Yngve Ekström

Let’s go back about 65 years. To a time when Scandinavian design was characterised by functionality and clean, uncomplicated lines with a good deal of self-esteem. These were also the characteristics of Stolab’s product range, in particular, thanks to its close collaboration with Yngve Ekström. This was a fruitful partnership that not only resulted in the design of our logo, but also in a number of our product range’s faithful old servants. Some of these have been with us the whole time, others have been tucked away, only to be revived and enter production again. Not for nostalgic reasons, but because these pieces feel just as appropriate today as they did when they were created, that is, they are true classics. 

Photo: Private 

It is no mystery that Yngve and Stolab were a match made in heaven. A product of his upbringing, Yngve Ekström was shaped by the culture and spirit of the time in the Småland community of Vaggeryd. Stolab, or as it was called then, Stolfabriksaktiebolaget, was an established and competent manufacturer, but needed external help with design. However, Yngve’s love of wood and design came about much earlier. 

Brita-Lena Ekström, financial journalist and daughter of Yngve Ekström
”At the tender age of 13, Yngve started to work at a wood factory in Vaggeryd. At that time, in the mid 1920s, opportunities to continue studying were not what they are today. He was very interested in drawing and eventually took a drawing course at Hermods. It was not long before his artistic talents and abilities were discovered. Encouraged by the acknowledgement, he eventually quit his job at the factory and started his own freelance company. He was commissioned by his ex-employer as a sculptor.” 

A new company takes shape
At this time, it was common for factory workers with different skill sets in Småland to jointly found companies together. In 1945, Yngve, his brother Jerker and friend Bertil Sjökvist, decided to do just that. They started the ESE-möbler furniture company with three main business areas: home environments, public spaces and exports. Yngve’s vision was to design and manufacture quality furniture for the common people. Far from the overly ornate period furniture that was common at the time, but was perhaps not always suitable for everyday use. His role models were Bruno Mathsson, also from Småland, and Josef Frank, to name a few. 

Recognised as a designer
Yngve got his big break, in 1953 when he won first and third place in the Swedish Home Crafts Association’s model prize competition for his wooden bowls. The same year, he appeared in an exhibition organised by Lena Larsson at NK-Bo, a place to which he returned with yet another exhibition a number of years afterwards. 

The man behind the Allen wrench
It was, among other things, at NK-Bo that the Thema chair could be purchased under the title ”four chairs in a box”. These four chairs were sold in parts, packed in a box with screws, nuts and an Allen wrench—a universal tool that they ”invented” themselves that had a special nut specifically designed to cut down on dead space in the packaging. Småland’s Ekström brothers were quick to understand the advantages of designing and packing chairs in parts in flat packaging, thereby lowering shipping costs. 

Coveted by many
Given his national recognition as a designer, Yngve started to also get commissions from external manufacturers. For many years, Yngve designed furniture for five different manufacturers: his own company ESE-möbler, Stolfabriken in Smålandsstenar, Bjästa Möbler, Källemo and Broby Möbler. During this productive period, he created the piece of furniture to gain most recognition of all time, the Lamino, which was launched in 1956.
The five companies often advertised themselves and operated under a joint flag. Eventually, it got a bit too intense for Yngve to develop new pieces of furniture for all of these clients for every year’s furniture fair. The group was dissolved, but collaboration with Stolfabriken continued, in particular, thanks to Yngve’s good relationship with the owner at the time, Ture André. 

A relationship that led to a new profile
Because Yngve was a versatile designer, he also had other commissions. For instance, his talent led him to design catalogues and advertisements. In the early 60s, the name of ESE-möbler was changed to one with a more international flair, namely Swedese. Yngve designed the logo himself, which naturally inspired Ture André. Their good personal relationship and that of their companies led to a more modern and international graphic profile for Stolfabriken in Smålandsstenar, much like that of Swedese. And though we have made minor modifications to the brand and logo, it is not only still used, but continues to also be a source of pride. However, it was not until 1984 that Stolab became part of our legal company name. It was then that Göran Martinsson took over as owner and CEO at Stolab. 

A long, productive career
In 1972, Yngve and his brother Jerker sold Swedese. Yngve continued to work as a designer and contributed in various ways to the development of the company until his passing in 1988.
And for the remainder of his life, he continued to actively design for other clients, making it virtually impossible to figure out just how many product blueprints were created and signed by Yngve Ekström. Alongside names like Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, Arne Jacobsen and Paul Kjaerholm, he made up the core of the generation of designers that made the ”Scandinavian Modern” concept known around the world. 

Ekström lives on at Stolab
Yngve has designed at least 25 different pieces of furniture that we know of for Stolab. These include the Arka lounge chair, the Björka table, the Småland armchair, the Pinnockio chair and the Palle stool, all of which are still manufactured at our Smålandsstenar factory.

Göran Martinsson, owner of Stolab 1981–2016
”I really looked up to Yngve, both as a person and as a designer. We had a very nice relationship from the very start, and it did not take me long to realise just how talented he was, even when it came to manufacturing. At Stolab, it has always been important that our designers contribute to and understand our manufacturing. Together, we developed the Björka series of pedestal tables that are still among our best-sellers.” 

Yngve Ekström lives undoubtedly on at Stolab!

Lovely things go by many names.
The dainty Windsor chair created for Stolab by Yngve Ekström in 1950 has gone by the names of Toppino and Pinnockio through time. 

A solid favourite brought to life 
A style typical for the times and its designer. In the 50s and 60s, the Palle stool was a favourite piece in many homes thanks to its stability and many areas of use: seating, step stool, nightstand, a place to put things... 
The Palle stool was also one of the first pieces manufactured to be delivered disassembled in flat packaging. We naturally have these smart ideas in mind when we re-launch Palle again this year. However, the chair is now designed in wood only. No metal screws or screw threads. It is just a matter of screwing in the threaded wooden legs to the seat. Just as practical as solid wood!

A valued classic that there is always room for.
In 1955, Yngve Ekström designed a low Windsor chair, Arka, for Stolab. The name is an abbreviation for the Roman arched pavements called arcades, and the arched shape can be found in the special design of the lounge chair, based on Yngve's three circles. A design that has become iconic and has had many followers throughout the years. The Arka lounge chair is made of solid wood. We are very proud to manufacture the original here in Smålandsstenar. 

The forest was Yngve's stomping ground so it was only natural for him to make creations in wood. 

Share on Social Media