Understanding the Style and History of Scandinavian Rugs

Rug & Kilim on the Past and Present of Swedish Modernism in Luxury Carpets

Modern Scandinavian flat weave
Our Scandinavian Kilim rug in the fabulous interior by Studio B.

Well beyond students and colleagues in the shared world of interior design and luxury flooring, Scandinavian style has become synonymous with an iconic aesthetic—a standard of vintage chic with modern appeal that took our field by storm almost a century prior—but we’ve often wondered how many beyond our circles know the history behind the phenomenon?

Often referred to by Josh Nazmiyal as “a new language in design” Rug & Kilim’s own Scandinavian Collection celebrates vintage and mid-century Scandinavian designs reimagined with our unprecedented textural diversity, a formidable Kilim line never seen in these spacious sizes, and an exciting departure from traditional geometry that simultaneously embodies the spirit of the original design. Delineated with varying pile heights and material approaches for tactile emphasis in each line, our Scandinavian rugs represent numerous fresh, refined patterns woven in a unique variety of yarns and classic colorways in a new level of refinement.

As a respected voice in the industry and a known speaker on the subject of Scandinavian Style, Josh has long expressed equal priority in sharing the significance and history of the collection with his colleagues and clientele as much as the ever-growing rug collection itself.

Rug & Kilim’s Josh Nazmiyal, right, speaking on the Scandinavian panel at The Rug Show in 2018.

The Names behind the Scandinavian Renaissance

Beyond the success the collection has enjoyed, the year’s Josh and his team have spent studying Scandinavian Modernism have been rewarding both in achieving the innovations to the style and learning to approach it as a movement more than an aesthetic: a movement beginning the patron schools and studios including that of Scandinavian icon Märta Måås Fjetterstrom.

Though the tradition of hand-weaving rugs in Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden stretches back centuries before her birth (Scandinavian rya rugs having been made since the 10th Century), it’s fair to argue from a cultural standpoint that the intersection of Scandinavian rug-making and Scandinavian design as it’s understood today was born in Marta Maas’ halcyon days.

Endearingly referred to her shorthand name among designers and neophytes to Scandinavian rugs alike, the 20th-Century prodigy of illustration and art instruction from Stockholm’s School of Industrial arts began with a small workshop in Bastad in 1919 and gained a name for herself for employing no shortage of distinctive elements in style: bold, bright colors, very cutting-edge abstract designs, a unique European long-fiber wool and a variety of techniques in her flat weaves, tapestry weaves and pile pieces.

Original Scandinavian Rugs, Textiles

To understand that the Scandinavian Rya and Rika rugs leading up to this era were profoundly influenced by the Ghiordes knotting process and the grand symmetry of Anatolian rugs and Persian rugs of the last hundred years prior helps in understanding that influence did not die with Marta Maas’ renovation of the style. Conversely, the transitional rug appeal and geometry that’s become synonymous with the Scandinavian rug and flat weave today were elements born of those influences, though rug collectors and connoisseurs can more easily set a Scandinavian modern rug beside a classic Persian rug and see the years of cultural diffusion that birthed the subtle, abstractive homage to antique Oriental rugs in Scandinavian rugs of this era.

Though she passed in 1941 her work persisted well into the 1950s when it—as well as the international desire for Swedish modernism—reached a really interesting climax in those years, eventually influencing soon-to-be inheritors of the style like ourselves. While Europe was simultaneously celebrating the post-WW2 renaissance of textile patterns in the work of makers like Lucienne Day and—to the East—Turkey’s own Zeki Müren was breaking the mold of Turkish traditions producing the most unique patterns of the era, the design and carpet industries had only just taken notice.

Scandinavian Kilim Rug
A recently added edition of Rug & Kilim’s award-winning “Märta Stripe” rug design.

Barbo Nilsson

Among other misconceptions surrounding the current understanding of Scandinavian style, Fjetterstrom certainly wasn’t alone in her contribution to the Scandinavian rug and textile movement so widely known today: chief among her contemporaries being her own colleague and then-appointed head of her facility, Barbo Lundberg-Nilsson.

Referred to by some as “a master of color and form,” Barbro Nilsson quickly earned dual acclaim as a Swedish textile designer and a fellow innovator in Scandinavian carpets to the point where she ranks among the few collaborators as nearly synonymous with the movement as her patron. Born in Malmö, Sweden as the daughter of recognized designer and architect Erik Lundberg, Nilsson began her education at the then-acclaimed Brunssons vävskola and Tekniska school in Stockholm (today known as Konstfack).

No small part of what set Nilsson apart from other Scandinavian textile artists of the 20th century was that she was also a master of various weaving styles and techniques; a perpetual student of her craft and a kindred spirit to Märta Måås as her lead designer, with the two often sharing a notable signature among the vintage rarities circulating the luxury rug market to this day.

Scandinavian Kilim rug
Our Scandinavian flat weave, inspired by works in 1944.

Joining the Historic Scandinavian Weavers

Taking over their Båstad workshop for the next 40 years following her friend and mentor’s passing, in the decades that followed Nilsson’s creations in Scandinavian flat weaves and hand-knotted pile rugs would be paramount to the survival of the Scandinavian renaissance as we know it since her own death in 1983.

Though her former patron’s is arguably more recognizable in the mainstream, overlapping worlds of luxury rugs and interior design, Nilsson’s prolific collection born from their shared innovation of Scandinavian craft meant the survival of the iconic, transitional mid-century rug style years beyond its inception, known to inspire the work of American and European mid century textile designers such as Ray and Charles Eames in the same spirit as our own Mid-Century Modern rug collection was conceived as an extension of our Scandinavian Collection years ago; the latter of which pays perhaps more abundant homage to Nilsson’s patterns than almost any other designer of the era.

Gavleborgs Lans Hemslojd Rugs—The Legacy of Anna-Maria Hoke  and Maj Svanstrom

Though the acclaimed Gavleborgs Lans Hemslojd Rugs collective only arrived at the cusp of the mid-20th Century, the reputations of its head patrons Maj Svanstrom and Anna-Maria Hoke as celebrated Scandinavian weavers were established long before this union. By the mid-20th Century, local collectives and like that of the Gavleborgs Lans Hemslojd played a major part in the spotlight on Sweden’s rug and textile production—with Hoke’s and Svanstrom’s patronage maintaining the school’s reputation for collaboration and representation of artists in and around the county.

Contrary to popular misconception, the collective had existed before Hoke and Svanstrom joined, though their reputations as modern and impressionist rug and flat weave pioneers for the respective Vastmanlands Hemslojd and Klockaregardens Hemslojd area rugs in particular brought the collective a new level of acclaim.

Scandinavian Kilim Rug
Our Scandinavian flat weave, inspired by Hoke’s distinctive geometry.

Svanstrom and Hoke in the History of Scandinavian Rugs

While Hoke in particular is by no means an unknown since her halcyon days of contributing to the foundations of Scandinavian style, we’ve always thought her distinctive patterns have deserve far more acclaim in and beyond the period—particularly considering the inspiration they’ve brought to our own approach in the Scandinavian Collection. Born in Filipstad in 1911, Hoke was another prodigy from the hallowed halls of the Brunsson weaving school in Stockholm like Nilsson, though her education began as a dancer and a drawing teacher before she eventually took a position as a teacher of pattern composition at Brunsson’s—widely regarded as the kindling to her textile design career to follow.

Not long after, Hoke’s textile craft took her to the World Exhibition in New York, followed by subsequent scholarships through Europe and varied noteworthy exhibitions while also working as an interior designer. The years that followed brought both Hoke and Svanstrom no-small variety of accolades, from multidisciplinary expansions to church-based textile works and several art and design awards.

Our Contributions to the Scandinavian Style

Some of the most well-received patterns have drawn inspiration from mid-century pioneers of the aesthetic, reimagined with Josh’s deep reverence and his drive to present the vintage style with the utmost quality and possibility. To that end essential functional concerns were innovated, especially in the flat weaves where the original pieces were fewer, smaller and more vulnerable to folding underfoot and we’ve achieved a durable body resistant to buckling or shifting like traditional flat weaves. Our goal was to ensure that the soul of Scandinavian design aesthetic in both functionality and minimalism was observed, while durability, beauty and restraint were addressed in kind.

Modern Scandinavian Kilim & Flat Weave

While each texture and weave in the Scandinavian Collection enjoys a culmination of honorific and innovative elements, it’s fair to argue that the Scandinavian Flat Weave line has become the most exempletive of honoring the weaving traditions and preserving the spirit while still innovating the process for a modern audience.

Quickly becoming a new hallmark of the line, each flat weave in our Scandinavian Collection sports a variety of undyed, natural yarns visible to both the connoisseur and the neophyte. The more prevailing natural color—interwoven like a series of visually unexpected accents in the body of our Scandinavian Kilim—plays a major role in creating that gentle distinction of an abrashed look departing from other solid-color geometric patterns with clear borders and proportions.

This unique technique of ours was meant to be the negotiation between the transitional rug appeal of the mid-century modern style and an homage to the traditional Scandinavian rug and flat weave technique, in which excess and leftover yarn would be interwoven in an otherwise ‘complete’ piece (connoting some of the bold colorways seen in the vintage rugs on auction today).

Carpet Design Awards
Rug & Kilim’s Josh Nazmiyal, second from the right, receiving the award for “Best Traditional Design” at the Carpet Design Awards during Domotex 2016. The “Marta Stripe” design has remained a sought-after pattern in our Scandinavian Collection since.

More on Scandinavian Rug Innovations

Alongside honoring the pioneers of the style, this weaving technique ultimately lends a sense of character and distinguished movement to the mid-century geometry in our Scandinavian flat weaves. While none who share our respect for the style would consider mid-century Scandinavian flat weaves monotonous by any perspective, the incorporation of natural yarns ensures a soulful look unique to each flat weave in considering the modern designer and decorator alike—where the student of the style might have a greater appreciation for the technique’s cultural significance, those new to Scandinavian flooring can still appreciate the thoughtful look of chic without barrier or pretense.

New to the Scandinavian Flat Weave — Form Follows Function

An already-proven hallmark of the Scandinavian flat weaves we create, conversely, is undoubtedly the durability and weight of the body that’s been achieved in the weaving process. Having known every major style of Kilim and flat weave for more than 40 years of collecting and studying the cultures of renown, Rug & Kilim has developed a noteworthy, proprietary construction that has proven itself on the modern market in the current luxury designer’s foremost considerations.

While no small faction of our clientele and colleagues know and seek the style they associate with Scandinavian rugs, an equal audience has come to rely on this aspect of the line for functionality and ease underfoot (form follows function). Nonetheless, the marriage of practicality and iconic mid-century aesthetic has proven itself to the market, as well as to the international carpet and design community, in bringing Scandinavian flat weave rugs to the current designer—complemented by a refined approach to an impressive time on loom considering the audience for custom rugs that makes up an equally impressive number of our Scandinavian loyalists.

The additional introduction of outdoor and all-natural hemp and aloe pieces that have been introduced since—particularly in our emerging archive of samples—consider exterior design, conservation, and material purity as unignorable precedents of thoughtful modern design that we’re equally proud to present to the luxury rug industry.

Scandinavian Pile

A newer pillar among the lines, the Scandinavian pile rugs that have become an equal mainstay of the collection capture the sensibility of rya and rika rugs with a greater abundance of large-size area rugs, custom capabilities, and colorway consistency than the ancestral beauties of inspiration. This is why roughly 80 percent of what you find on the market from this era is smaller, and most of what was produced were flat weaves. Though large-size Scandinavian pile and flat weaves alike could be find in and following this renaissance era, it’s nowhere near the scale to which we’re able to create them today, which in and of itself we consider a contribution to the style where we can appeal to and keep up with the passions of so many without sacrificing quality in a hand-made Scandinavian rug.

Handmade Scandinavian Rug
The latest addition to our Scandinavian Pile Subcollection.

Scandinavian Rug samples

Representing the full archive of designs in our kilim flat weave, pile, outdoor, and all-natural hemp and aloe additions, existing and custom rug samples from our Scandinavian Collection have become a considerable resource for our interior design colleagues around the country. The reliability in colorway representation, texture matching, and our full-service shipping capabilities has more often than not been the difference in assisting designers who work with us in presenting the most suitable Scandinavian rug options to complement discerning interior projects.

Scandinavian Rug Sample
A custom sample representing stock from our Scandinavian flat weave designs. View our full custom rug sample collection.

A Footnote on Scandinavian by Rug & Kilim

Celebrating 40 years in the industry, Josh has always looked out for the most exciting trends in his time, but one of the ways he’s always strived to be different is that he even more enthusiastically seeks what’s sorely missing in the field. In his research into mid-century icons he truly found a kindred spirit in the memory and works of mid-century Scandinavian rug weavers like that of so few designers and pattern makers he’s admired, and when he speaks about Scandinavian he’s never understated his pride in contributing to the style at the same time as challenging its conventions. He saw an underrepresentation of the aesthetic in the industry—both during its beginnings due to production limitations and even now amid the resurgence—and the challenge of both capturing the style and creating something new in it has lead to a great duality of engaging but still commemorative pieces.

Though we’ve recently seen a growing attention to our outdoor-friendly polyester line and our eco-conscious hemp aloe all-natural lines, the Scandinavian flat weave has received international praise and even the Domotex award for Best Transitional Flat Weave, and Josh is proud to have spoken at international exhibitions as a voice on both the history and future of Scandinavian Modernism.

An Ever-Growing Scandinavian Rug Collection

We’ve also seen that a variety of clients have come to love both the eccentric and the forgiving designs in the flat-weave line, and we’re particularly glad to see a crescendo in the response to our custom color and size capabilities we offer: so much so Josh is always keeping popular patterns on loom and working to produce custom orders and designs on loom even faster than the 90-day standard for particular projects. What began in the desire to pay homage and match the early aesthetic became an innovation of its approach, playing off Josh’s love of marrying the old and the new in all he does. In this right and others we’ve been glad to see the Scandinavian Collection succeed, with more inspired and unique designs joining the collection all the time.

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Scandinavian

The Scandinavian Collection presents geometric designs delineated with varying pile heights for tactile emphasis, with numerous fresh, refined patterns woven in a unique variety of yarns and classic colorways. Often referred to by Josh Nazmiyal as “a new language in design” the modernist collection celebrates our unprecedented textural diversity, a formidable Kilim line never seen in these spacious sizes, and an exciting departure from traditional geometry that simultaneously embodies the original design.

Some of the most well-received patterns have drawn inspiration from mid-century pioneers of the aesthetic, reimagined with Josh’s deep reverence of the style and his drive to present the vintage style with the utmost quality and possibility. To that end essential functional concerns were innovated, especially in the flat weaves where the original pieces were fewer, smaller and more vulnerable to folding underfoot and we’ve achieved a durable body resistant to buckling or shifting like traditional flat weaves. A number of our Scandinavian Kilim pieces likewise enjoy a subtle, intriguing colorway variation created through the aforementioned blend of undyed, natural yarns, lending to a unique, tasteful sense of movement complementing the classic geometry.

Our goal was to ensure that the soul of Scandinavian design aesthetic in both functionality and minimalism was observed, while durability, beauty and restraint were addressed in kind.
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