If you haven’t heard of Swedish duo TAF, you may well recognise their clever, warm and unexpected designs
Amid the loud and bustling opening day of the Stockholm Furniture Fair, meeting TAF’s Gabriella Gustafson and Mattias Ståhlbom is like stepping into a bubble. Quiet, calm and humble, there isn’t a shred of arty pomp to them, nor their designs. Appropriately, their best-known piece is the Wood lamp for Muuto (below), a deliberately low-tech take on the standard desk lamp, which typifies their simple, pragmatic aesthetic, and their ability to rethink the norm.
They’re at the show to launch a new piece for Muuto, just one of many contributions to this year’s design week in their hometown. The duo has also set-designed an exhibition of glass and robotic arms, called Glass Elephant, at Stockholm’s Skeppsholmen caverns; created a piece for Örnsbergsauktionen, a yearly auction of one-off contemporary design; and fully developed its Trotters furniture collection for young Swedish design brand Pieces. Gustafson was also on the selection panel for the fair’s Greenhouse show of upcoming designers. It’s clear they are well respected and acclaimed in Scandinavia and over the last few years have established their name internationally, but even if you don’t know TAF by name, a flick through the studio’s product portfolio is sure to stir a few recognitions. The designs always pop up in magazines, on blogs and trend reports, coveted for their clever twist on the everyday.
“We work a lot with references,” says Ståhlbom. “We look at the most common things and change the materials or scale. When you put an object in a different context, something new happens.” He refers to the Rubber lamp for Zero lighting, the design for which was based on the shape of a stretched elastic band. Then Gustafson points to the Adaptable table, another piece for Muuto. “We looked at plasters as a way to make a corner very strong. It’s an extra layer to take care of the leg, because where it meets the top is the table’s weakest part.”
Their skills in observation help them find solutions in the finest details of mundane items, applying their shapes and functions to new mediums. Sometimes the references are subtle, evoking just a sense of familiarity. “The reference could be there just for us, something to prompt and process ideas,” says Gustafson, and Ståhlbom continues, “you don’t think about it, but it’s there somehow.” Others are more literal and humorous, like the Fisherman lamp for Zero and the oversized lolly sticks that make up the legs of the Lost Ice Cream table, their piece for Örnsbergsauktionen.
The new Up light for Muuto (below) is inspired by a chimney pot with an asymmetrical funnel that spins to direct smoke, but in this case the shape is used to change the direction of the light – the sort of resourceful reappropriation of form that TAF excels in, with the warmth and clean lines for which the studio has become known.
TAF and fellow Scandinavians Muuto are often in cahoots, something Ståhlbom puts down to the team there being a similar age to he and Gustafson, so references are shared and communication is fluid, having developed a shorthand over time. This is obviously important to the pair’s process, who themselves like to work through an idea by bouncing it around. “I think the project develops quicker that way,” says Gustafson. “We push a project forward with lots of discussion and helping each other to see things they don’t see. It provides balance.”
Ståhlbom believes that being a mixed-gender studio also helps to give them a different perspective. “It’s kind of a cliché to work as, say, two guys. I think that gives us something unique. We have another approach.” Almost on autopilot, Gustafson hastens to explain they are not a couple, just friends and business partners. Do they get asked that a lot? “Oh, yes!” she laughs. “I can understand why, it’s unusual. It’s very common for guys to work together, and they don’t get questioned about their relationship! But that’s how it is.”
“We push a project forward with lots of discussion and helping each other to see things they don’t see”
They met at Konstfack University College, studying interior and furniture design, working on several projects together and finding their approaches complemented each another. “We share values, and we think very much the same way,” says Gustafson. Having set up TAF not long after graduating, their most notable early work was with Svensk Form, the Swedish design council, designing international exhibitions. Slowly and steadily the studio’s profile grew, clients flowed in, and now, 10 years on, it has carved a reputation for itself that is attracting international clientele. Currently in the pipeline – and launching in Milan – there are more items for Muuto (a table and probably a chair), something for an Italian brand (still a secret), and a exhibition of their collection for Japan’s Karimoku New Standard at the Rossana Orlandi gallery, sure to be a must-see show.
Sebastian Wrong has also enlisted the studio for his new post-Established and Sons venture at Hay, so look out for a TAF-designed table launching as part of the Wrong by Hay collection during the London Design Festival. Meanwhile, they’re also working on the interior for a shop in Dubai, plus a few private interiors as well. TAF is a five-strong team now, meaning that Gustafson and Ståhlbom no longer need to do everything themselves, as they did in the beginning, but instead get to focus on the parts they enjoy. “We are very interested in how things are put together,” says Gustafson, “so we like to be involved in the process and as close to production as possible. That makes its way into the aesthetics, because we discover details along the way and highlight them in the design.”
The pair continue to look for inspiration in the ordinary and importantly, with products as minimal as theirs, they pay acute attention to quality in materials and finish, down to the most intricate features. As their eye for detail gets sharper, the products they turn out should become ever more refined.