Daniel Östman

KH: Daniel, I can imagine that Art -arguably more a luxury than necessity- gets bumped down the list of priorities in many Architectural and Interior projects, especially when there are budget restraints. Since I know you like to incorporate Art pieces into your projects, how do you keep Art on your radar and succeed in communicating that it is vital to your projects?

DÖ: Of course it can be difficult to argue that art is an essential need, in the same way that people think of a kitchen table or a mirror. But on the other hand, I seldom encounter a budget that is strictly reserved for practical functions. In general, people who contract an Interior Designer tend to have ambitions greater than merely solving specific functional needs. This leaves room for art to come into the equation, in a similar way to furniture
and textiles.

KH: Is art top of mind when you begin your initial conceptual work, or does it come later on, when the project begins to take shape?

DÖ: For art to be top of mind from the beginning of a project, it has to be a very specific artwork, and at the request of the client. Otherwise, I would say that it is something that gradually makes its way into the project.


KH: When Art has a central role in your vision for a project but your client does not share this vision, do you try to convince them otherwise, or just accept that there is no room for Art in that particular project?

DÖ: I wouldn’t be credible if I built a decor around an idea that Art is the most important thing in the room if the client is not particularly interested in Art. I always build my projects together with clients to make sure their interests remain central to my work. That said, I often suggest adding some lighting above an existing artwork, which improves the atmosphere of the room and is beneficial to the artwork.

Experiencing Art in a gallery space is very different from experiencing it in a home or work environment. After having a “white cube” encounter, many people struggle to visualize how a particular piece would look in a living space, when introduced into more natural surroundings. Is this also the case with exclusive Interior furnishings and design objects? If so, how do you facilitate this visionary process for your clients? What means do you use for helping them to visualize specific pieces in their own homes?

DÖ: To visualise ideas around a specific decor is by far one of my biggest challenges, and always needs to be adapted to the client’s capacity for seeing and understanding my process. Drawings are difficult for most people to read, unless they are simplified with use of colour or some other kind of coding. Reference pictures can be useful, but there is always a risk that people see different things in the same picture. At the end of the day, 3D drawings (though time consuming to produce) function best. So… I would say that I tend to use a combination of these methods. The biggest and most important tool in my work, and even in my dialogue with the client, is the material colour samples. I can’t build up physical environments through a design process, but I can use physical materials to give an indication of mood, textures, techniques and colours.

KH: One aspect of consulting within the field of Contemporary Art I find particularly rewarding is introducing my clients to a new artist or medium. Do your projects afford the same opportunity in the sense that educating clients about new designers and materials is an integral part of your process?

DO: Yes, absolutely. Education is very important – As a means of showing clients what they did not know earlier. This becomes even more important, as the decor becomes more exclusive, and includes understanding the detail and craft that lies behind furniture and decor. It is my job to motivate the craftspeople and furniture designers to ensure the best possible results. I could never be satisfied with a project knowing that the client did not know to wish for more – How could they demand something that they did not know existed?

KH: In the art world, the introduction of something NEW is rarely un-complicated. Many collectors favour buying what they know – often local, established artists. One can make the argument that this is sensible when collecting at a higher price point, but in my opinion, there are many good reasons to collect art and investment is just one of them. Is the same true for the design world? Or do you think that people are more open to NEW when it comes to Interiors?

DO: No, I don’t think so. Often, the total renovation of, let’s say, an apartment is a huge investment, and most people feel safe in choosing something they are already familiar with. I try to help my clients to understand what they really want. They don’t need to get involve in the choice of sofa or lamp they like – That is my job. But, they need to ask themselves what they like. Sometimes, people are looking for a timeless environment. I usually tell them that nothing is timeless. But, if you are honest about your taste, and realize that there is one colour, for instance, that you always gravitate back to, then that is timeless for you.

KH: While I don’t place value in either approach, it is apparent that some collectors are preoccupied with the investment potential of the artworks they acquire, while others make acquisitions driven by aesthetic preferences and/or emotions. Is there a similar dichotomy among your clients, when it comes to “collecting” furniture and objects?

DÖ: I don’t think furniture and decor increase so much in value during the time you own and use them in the same way as Art does. However, it is often a better investment to buy something more exclusive that has a history. It is more likely that you will get your investment back or even make a profit when you no longer want or have the possibility to own that piece any longer. In a way, you can say that it is cheaper to buy something more exclusive, even if it costs more initially. It is interesting to acknowledge that in most projects, it is the “fixed” interior elements like kitchen, bathroom and wardrobes that constitute the largest investments. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to get back this investment, other than in terms of investment in your own comfort.

KH: Storytelling plays a central role in the contemporary art world, both in terms of individual artists’ processes of creation and in terms of how successful they become. Do you see a discernible red thread between the success of your projects and the strength of the story you set out to tell?

DÖ: My philosophy is that Storytelling in the context of Interior Design is about telling a story about the person that will live in that specific environment. I always try to get my clients to think about who they are and what they want their home to be or reflect. I encourage them to create an idea around it in the case they don’t already have one. Creating Interiors is about visualising a dream. It doesn’t need to be real or even your own, if you don’t want it to be. It can be just a dream or an idea. With that as a starting point, I try to visualise that dream and how to express it, with the best combination of materials and craftsmanship. Without a dream, without an idea, and without a story to tell… The result can never be as good.

KH: For some collectors, knowing the more personal story behind an artist and his/her process adds a significant degree of value on a personal level. Do you experience this with your projects as well – That some clients are very interested in the provenance of the pieces you select for their spaces and the designers behind them?

DO: I will relate back to my earlier reasoning about education… All luxury consumption is about education. No one is interested in paying extra money for something if they themselves or the people around them don’t know that it is something special. In some cases, this applies to the entire interior, and not only to specific items. Let’s say that I meet with my clients and show them pictures of luxury décor from the between-war period…For example, Jean Michel Frank. Talking about how he decorated, which furniture he used, which influences he had, materials… colour scale… etc. This can perhaps open up a whole new world for the clients that can then be used as inspiration for their own décor.

KH: In some circles, speaking about Art in the context of Interiors raises red flags, and is seen as compromising the integrity of the artwork – There is a fear that the artwork is reduced to a mere design element; therein loosing its unique work-of-art status. Do you think there is a legitimate risk in choosing art pieces on the basis of them being “simply” harmonious in a space?

DÖ: No, I don’t think so. I feel quite free in this process. But Art is not my expertise. If we would turn the situation around and someone would reduce a chair to something merely functional to sit in, or a handwoven silk carpet to something merely soft to walk barefoot on, then I would be much more sensitive.

KH: During the period that I managed a commercial gallery in Stockholm, I sold a large abstract painting to a client who had just begun drawing plans for a new summerhouse.She was so inspired by and emotionally connected to the painting that she designated the artwork as her starting point for the architectural drawings. It was important to her that the house would promise a central wall suitable for hanging the artwork, but also that the painting would act as a beacon, guiding other aesthetic choices throughout the project.
Have you ever experienced this in a project? That a client’s attachment to a particular artwork, object or piece of furniture acts as the core of the project, around which everything else emanates?

DÖ: No, not really, but I often look at what type of art a new client has as a means of understanding who they are. The people you are describing are a dream scenario – A client that is so precise about who she or he is and what they like…. Often, you need to be patient and wait for this information to come over time.

KH: Your clients need to trust your judgement and understand that the recommendations you make are not spontaneous, but rather based on a wealth of previous experience. At the end of the day, however, taste is (most often) personal. Have you ever worked with clients who insist that a project has as its starting point, an art piece that you are not particularly fond of? And is it you or your client who wins that battle?

DÖ: It would not be such a big problem for me if the starting point of a project was a specific artwork which I did not like. The client would win that fight. It could, however, be an early sign that we are not agreeing, and the personal chemistry between my clients and me is very important. My biggest problem is when a client and I have totally different opinions about what we would like to achieve. If they are merely looking to solve practical functions, for example, then there is not much for me to do and it is possible that they can achieve that on their own. And, if they only want me to suggest something “nice” but don’t really care about the process, then we have big problems.

KH: I am interested in the grey area between Art & Design and what criteria are used to determine that an object is Art and not artefact or design. Where do you draw this line?

DO: I would say that Art is something that is created from an artistic perspective. Design isn’t. It is about creating form, colour, expression etc. through a design process. Without a doubt, some Artists adopt design processes in their work, just as architects, and other konsthantverkare. It is difficult to define… but I would say that just because an object has a strong, expressive character or is lacking a specific purpose, doesn’t makes it Art.

KH: In your projects, it is not uncommon that you incorporate objects (like exclusive pieces of furniture) that have the same value as a moderately expensive artwork. Are your clients equally happy to invest 80 000 kr in a painting as they are in a sofa?

DÖ: It is very individual. Some people have a hard time spending on something that doesn’t have a specific function, while others see furniture as a purely utilitarian, and because of that, are not prepared to spend a lot on it. Again, it is a question of education and understanding. If I want a client to invest in very exclusive furniture, I often need to make a parallel to Art or relate to other worldly expenses in order to make clients more willing to invest.

KH: Lastly Daniel, when we first met, you mentioned something that really resonated with me. You said that quite often, towards the end of your Interiors projects, you sense that something is missing, but that it never worries you since you are confidant that the right piece of art will be the finishing touch. I am curious to know – Have you always succeeded in finding the perfect piece or are there any unfinished stories in your repertoire of Interior projects?

DÖ: Of course there are projects that are still missing that final touch… It can take time to find it. I really believe in the idea that Interiors should be able change and evolve over time. People change. We grow. We get richer or poorer. We feel good or bad. Why shouldn’t the environment we live in reflect that?

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