the austrian designer who became the synonym of swedish modern – Josef Frank


In 1933 the 48 year old architect and designer Josef Frank (1885-1967) fled to Stockholm from Vienna in the dawn of the growing National Socialism. He was of Jewish ancestry and as so many others feared to remain in his native country. Given his wife was born in Finland but raised in Stockholm, this was a logical choice. But there was yet another strong incentive. By this time he was already an established and celebrated designer, co-founder of the company “Haus und Garten”, teacher at the Vienna School of Arts, and a founding member of the Vienna Werkbund. In 1924, when he established “Haus und Garten”, a young Swedish designer, Estrid Ericson, founded a company in Stockholm called “Svenskt Tenn“. Three years later it moved to Strandvägen 5 in Stockholm where you can still find it today. Svenskt Tenn was to become one of the greatest influences ever seen in Swedish design and one of the main reasons would be Josef Frank!

The design of Josef Frank is without question to be compared with William Morris, one of the greatest design pioneers of all times. No pictures can ever reproduce the vibrant colours of Frank’s textiles or wallpapers and entering the showroom of Svenskt Tenn just blows your mind every time! His colour stories are extremely bold and flamboyant, the motifs are flowing and organic yet balanced. It’s a joy to see all the clever thoughts he put into each design and its repeats. Above you see two of his most popular patterns, Brazil and Nippon. Right underneath a drawing for the pattern Mignon. Seeing this master drawing I’m stunned by the skills and artistry designers possessed back in the days before any “undo” buttons existed! Less known is that he also designed furniture and in 1932 Estrid Ericson commissioned drawings for furniture pieces from Frank to be produced for Svensk Tenn. Seeing what was happening in Germany and Austria at the time she offered him a full-time employment the year after. He accepted and the rest is history. They proved to be a dream team and made instant success with their new home décor style. Frank was, when young, one of the front members of the Vienna modernism but didn’t really like the way it developed. He opposed to the programmatic principles formulated by Le Corbusier among others. He wanted to bring nature with all its shapes and colours into home decoration in order to make the space feel more vivid and open. Of the same reason he preferred furniture that one could see “through”, like a chair with an open backboard.


During the war Frank spent a period in the United States where many of his celebrated patterns were created, one of the best known might be Manhattan. With the participation in the World Exhibition in New York,1939, Josef Frank and Svenskt Tenn would become a synonym for the “Swedish Modern”. To me, Josef Frank stands as a shining lighthouse on the sea of surface pattern design and he is an infinite source of inspiration!

All images by Svenskt Tenn if nothing else is stated

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