Axel Einar Hjorth

Axel Einar Hjorth is commonly regarded as the most significant furniture designer of Sweden in the era between the great wars, though his life was afflicted with dramatic changes. Born poor and raised by a single mother in the small village of Krokek, they spent his first years under very modest circumstances. At five, the two moved to the burgeoning industrial town of Norrköping where they lived under economic pressure. Hjorth’s mother’s financial state diminished and at the age of twelve, the young boy was adopted-away to a well-off family. The young Axel learned new social codes, increased his education and become a skillful actor in the bourgeois life in a developing city.

In 1908, at the age of twenty, Hjorth moved to Stockholm to study at Högre Konstindustriella Skolan (later to be Konstfack). After two years and the death of his stepfather, who did not leave him an inheritance, he was forced to break off his studies before completion. Hjorth found work in both small and major furniture companies in Stockholm before becoming the head of the assembly section of Jubileumsutställningen (the Jubilee Exhibition) in Gothenburg 1923. The English critic P. Morton Shand characterized this exhibition, largely curated by Hjorth, as the beginning of the breakthrough of Swedish decorative arts: “The Gothenburg Exhibition of 1923 revealed [...] that [Sweden was] almost the only one that really counted as far as design and craftsmanship were concerned.”

In 1927, Hjorth acquired the most prestigious job a furniture architect could get in Sweden – head of the furniture department at Nordiska Kompaniet (NK). At that time, the department store was the most important furniture producer and above all, the most exclusive one. Furniture from NK was often executed by skilled carpenters in exotic wood with inlays and expensive woodwork. It was at NK that Hjorth made his name as furniture designer.

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