Jonas Wagell




Based in Stockholm, Jonas Wagell is a Swedish architect and designer whose highly-praised work carries his name to as far as China and North America. Trained in graphics and print, Wagell learned about interior design and architecture from Konstfack in Stockholm. He founded his own design studio JWDA in 2008. The studio’s work is known for simplistic playfulness and clever compact living.
Over the years, Jonas Wagell has won many awards and accolades for the inspiring work that he creates. The designer himself describes his work as “clean and simplistic”. He collaborates regularly with many well-known brands such as MENU, Normann Copenhagen, From The Bay, Zaozuo and the list goes on.
FAE had a chance to interact with Jonas Wagell and know more about his design journey. Read more.


FAE: What inspired you to join the world of design?

Jonas Wagell : When I was 20 years old I studied graphics and print in my hometown in Sweden and got an internship with an advertising agency for a few months right after working in the atelier. This was a whole new world opening up to me and I loved the creative atmosphere. I’ve must have been doing something rightbecause although I was lacking experience, I was offered a job as a project manager. Seven years and 150 projects later, after establishing a company office in Stockholm and conducting part time studies in strategy and communication, I suddenly found myself stuck in development. Despite a successful career, I decided to go back to school and find my roots with design. I got in to Konstfack in Stockholm and studied interior architecture and furniture for the following five years.

FAE: What was the founding idea behind starting your own studio JWDA?

Jonas Wagell : Just a few days after receiving my Master degree in interior architecture and furniture design I started working for an architecture firm here in Stockholm. It’s a great office with exciting projects and fun coworkers. Nevertheless, after some time I started to long for the hands-on approach that is involved in creating products and furniture. I missed building mock-up and models and to see an object develop from sketch to physical form.

Working with furniture more or less requires you to start you own business, since there are very few practices in Stockholm – or in the world, really – that are big enough to hire furniture designers. Moreover, I had seven years of experience running an independent project groupin a similar design field, so starting up a small business was a comfortable thought.

FAE: Does your graphics knowledge have any impact on your designing process?

Jonas Wagell : The fact that my interest for design and architecture started with graphics has definitely shaped my approach to design. The most frequent words I’m using to describe my work is probably clean and simplistic. I use these words with the intention to describe something that is simple and clear, but with a sense of refinement and quality. I have realized other designers understand these words better than many consumers and therefore I will try elaborate on the meaning.

When I studied graphic and print in the 90’s it was considered a means of communication. Since then, the clear and simple have always been a preference to me, since it promotes understanding, intuition and functionality. In my opinion, the purpose with simple form is not be scarce or stylistic, but to enhance a strong aesthetic expression.

When I started studying architecture 10 years later everyone was talking about minimalism, but I believe only a few truly grasped the full meaning of the word. Architecture and design with reduced, minimal form often becomes poor and weak, since it lacks character and personality. I believe in simplistic form that is reduced from clutter and unnecessary details with the purpose to communicate and emphasize something else, such as a function or a beautiful form.

FAE: Between furniture and interior design, which do you enjoy more?

Jonas Wagell : I’m really passionate about both disciplines, but two years ago I decided to focus on design rather than architecture. It’s very difficult to get time to do both successfully as a small design studio. Also, I believe there is a truth to the saying that you need 10,000 hours to be really good at something. Becoming a good designer surely requires talent, but also hard work, practice and plenty of time for mistakes to achieve some sense of experience.

Furthermore, from a business perspective I think you need to focus and be committed, otherwise it’s difficult toget the the most challenging and rewarding projects that will bring the business forward.

FAE: Tell us the concept of your Mini House design project.

Jonas Wagell : Mini House is a prefab house concept that started as my Master project in 2007 and continued in collaboration with a Swedish house company. It conceived a small house with customized interior with bathroom, kitchen, beds and storage on not more than 15 sqm (approx. 160 sqft). Mini House was presented as a response to a change in the Swedish building code and was really designed for the Scandinavian market, but to my surprise proved relevant far beyond the Nordic boarders.

At the time, the concept had a rather unique approach to look at architecture as product design in the sense that the buyer should be able to choose interior solutions and functions among a few perfectly customized add-ons. Solutions for a compact kitchen, a bathroom unit, bunkbed and storage unit and more was available.

As a pioneering project in this domain of compact living and sustainability it was early noticed by Wallpaper* magazine which included me in the listing of “the world’s 50 hottest young architects” in 2008 and since then the project has been included in a tenfold of architecture books and countless magazines. In fact, it’s still possibly my most renowned project.

FAE: JWDA Concrete lamps; JWDA Metallic lamps; and JWDA Pendant Lamps – share your thoughts on this series!

Jonas Wagell : The latest addition to the JWDA range is the pendant lamp which is a development of – or is literally a twist on –the Concrete and Metallic table lamps introduced in 2015 and 2016. The inspiration for the lamps lie in materiality, rather than form, and is an exploration of the contrast between the fragile, shimmering glass and the raw expression of concrete and metal.

Turning the table lamp version into a pendant requires some technical modifications, but visually we have simply turned the lamp up-side-down to let it hang in its cord. Keeping the concept simple adds some cleverness to the product.

On a practical level the pendant lamp will provide dimming of the light by turning the knob on the base, just like on the table versions. This is really practical and a rare function on pendants and it correlates back to the original inspiration of traditional oil lamp.

When designing products and furniture I am mainly concerned about creating products with good proportions and refined form and to create objects that will work and be relevant for many years. I always try to reduce details and search for the essence of a form or concept. Through this process with many small amendments a strong character will eventually emerge.

The JWDA lamp range has been a lot about materiality, which is not common for my work. I typically refrain from conforming to specific materials or colours, as I believe good form must be justified without specific coating or surface finish. However, for the JWDA lamps the concept is based around contrasting materials, delicate and raw. This idea persists between the different version.

FAE: Give us some details about the newly launched Pod Chair.

Jonas Wagell : When we were asked to create a small and affordable chair for Zaozuo in Beijing, we wanted to originate to concept on the tradition of the Scandinavian “Pinnstol” (translates to “stick chair”), a simplified Windsor chair typology. This chair is typically made of solid wood with tapered legs and a back made of “sticks” pierced into holes in the seat.

For Pod Chair we have started from this concept, but we wanted to simplify the expression even further but using a solid back, giving the chair a clear and graphic look. The form is reduced to three essential parts; the round and curved seat, tapered legs which attaches directly below and the slightly oversized back which seemingly balances on the edge of the seat. The simplified – almost naivistic expression – is made possible with a steel reinforcement bracket integrated between seat and back, providing the chair with a light, friendly and unique expression.

FAE: What type of projects can we look forward to in 2017 from you?

Jonas Wagell : In January 2017 we are releasing the second collaboration with Design Within Reach in the US, the Jonas Sofa Collection. It’s a full seating range and something I’m very excited about. During the last year we have also been commissioned by the new design brand From the Bay to do brand strategy, art direction and design of the first range of furniture, lighting and accessories which will be released during the year.

In addition, I’ve been working on new projects for Menu and Normann Copenhagen in Denmark as well as some new work for Swedish clients and currently we’re working on a sofa range for a new Italian client. It’s really fun and exciting times!

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