simple bathroom, modeled after the minimalist design of a Swedish public bathhouse with white tiled walls; a small office that doubles as a walk-in wardrobe, devoted in part to Norgren’s many Cecilie Bahnsen dresses and Thornefors’s array of cowboy boots; and a library, where a 10-foot-tall wall of black Swedish pine shelves house the couple’s large collection of botanical and art books.

Pia UlinIn the kitchen, a 19th-century Swedish stove is decorated with a glass vase by the designer Nina Norgaard. At the table are a pair of antique allmoge chairs the family inherited from Thornefors’s grandfather.
In the kitchen, a 19th-century Swedish stove is decorated with a glass vase by the designer Nina Norgaard. At the table are a pair of antique allmoge chairs the family inherited from Thornefors’s grandfather.

When Norgren and Thornefors first saw the property — they were staying with friends nearby and visited the building out of curiosity — the grand scale of this elegant enfilade of rooms was largely disguised by the then-owner’s garish patterned wallpaper and curtains. “Luckily, Bengt has a good eye, but I found it much harder to see the potential,” admits Norgren. “It has been a journey.” Rather than embark on an exhaustive refurbishment, the couple have adopted a slow and considered approach to decorating. “We really let the place take its time,” she says. After adding a soft soap finish to the uncoated Swedish pine floors throughout the home, they stripped back the thick layers of wallpaper in the living room to reveal plaster with a mottled, timeworn patina in tones of green and orange, gray and beige. “We thought about painting over it,” she says. “But 12 years later, here we are.”

They reimagined the rest of the rooms in a neutral palette and the resulting space has a tranquil, undone beauty that allows the home’s older details — such as the kitchen’s 19th-century cast-iron stove, and a stone floor in the hallway that was brought here from Nykoping Castle, the nearby medieval seat of Charles IX of Sweden, when the house was built — to set the tone for, rather than dictate, the rest of the décor. Indeed, what brings real depth to the apartment is the couple’s ever-evolving arrangements of objects and furniture, which tell the story of Sweden’s design history through a contemporary lens. They made their kitchen table, for example, by topping a set of slim dark wood legs, sourced from a nearby antiques store, with a circle of gray glass. Positioned around it are a pair of turn-of-the-century hand-carved wooden seats the family inherited from Thornefors’s grandfather and that were made in the traditional Swedish allmoge style, which emphasizes natural materials and craftsmanship. And beside them are two chairs from Magniberg’s own ultramodern furniture line, which the couple conceived as a comprehensive universe of pieces within which they could display the brand’s exuberant bedding (fabrics include a metallic poplin jersey that pays tribute to Pop Art, a pink floral Italian lace and high-quality linens and Egyptian cottons in a rainbow of hues).

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Thornefors compares this interplay of old and new design to a dance. And it’s one that continues in the sitting room, where the organic, undulating form of Marc Newson’s Orgone chair offsets Magniberg’s Horse chair, a jagged-edged throne cast in stainless steel, as well as seating by Sven Markelius, the influential Swedish architect and urban planner who designed the midcentury Stockholm suburb of Hogdalen, where Thornefors grew up. For him, a direct line can be drawn between Sweden’s folk art traditions and the purity and simplicity of Magniberg’s modern aesthetic. The brand’s furniture, which privileges striking materials such as granite and un-lacquered pine, is even created in the same local workshop used by the storied Swedish interior design company Svenskt Tenn.

“We don’t like to overdo things,” says Thornefors. “We prefer undesigned spaces that can easily fit with our own creations.” This hands-off ethos draws inspiration from Carl and Karin Larsson, the late-19th-century artist couple whose work and lovingly decorated cottage, Lilla Hyttnas, in the village of Sundborn, 140 miles northwest of Stockholm, were precursors to Swedish modernism. “We’ve been studying pictures of how they lived — the way they let things happen around them and allowed their children to just be around,” he says. The Larssons’s freewheeling, family-focused philosophy feeds into Magniberg’s latest collection of bedding, Candy Shop. A tribute to childish abandon, it borrows its buoyant, 16-tone palette from Antoni and Adrian’s tubs of crayons and Play-Doh. “We wanted to evoke that feeling of happiness that we see when they play,” says Norgren.

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Since the beginning, Magniberg’s influences have been eclectic. Early inspiration came from the contrasting fabrics in an image by the photographer Wolfgang Tillmans, and the couple — who met in 2001 while working at a Stockholm nightclub run by the Nigerian-Swedish pop star Dr. Alban (he was a bartender, she was a waitress) — hope to instill a fresh, unconventional energy into home textiles. “The bedroom is for so many things besides sleeping,” Thornefors says. “It’s a place to eat, read, rest, work, talk and have sex — it’s a highly emotional space.” The line became their primary focus last year, when Thornefors completed a contract working with Hedi Slimane at Saint Laurent in Paris, and since then the company has partnered with the Danish textile firm Kvadrat, which recently acquired a 50 percent share of the business and now handles their logistics and production.

Still, at the core of the brand is a spirit of experimentation, and an invitation to mix unexpected tones and textures. And this inventive approach permeates all aspects of life at the family’s home. Indeed, it is there that Norgren and Thornefors encourage their sons to test all their new creations. It’s the children, Norgren says, who “get the final word.”

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