Åke Axelsson (b. 1932) has designed and built more than 200 chair models during his 60-year career as an interior architect, from 1957 to the present. His major contribution has focussed on furniture for the public domain where we can all meet: libraries, restaurants, town halls, churches, museums, cafés and so on. These interiors often lead to specific designs of furniture which were then put into production. His focus has been social; designing the best possible furniture for all of us.
Åke grew up with seven siblings on a small farm in the south of Sweden during the 1930s and 1940s. The subsistence farm economy meant that almost everything had to be done by hand. Survival was inherent to the hands and the materials. ”Do it yourself” was a lesson that became typical of his professional life. Åke is by no means just a draughtsman. When he is developing a new item of furniture he goes to his workshop and creates a viable prototype using his wood-working skills. While he was still at elementary school his teacher recognized that Åke had “something in his fingers” and he encouraged him to go on developing his skills. His first piece of furniture was a little wall-cupboard that he completed at the age of twelve. It still hangs on his wall at home. Following some local wood-working courses, at fifteen he left home to train as a cabinet-maker in Visby during the years 1947 to 1951. More advanced students built furniture for the famous Swedish designer Carl Malmsten. The furniture was sold at the Malmsten shop in central Stockholm. Following this, Åke undertook an apprenticeship in Munich and then in the little Swedish town of Östervåla. But he soon began to long for something more in life than the somewhat dreary prospect of working in a furniture factory.
He applied for admission to Konstfack – now known as the University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm – where he trained as an interior architect from 1952 to 1957. “It was like entering a brand-new world”. His principal tutor, Carl-Axel Acking, was an architect and furniture designer and he prepared his students for important tasks in Sweden’s emerging welfare state. Lecture theatres, adult education facilities, schools, town halls – there were any number of commissions. And cabinet-maker Åke Axelsson helped to build the new society.